Text by Travis Riley
David Hall is a formative figure in time-based art. Credited with introducing the term "time-based media" into circulation through his writing, he followed this by creating the first British course in the subject. In January of this year he was awarded the Samsung Art Lifetime Achievement Award for his groundbreaking work in video art. Ambika P3 is an imposing 14,000 square foot space, hidden beneath the University of Westminster’s Engineering School. It is the university’s former construction hall in which concrete was tested for major projects including Spaghetti Junction and the Channel Tunnel.
An indistinct chattering pervades the area immediately around the gallery entrance, intensifying to an echoed cacophony as you pass through the doorway into Ambika P3’s cavernous space. The source of the clamour becomes apparent a few steps on. The expansive warehouse floor is filled by the 1,001 face-up television sets that make up End Piece (2012). From David Cameron, to Sue Barker, to Antiques Roadshow, the unmistakable sounds of daytime TV slowly come into focus. Taken as a whole, the work could be seen as a depiction of a hell worse even than Dante had imagined, however in its scale, the installation generates an unexpected beauty.
Standing back on the raised platform above the TVs, the images become blurred, and the noise too distorted to represent its source. The incandescent light of the television sets washes over the space, disseminating the harsh daytime TV as a soft glow. The flickering light seems too erratic to be produced by a machine; the network of TVs becomes a sci-fi creation, a cybernetic organism. The fitful cuts between Cameron and an outraged labour backbench becomes a pattern, isolating the televisions tuned into that particular debate, and creating an understated light show that fills the room. A network of cables rise up from across the grid of screens. Ten metres above, the cables come together, gathered centrally by a large hook; a point of dispersal.
The installation is, in essence, a reworking of an earlier piece, entitled 101 TV sets, however in this instance Hall has imbued it with further motive. These are all cathode ray televisions tuned into one of the five analogue channels. Consequently the installation will chart the end of analogue broadcast in the UK. From April 4 the number of transmissions will gradually be reduced until April 18 when the final signals will be switched off at London’s Crystal Palace. The televisions will remain there until April 22, emitting only white noise, a steady stream of light and sound memorialising the final signal.
Two other pieces are included in the exhibition, providing a counterpoint in scale to the vast installation. David Hall’s TV Interruptions (1971) are widely credited as the first instance of an artist intervention on British television. Behind a curtain and away from the din, they are shown here as an installation across six monitors. Films include: a television set that burns furiously, a tap which gradually fills the screen with water, and a cameraman who films a television set on the street, eventually filming through the screen to capture the viewer. The themes of consumption, voyeurism, and immersion in the films make immediate sense in the context of an unannounced broadcast. The subject matter is further illustrated by an auditory accompaniment; a regular announcement of “interruption” punctuated by an incessant bleeping. This along with the haphazard positioning of the monitors, which prevents the films all being viewed from any one position, keeps the viewer at arms length from the events on screen.
Further still from the warblings of mass of televisions, Progressive Recession (1974) is an installation of nine CCTV cameras mounted atop nine monitors. Only one monitor displays its own feed, the others calculatedly resituate the viewer onto an alternative screen. The spatial play is fun, but also disconcerting. The cameras don’t record for security, instead enacting a form of voyeurism. Across the length of the room, two cameras swap feeds; the viewer is constantly fed an image from behind them. Another wall contains the remaining seven cameras. Your own reflection is transmitted elsewhere, becoming horizontally displaced. On the screen before you, in its place, you are left with blank space, or on occasion, another viewer staring back at you. In this way the white room becomes filled with a non-symmetrical surveillance loop, the network of cameras means that a person can never just be in one place.
Whilst with TV Interruptions and Progressive Recession, Hall seems to have looked ahead, forecasting the themes that, after his influence, would pervade the art world; End Piece uses current technology to look back. The installation is concerned with the technologies and signals to which Hall responded in the early 70s. He has taken the opportunity to demarcate a unique moment in time, the technological transition at which analogue television will cease to exist. Concurrently the piece locates a more personal theme, to mark the end of structures that have defined Hall as an artist. April 18 is a moment at which many of Hall’s pieces will become nostalgia. They can no longer be a discussion of present formats but those, which after more than forty years of making art, have become part of the past.
David Hall: End Piece… 16/03/2012 – 22/04/2012, Ambika P3, 35 Marylebone Road, London, NW1 5LS. www.p3exhibitions.com
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1001 TV Sets (End Piece) 1972-2012 David Hall
Photo: Michael Mazière, Ambika P3, University of Westminster