Interrupting TV: Auto Italia South East
The Peckham-incubated artist group Auto Italia South East have been developing their own brand of live TV since 2010. Their one-hour installments are shot continuously in front of a live audience and simultaneously broadcast online. The magic of ‘you-had-to-be-there’ performance is paired with the trappings and trickery of moving-image production and beamed to screens across the world (as well as being screened live at the Palais de Tokyo in Paris).
The fourth episode in the series ‘Double-Dip Concession’, which began last year, is held together by alluring colours and enough cuts and pre-recorded animation to induce sustained focus. The result is hugely watchable, especially for an episode with the theme ‘Unwatchable TV’. Nathan Budzinski, one of the collaborators, notes that ‘unwatchable television doesn’t exist. If I can watch (and enjoy) CSI and any number of similarly programmes-of-horror-and-terror-made-fun, then there is nothing unwatchable.’ But the thought of any TV exec actually commissioning ‘Double Dip Concession’ is a little absurd, even despite the fact that it was created adjacent to the David Hall’s TV Interruptions (1976), a BBC-commissioned series of interventions recently shown at the ICA as part of Remote Control.
Auto Italia, episode 4 of ‘Double-Dip Concession’ (2012)
A test-card, a countdown (live and recorded) and a drum-roll usher in the episode’s action, which launches with an anchor, not dissimilar to a children’s TV presenter, proclaiming ‘proletarian realness … pre-cum realness … app-overload realness’, framed against a chroma-pastel set. What follows is a meander through a set of non-linear, non-narrative sequences, each attributed to a different artist and on this occasion brought together by an editorial team.
Artist and regular Auto Italia collaborator Benedict Drew ’s hypnotic and confrontational semi-beings, complete with animated eyes and emoticon-esque features act as a pre-recorded chorus with synth-y accompaniment. Their insistent chants and captioned texts – such as ‘Dramatic arc’ – remind those watching from home that they are investing their attention in the black box. Later, Leslie Kulesh ’s TOWIE/ Kardashian-inspired character archetype attempts to shut out the schizoid voice in her head, chanting about everything from North Korea to Marilyn Monroe, and achieve inner calm. In doing so she lulls herself into a dream sequence as the camera picks up every detail of her glossy lips and skintight leotard, eventually waking to an iPhone ringtone.
The content passes from Huw Lemmey ’s monologue on ‘Realness’ through to cyber-eroticism, Brechtian distancing, camera trickery and a dream sequence. The effect of this onslaught is a kind of simulated digital drift: a skimming of moments across a surface in the knowledge something deeper must be going on but not always being able to penetrate the sometimes seductive, sometimes obtuse surface. This world is formed from a hyperlink-logic where things are half-explained, but it’s the journey through them that counts – associative images and Wikipedia entries, half-remembered historical dates and weird images that stick with you (a man passionately kissing a blancmange face is particularly hard to shake).
Much as Twitter, blogs and online magazines aggregate information according to the tastes of the subscriber, in this case the editorial team (including core Auto Italia members Kate Cooper, Amanda Dennis and Richard John Jones) act as a filtration mechanism. Having collated, reordered and edited the work of the selected artists, Auto Italia intervene in the accepted dynamics of the artist-curator-actor-director-writer-editor relationships, adapting structures from other industries and opening the frameworks up to artists and an Internet audience. The effect may be overwhelming, the final ‘product’ perhaps somewhat diffuse, but the critical engagement and creative experimentation seems to resurrect the earlier spirit of the ICA as a place for fostering and promoting interdisciplinary work.
Just as the Simon Denny-curated part of the ICA’s ‘Remote Control’ exhibition focused on a moment when artists were questioning the role of TV and the situation of the screen within the home in the late 1960s to the early ’80s, Auto Italia call into question the Internet and online TV as the sedative of our time. As the ‘Double-Dip’ voice-over suggests, ‘TV itself is somewhat of a relaxant.’ In broadcasting the episode online, they weigh in on debates regarding fresh means of control and interaction, as the (not-always-so) friendly face of TV becomes manifest in Internet companies that track, store data and profile user habits. As prolific Internet artist Rafael Rozendaal puts it: ‘We are shifting from a society dominated by static images (posters, paintings, murals, drawings, billboards) to a society with dynamic surfaces (everything becomes a screen).’ In this new reality, the only currency is ‘realness’, HD, 3D, holograms and connectivity. ‘Double-Dip Concession’ points towards this and merges in its process, form and content the place of the personal, corporeal and spectacular in this moment via the transmission and dissemination of a one-hour TV show.