P3 (UNIVERSITY OF WESTMINSTER), LONDON, 16th MARCH-22nd APRIL 2012
I’ve never deliberately gone out of my way to see exhibitions purely so I could hate on them. The main reason I get annoyed with all the bad art that’s around is bitter disappointment, because art can be so wonderful and transformative when it works. Most of it doesn’t work, unfortunately, and lately I’ve been simply avoiding obviously crap art that I know I’d dislike… which is most of it. Good for my general serenity, bad for the blog and for those readers who are fans of vitriol.
Recently, however, I felt confident enough that the effort wouldn’t be thrown back in my face to visit David Hall’s massive exhibition at the even more vast concrete bunker of P3, which is nestled in the University of Westminster’s Brutalist bowels (currently even more difficult than ever to access due to building work and zero signage). It was worth it. 1001 resolutely old school television sets lie on their backs, blaring out the last analogue television broadcasts from local transmitters, due to be switched off for good on April the 18th. As the signals drop out, more and more screens will be taken over by white noise. There’s something elegiac about the very idea of doing such a thing and also in the Videodrome-esque presentation, although it’s hard to be very nostalgic or romantic over the loss of television when you’re confronted as I was by a gruesome lobotomised middlebrow double act of Midsomer Murders and Deal or No Deal blaring out en masse. And also some children’s TV show apparently about a handsome teenage version of Leonardo Da Vinci having adventures, with a member of the Medici clan as some kind of bowdlerised, PG-rated, moustache-twirling comedy villain. W, T and indeed F?
But I rarely watch television- and I’m also one of those incredibly annoying people who insists on telling everybody about it- so probably anything that was showing on British television at any time of day would seem more or less equally weird and foreign to me as is genuinely weird and foreign TV: Japanese television for example. OK, maybe not that weird. Advertising, though. How on earth can terrestrial, non-timeshifted viewers bear to see advertising every ten or fifteen minutes, even if they reach for the remote whenever it comes on? It’s positively barbaric.
On the 1001st screen there’s also a single cheeky (pertinent, but still a little bit too on-the-nose) instance of another work by Hall, one that refers to John Logie Baird’s first “televisor” image of a terrifying ventriloquist’s dummy called Stooky Bill. I say “terrifying” as if there’s any other type of ventriloquist’s dummy. I sometimes wonder when exactly the cultural and historical tipping point was for that particular commonplace. When did puppets and clowns stop being by general societal consensus funny and endearing, flipping to the opposite- a general societal consensus that these characters are uncanny, disturbing, masks or conduits for sinister urges? Perhaps it’s not too fanciful to imagine that tipping point might be somewhere in the historical vicinity of Baird’s invention of television, turning real human faces into flat images sent out invisibly and ubiquitously to be consumed by millions of eyes via mesmerising screens. It was the point at which real human beings themselves became artificial.
Those huge numbers are the key, though. Assembling unusually large quantities of similar objects or images has to be somewhere in the top five most blindingly obvious and worn out strategies in contemporary art. Almost anything, no matter how banal, takes on a certain poetry and significance when you fill a room with it. That goes for people as well, as tyrants and totalitarian regimes have well understood since the beginning of recorded history. But something about the solid, unfussy delivery of this perhaps over-familiar idea allows it to fly here, and Hall could with justice claim to have hit upon it long before most of the current shower of pile-it-high-and-the-awe-comes-free merchants were even born. The installation has its own kind of beauty, the Capital P Postmodern (and therefore charmingly outdated and quaint) Blade Runner beauty of that gently undulating sea of screens blasting torrents of visual trash up to the ceiling. It’s also sonically overwhelming, in a good way. I think this aspect in particular would reward regular visits, as the analogue broadcasts dwindle and eventually cease entirely. I suspect April 17th-18th will be particularly special, as the broadcasts finally drop out for good. If you go, which I recommend you do, then make sure you don’t miss the two other early works by Hall, hidden away at the back.