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Sean CubbittClick here to Print this Page
David Hall
The thought moves through that iconic tape This is a Television Receiver.

In many instances it will have been seen on a video display unit rather than a TV, as a recording rather than as broadcast. It casts an assertion that has the partial validity of a historical document: true at the time, in the way that it was once possible to say 'television is black and white'. But what is the 'this' of the title? And how does it manage to speak in the present tense and in the positive, where Magritte was constrained to use the negative? Not once, but three times, as the image is re-recorded from an oblique angle, the 'this' changes, from a hard close up, rather closer than usual on British TV of the time, to a visibly distorted view which nonetheless brings out the curvature of the screen. Finally it changes to a distortion reminiscent of some of the Vasulka's electronic manipulations, though achieved entirely by analogue means. The final 'this' is perhaps the one that most effectively suggests that 'this' is the machine on which you are watching. It loops back to the initial intervention, with the well-known broadcaster and his voice, so closely associated with the authoritative version of the news from the BBC, in the colours that had been available only to those investing in colour sets for a mere eight years. That colour too would eventually shift out of the red, green and blue towards a patchwork of white highlights, near-black shadows, and a narrow range of browns. This suggests the clumsiness of a colour palette itself, incapable of capturing real light (true 'blue' for example is too close to the edge of human sight, and so too dim to work on TV screens) but all too readily accepted as accurate. That palette would be on display differently in Hall's Situation series as radiant and inexplicable light divorced from the work of picturing. What Television Receiver does to prepare the ground is to quiz the capacity for meaning of the ordinary broadcast, and at the same time to reveal the work that goes into making it, if not possible, nonetheless functional.

For the fact is that the image does signify, despite everything we think we know about it. A physicist of my acquaintance once told me that the only explanation for the functioning of a cathode ray tube was that we live in the one of all the possible universes in which an electron fired at the screen arrives at its destination. Like video artist Nam June Paik distorting his receivers with magnets, Hall reconditions the video image as a product of unique possibilities, unmapped opportunities, alternative histories and multiple universes. As the image floats free of its anchorage in the apparent screen, taking on geometries of its own, other spaces open, just as other temporalities do. In this pictorial world, not even the fact of death is enough to quell the proliferation of other ways of being.

Sean Cubitt's most recent books are The Cinema Effect and EcoMedia, he teaches at the University of Waikato, Aotearoa, New Zealand where he lives with his agoraphobic dog.

Sean Cubbitt
Sean Cubitt's most recent books are The Cinema Effect and EcoMedia, he teaches at the University of Waikato, Aotearoa, New Zealand where he lives with his agoraphobic dog.
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