diamond geezer

 Thursday, March 29, 2012

The end is nigh. Within a week, analogue televisions in the London area will start to lose channels, and within three weeks they'll have lost the lot. This is the long-awaited digital switchover, timed for 4th April and 18th April, as services are jiggled around allowing more of the electromagnetic spectrum to be flogged off. All of which is the perfect excuse for an analogue Armageddon artwork, in an unlikely spot opposite Madame Tussauds.

1001 TV Sets (End Piece) by David Hall
Ambika P3: 35 Marylebone Road, NW1 5LS
Open: Wed-Fri (11-7); Sat-Sun (12-6)
16 March - 22 April 2012

It's a very simple idea. Find just over a thousand television sets of the old cathode ray tube variety. Stick them in a dark basement behind an underground car park beneath the University of Westminster. Place them higgledy-piggledy across the concrete floor, all facing upwards. Dangle the power cables up to a single point on the ceiling. And switch them all on, approximately 20% on each of the major terrestrial channels. Work of art created, simple.

The scale of the installation is quite something. This is a large gallery space, precisely where you wouldn't expect one, with a glare of light erupting from the floor. The displays create an ever-changing mosaic of colour, according to what happens to be on the telly at the time. Adverts, idents, grinning quiz show hosts, the latest newsflash... could be anything. It's all a bit sci-fi, maybe a bit Frankenstein's laboratory, except that Bargain Hunt or Come Dine With Me could pop up at any time.

But the outstanding feature is the noise. A thousand TV sets, each with their volume turned up, create a considerable cacophony. In truth it's five separate soundstreams, one for each channel, and only occasionally is it possible to distinguish between them. The theme from Pointless, the four notes of the Intel jingle, sometimes something shines through. But most of the time this is an analogue Tower of Babel, broadcasting noise not meaning, for as long as it lasts. [video]

Next Wednesday, one fifth of the screens will go blank. All the TV sets tuned to BBC2 will lose their signal, as a hint to technologically incompetent households that they need to act soon or lose everything. And a fortnight later the entire room will go dark. Analogue signals from the Crystal Palace transmitter will be no more, and these unmodified sets will be incapable of broadcasting anything. Come back at the end of the installation's run and you'll face a gallery full of post-digital hiss and white noise.

I liked End Piece. It's a really clever physical embodiment of an unseen upgrade that will change broadcasting forever. David doesn't need to do anything now his screens are in place, he just sits tight and the authorities transform his artwork for him. I'm rather tempted to come back again, twice, to view the room at each stage of its terminal decline. All, most, none. These old sets aren't destined for a retune, they're heading for the scrap heap.

David's been making cathode-ray-related artworks since the 1970s, and some of these have been displayed in other rooms within the gallery complex. In one, seven screens show short films first shown on Scottish TV inbetween programmes, unannounced, because that's art. What folk in Arbroath made of a gushing tap, or a burning television, or a snatch of Princes Street, it's hard to judge. A much more fun work fills another room, where nine live cameras sit on top of nine screens, but linked in the "wrong" order like a disjoint hall of mirrors.

But these are mere sideshows, and it's End Piece you'll remember. A one-time one-off spectacle, best viewed three times.

Further reviews: Urban 75, Londonist, Telegraph

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