The TV Time-Capsule of ‘Interstitial’

‘It embodies the qualities of enthusiasm, enquiry and toe-curling earnestness that art can’t exist without’

  • Part of frieze magazine’s 200th issue. Read more from the landmark issue here 

Mike, 1980, black and white photograph. Courtesy: the artist and Greene Naftali, New York; photograph: General Idea

Mike, 1980, black and white photograph. Courtesy: the artist and Greene Naftali, New York; photograph: General Idea

An excitable synth tells us we’re cresting the 1980s New Wave. A clunky title-card reads: ‘Interstitial.’ Awkward pause. ‘With Artist-in-Residence Mike Smith.’ Interstitial is Mike’s public-access television art show: ‘The place between two places, where ideas and dialogues and opinions come together, intersect, or overlap.’ Mike explores the art scene, his guests debating hot topics such as Ronald Reagan and New Expressionism. (In one segment, Mike asks an artist who has stuck plasters to her canvas: ‘Are those band-aids the image, or the grid?’) We meet ‘Zandra’ whose terrible performance Soaring evolved from her earlier work Flying, and the artist collective S.O.H.O.O.D. who declare: ‘Activism will generate important art. We are serious.’

Interstitial looks like a downtown time capsule, a show for those too uncool to appear on Glenn O’Brien’s TV Party (1978–82); but it was made in 1999 for Michael Smith and Joshua White’s show ‘Open House’ at the New Museum in New York. ‘Mike’ is Smith’s alter-ego, an innocent stuck permanently behind the curve. (As he puts it, ‘Mike has thrown a lot of parties that no one has attended.’) His cluelessness is endearing, heartbreaking. In Interstitial, he embodies qualities of enthusiasm, enquiry and toe-curling earnestness that art can’t exist without. A willingness to admit, in the face of arrogant certainties, the words: ‘I don’t know.’ However hard we try to hide insecurity, there’s something of Mike in all artists and writers: embarrassment and a need to belong, to affirm that our creative efforts, however tiny, might be worthwhile.

Making others laugh is profoundly powerful, yet in the art world you’re more likely to see a show ‘about’ comedy than anything genuinely funny. Interstitial – hilarious, romantic, melancholy – parodies art’s self-seriousness, but does so in a spirit of empathy that we all need more of right now.

  • Part of frieze magazine’s 200th issue. Read more from the landmark issue here 

Dan Fox is a writer who lives in New York, USA. His latest book is Limbo (2018).

Issue 200

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January - February 2019

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Janiva Ellis, Catchphrase Coping Mechanism, 2019, oil on linen, 2.2 x 1.8 m. Courtesy: the artist and 47 Canal, New York; photograph: Joerg Lohse

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