In the same year, a group of American artists, known as Ant Farm, produced a video of an extraordinary event. Far from being 'nothing special', this work re-enacted one of America's most iconic media moments - the assassination of President Kennedy (or to be specific the excerpt from the Super-8 footage of the assassination shot by a bystander, Abraham Zapruder). The artists constructed a multi-levelled event that was simultaneously a live performance spectacle, a taped re-enactment of the assassination, a mock documentary and a simulation of the Zapruder film itself. Performed in Dealey Plaza in Dallas, the actual site of the assassination, the re-enactment elicited bizarre responses from the spectators, who reacted to the simulation as though it were the original event.
Looking at the diversity of artists' video produced over the past four decades, these two 1975 occurrences encapsulate one of the primary issues to have emerged since the introduction of the Portapak video recorder in 1963: namely the use of video by artists to interrogate the ways in which our own reality has become mediated through television. As TV began to dominate our experience of the world, so mediated reality (however banal) seemed to become more desirable, more real, than everyday life. By 2003, our lifestyles can said to have become simulations of televised reality and collective memory almost entirely envisaged through the eternal frame of the TV screen.
This exhibition examines the ways in which artists have used video to disrupt or recreate their own versions of the mediated real. Rather than provide a linear historical narrative of video art or concentrate on the specifics of technology, this cross-generational selection provides an opportunity for associations across the medium from direct simulation, through intervention and guerrilla tactics to pastiche.
Nothing Special is configured as a TV channel, split into four schedules: Daytime, News, Primetime and Night time. The works are programmed within each of these schedules and can be viewed at specific times during the day.
David Hall's influential work Stooky Bill TV (1990) offers a cautionary introductory note at the entrance to the exhibition. His 30-second TV Interruptions 1993: MTV Networks appear between each of the works throughout the schedules. Commissioned by MTV in 1993 and produced by Anna Ridley, they were originally transmitted repeatedly throughout the year between scheduled programmes.
Daytime (Gallery 1)
In Daytime, America predominates. The reality of light entertainment is brought into question through the surreal recreation of the clichés of daytime schedules and the fictional realities of soaps and celebrities against which our lives have come to be played out.
News (Gallery 1)
In News, artists mimic or disrupt the blending of news with entertainment, questioning our mediated memories of historical events. There is undeniable satirical humour here from Ronald Regan's love tryst with Margaret Thatcher in Gorilla Tapes' scratch- video work Death Valley Days (1984) to Chris Morris and Armando Iannucci's first broadcast episode of The Day Today (1994), included here as an example of the ways in which the guerrilla tactics of early artists' video have bled into mainstream programme-making since the mid '90s.
Primetime (Gallery 2)
Primetime presents the opportunity to view works of a longer duration, unfolding particular narratives: the fictional reality of soap, the manipulation of the media for political ends and the role of the TV viewer as witness.
Night Time (Gallery 2)
Lastly, Night time offers a space for contemplation with Nam June Paik's seminal video work Global Groove (1973) illuminating the dark space, interrupted only by David Blandy's Ghost, a counterpoint to David Hall's introductory note of caution. Whilst many of the works have been broadcast themselves, this exhibition is not primarily concerned with visual art on television. Rather, Nothing Special presents the subversion of the language of television. Artist Martha Rosler has suggested "Nothing could better suit the consciousness industry than to have artists playing about its edges embroidering its forms and quite literally developing new strategies…The power of television relies on its ability to corner the market on messages, interesting messages, boring messages, instantly and endlessly repeating images. Surely we can offer an array of more socially invested, socially productive counter practices…Obviously the issue at hand as always is who controls the means of communication in the modern world." - Martha Rosler Video: Shedding the Utopian Moment, in Doug Hall and Sally Jo Fifer (eds.), Illuminating Video: An Essential Guide to Video Art, Aperture, BAVC, 1990, pp31-50
Works are screened courtesy the artists, the following individuals and organisations: Christine Burgin; Electronic Arts Intermix, New York; Illuminations; Klosterfelde; Galerie Krobath Wimmer; LUX; Netherlands Media Art Institute, Videoart Databank, BBC Worldwide and Talkback.
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