Text by Travis Riley
David Hall is a formative figure in time-based art. Creditedwith introducing the term “time-based media” into circulation through hiswriting, he followed this by creating the first British course in the subject.In January of this year he was awarded the Samsung Art Lifetime AchievementAward for his groundbreaking work in video art. Ambika P3 is an imposing 14,000square foot space, hidden beneath the University of Westminster’s Engineering School. It is the university’s former construction hall in which concrete wastested for major projects including Spaghetti Junction and the Channel Tunnel.
An indistinct chattering pervades the area immediatelyaround the gallery entrance, intensifying to an echoed cacophony as you passthrough the doorway into Ambika P3’s cavernous space. The source of the clamourbecomes apparent a few steps on. The expansive warehouse floor is filled by the1,001 face-up television sets that make up EndPiece (2012). From David Cameron, to Sue Barker, to Antiques Roadshow, the unmistakable sounds of daytime TV slowlycome into focus. Taken as a whole, the work could be seen as a depiction of ahell worse even than Dante had imagined, however in its scale, the installationgenerates an unexpected beauty.
Standing back on the raised platform above the TVs, theimages become blurred, and the noise too distorted to represent its source. Theincandescent light of the television sets washes over the space, disseminatingthe harsh daytime TV as a soft glow. The flickering light seems too erratic tobe produced by a machine; the network of TVs becomes a sci-fi creation, acybernetic organism. The fitful cuts between Cameron and an outraged labourbackbench becomes a pattern, isolating the televisions tuned into thatparticular 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 ofdispersal.
The installation is, in essence, a reworking of an earlierpiece, entitled 101 TV sets, howeverin this instance Hall has imbued it with further motive. These are all cathoderay televisions tuned into one of the five analogue channels. Consequently theinstallation will chart the end of analogue broadcast in the UK. From April 4the number of transmissions will gradually be reduced until April 18 when thefinal signals will be switched off at London’s Crystal Palace. The televisionswill remain there until April 22, emitting only white noise, a steady stream oflight and sound memorialising the final signal.
Two other pieces are included in the exhibition, providing acounterpoint in scale to the vast installation. David Hall’s TV Interruptions (1971) are widelycredited 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 installationacross six monitors. Films include: a television set that burns furiously, atap which gradually fills the screen with water, and a cameraman who films atelevision set on the street, eventually filming through the screen to capturethe viewer. The themes of consumption, voyeurism, and immersion in the filmsmake immediate sense in the context of an unannounced broadcast. The subjectmatter is further illustrated by an auditory accompaniment; a regularannouncement of “interruption” punctuated by an incessant bleeping. This alongwith the haphazard positioning of the monitors, which prevents the films allbeing viewed from any one position, keeps the viewer at arms length from theevents on screen.
Further still from the warblings of mass of televisions, Progressive Recession (1974) is aninstallation of nine CCTV cameras mounted atop nine monitors. Only one monitordisplays its own feed, the others calculatedly resituate the viewer onto analternative screen. The spatial play is fun, but also disconcerting. Thecameras don’t record for security, instead enacting a form of voyeurism. Acrossthe length of the room, two cameras swap feeds; the viewer is constantly fed animage from behind them. Another wall contains the remaining seven cameras. Yourown reflection is transmitted elsewhere, becoming horizontally displaced. Onthe screen before you, in its place, you are left with blank space, or onoccasion, another viewer staring back at you. In this way the white roombecomes filled with a non-symmetrical surveillance loop, the network of camerasmeans that a person can never just be in one place.
Whilst with TVInterruptions and ProgressiveRecession, 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 isconcerned with the technologies and signals to which Hall responded in theearly 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 structuresthat have defined Hall as an artist. April 18 is a moment at which many ofHall’s pieces will become nostalgia. They can no longer be a discussion ofpresent 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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