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Stuart Marshall

There are two aspects of television in Britain during the 1970s to note in relation to Stuart Marshall's work: that broadcast remained impenetrably terrestrial, closed to artists, disinterested in experiment, effectively authoritarian and that it was also preparing for imminent, significant change determined by a unique combination of the demand for diversity and (eventually) the machinations of the free market that we inherit in the form of Channel 4. The first and only British pirate television station NeTWork 21 did not make their short range broadcasts, once a week from undisclosed locations in south London, until 1986. Before then intervention by artists was rather cultural and critical, performed not within broadcast schedules but by extracting material from them, making a 'reading' of it into a video work and representing it to expose its prejudices, its formal construction, the illusions of its authority. The system itself could then be re-read, the intervention as much about literacy as any actual insertion into the medium. In Screen in 1979 Marshall cites Tamara Krikorian's Vanitas (1977) that combines images of 17th century paintings with television news reports as an example. It antecedes the explicitly political, alternative 'news' services of what came to be known as Scratch Video in the mid 1980s in works by Duvet Brothers and Gorilla Tapes. But my point is that this idea of intervention as literacy is key to Marshall's own works.

Distinct, The Streets of... and the three parts of The Love Show (all 1979) are like skeletons of the television genres that they critique. Each is divided into a series of sections that omit entertainment, and often deliberately refute visual pleasure by turning a spare analysis of television into content. The works' elliptical scripts are meta-conversations - commentaries - on the production conditions and visual and economic regulations that ordinarily define industrial television. They reveal constructed sets and fake news, standardised procedures and frustrated creative expression that makes them comparable to the work of filmmaker Owen Land, or David Lamelas's The Desert People (1974) that exposes the prejudice of televisual pseudo-anthropological documentary (albeit with a pastiche Hollywood ending). What is uniquely difficult in these three works by Marshall is that their means are also their content - they are televisual assays on the televisual. The more thorough they are in their deconstruction of this experience the less experience we are left with.

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