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Broadcasting loud and clear
Interface writer Davy Smith reports on the North Easts AV Festival
"The sky above the port was the colour of television tuned to a dead channel" William Gibson, Neuromancer
The analogue switch off, that began this year and is due to finish in 2012 marks the completion of digital saturation in the broadcast of audiovisual information. With an exponential rise in information available to us, with digital television spanning hundreds of channels rather than a small handful, and with the world wide web and mobile platforms becoming commonplace, broadcast as a medium has become transformed at a level that makes it incomparable to a century ago.
"The landscape of broadcasting is changing irrevocably. Not only is there a clear need to debate the form of broadcasting in its second century, but also to reflect on the past century of radio and television. How did it originate? How has it changed our lives?" notes Honor Harger, director of the AV festival 08. "As a society we now interact exclusively on a multi-channel level. The whole of the experience of communal televisual experiences are going to increasingly become more fragmented."
This is not a purely historical exploration, however, as Honor Notes. "The programme of the festival wasn't chosen to just imagine what the future of broadcasting would look like. We also wanted AV to include within the remit of the debate about how broadcasting had mutated over the last 100 years, since the first radio broadcast"
Unlike other new media festivals in Britain, such as Futuresonic in Manchester or Lovebytes in Sheffield, AV is a biennial event with an ethos of commissioning new works. This, as Honor describes, "Allows a longer, more considered time period for the projects to develop."
Whispering in the Leaves, by sound artist Chris Watson, installed in Sunderland Winter Gardens, recreates the sounds of the rainforest throughout the tropical foliage of the museum. The installation, when experienced through the recorded transmission, lacks power and recedes blandly into the already simulated atmosphere of its surroundings. However, Watson's live performance of the work was an intervention that enveloped the whole space, providing a suspension of disbelief that transported the viewer to a tropical simulacrum. The use of live broadcast was integral to the selection of events for the festival, and formed the most successful aspect of AV 2008; a series of well considered decisions for the live program served to unify the festival's curatorial strategies. One event that involved a rewriting of H.G. Wells's The War of the Worlds to be located in the North of England, was simultaneously performed live and broadcast over radio as had been done 70 years earlier. This playful homage served to remind us that broadcast is now ingrained within everyday society, no longer an alien outsider to be feared or misunderstood.
AV is held in four cities throughout the north east, Newcastle, Gateshead, Middlesbrough and Sunderland. "What AV allows is to make sure the public encounters media art where they are instead of necessitating that they come to us. The advantage of being cross regional is that the festival is experienced by a wider audience throughout the whole of the North East". A disadvantage of this spread throughout the region was that careful decisions had to be made as to which events to attend. An opportunity to see the BBC pseudo-documentary, The War Games, which was released in 1965 to much controversy was screened in the same slot of the Festival's opening Gala, a live recreation of John Cage's seminal Variations VII. I attended the screening of the former, which is an extremely powerful piece of televisual history. Later, to my dismay, upon a quick search through the internet, I discovered that the film could be now be downloaded with ease. Such is the saturation of information that now surrounds us.
The exhibition programme of AV included a multitude of visual artwork in all of the region's major gallery spaces. Harun Farocki's, Deep Play at the NGCA, often noted for its strong exhibition programmes, was a particularly engaging 12 screen video piece that displayed footage of different media involved in the presentation of information surrounding the game of football, one of the region's obsessions.
Any major festival in the north east becomes an important opportunity for creative practitioners in the region to display their work, with a multitude of fringe events organised throughout the festival period. One such event, held outside Sunderland's Reg Vardy Gallery was a particularly pleasing chance encounter. Horizons [prototype] by Ben Gilchrist displayed an expertly choreographed series of coloured projections through the windows on the pathway outside the main gallery space. Moving in perfect synchronisation to a piece of 8-bit chiptune music by Sabrepulse, that was reminiscent of old commodore computer soundtracks, the piece was an unexpected pleasure, and a work that beautifully gelled into the curatorial remit of the festival. Interventions of this nature, not officially held within the program of the festival, but fuelling the debate that surrounded it, give a strong indication as to how artists in the region acknowledge AV's importance.
The AV Festival, was at venues throughout Gateshead, Middlesbrough, Newcastle and Sunderland 28 February - 8 March.
To read a review of the John Cage performance mentioned above, written by Interface writer Daniel Carey click here
I am a freelance art critic & theorist based in the North East of England. I am specifically interested in artistic practice involving new media, site specific and performative aspects.
First published: a-n.co.uk March 2008
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