Please Turn Us On
28 July 2016 – 22 January 2017
Arthur Ginsberg with Video Free America
Please Turn Us On places Glasgow at the centre of a dialogue between early video art and international counterculture. Stansfield/Hooykaas’ What’s It To You? is presented in direct conversation with three other projects that play on themes explored in this seminal, Glasgow-made work.
Elsa Stansfield (b. Glasgow, 1945, d. Amsterdam, 2004) and Madelon Hooykaas (b. Maartensdijk, 1942) worked at the genesis of time-based practice, with the pair quick to realise the potential of video as an art form and as a communication tool. Shown at Glasgow’s The Third Eye Centre for a week in 1975, What’s It To You? was the first installation of its kind ever to be seen in Glasgow. During its original showing the work combined recorded and live film with photography and text. It was truly an interactive work, with audience engagement at its very core. The public’s changing responses to being filmed and questioned gave the work a different meaning with each viewing.
Using a combination of media to offer multiple readings of the work became a staple throughout Stansfield/Hooykaas’ rich career. Keen not to have the authoritative voice within their work, rather they attempted to use new video tape technology to break down social hierarchies and democratise the act of looking at and making artworks. It was through these means that What’s It To You? put Glasgow in communication with other counterculture movements across the globe.
Similarly dynamic projects were taking place across America. In Greetings from Lanesville Videofreex brought their brand of guerrilla broadcasting to Upstate New York. Their Lanesville TV was the first localised, pirate television station in the world. It featured interviews with the rural community, audience phone-ins and dramatic news reports. Videofreex helped to create a portrait of the local community, made by the local community. This happened at a time of great social and political turmoil, when many people didn’t feel like their attitudes were being fairly represented by traditional media. Lanesville TV offered a much-needed alternative voice and paved the way for modern, user-generated broadcasting.
As Stansfield/Hooykaas and Videofreex worked with our shared public experiences, The Continuing Story of Carel and Ferd anticipated the camera’s ability to enter into the most personal parts of our lives. Between 1970 and 1972 director Arthur Ginsberg filmed the not-so-average daily lives of soon-to-be-wed Carel Rowe and Ferd Eggan. This precursor to reality television documents the couple’s changing desires and the drastic evolution of their relationship while living their lives in front of the camera. It is an early warning about the risks of living too close to an electronic medium.
Running through the exhibition is a new commission by London-based artist Heather Phillipson, bringing the issues raised by Stansfield/Hooykaas, Videofreex and Arthur Ginsberg into the contemporary. By focusing the historical elements of Please Turn Us On through her work, Phillipson suggests that despite the current ubiquitousness of personal filming equipment our understanding of its consequences hasn’t developed all that much in the last four decades.