The exhibition Home Screen Home is organized in conjunction with the 27th International Film Festival Rotterdam. Home Screen Home presents video works made for the television screen, ranging from critical tapes of the sixties and seventies to recent music videos and commercials. Makers include Sadie Benning, Kathryn Bigelow, Donigan Cumming, Atom Egoyan, Robert Frank, Nancy Holt, Joan Jonas, Chris Marker, Antoni Muntadas, Mark Romanek, Martha Rosler, Lawrence Weiner and Peter Wollen. The videos will be screened in surroundings which refer to the domestic space. The exhibition is curated by American filmmaker and producer Michael Shamberg.

Made for the television screen

Recent discussions about art and the Internet revolve around the challenge the Net poses to the conventional exhibition system. In the sphere of the Internet, art abandons the physical space of the institution as the site of experience in favor of direct access through the private terminal.

The discussion about the Internet is very similar to the issues raised by the first artists working with video. Their concerns were equally related to finding an alternative space for presenting art. Through television, art was to be brought directly into the home.

Artists’ access to television began around 1969, when the first portable video equipment became available. For many artists, video represented a tool for revolt against mainstream television. Television was perceived as having a tremendous influence on society, and artists examined its effects on a public that had grown to know television as both a home furnishing and a direct source of cultural information. For others, it was a medium through which their art could escape the institutionalized art world.

home theater

In her essay “The Suburban Home Companion” Lynn Spigel analyzes television’s theatricalization of the home. In the forties and fifties, American home magazines advised that “conventional living room groupings need to be slightly altered because televiewers look in the same direction and not at each other” or that “television is a theater; and to succeed, theater requires a comfortably placed audience with clear view of the stage”.

Television puts the viewer in an isolated position, looking at a public spectacle from his own home. It makes the viewer feel as if she is taking part in a public event “from a distance”. At the same time, this distance makes outside spaces part of a safe and predictable experience. People are allowed to travel from their homes while remaining untouched by the actual social contexts to which they have imaginatively ventured.

Television thus contributed to the constitution of the ideal of the suburban family. Television programs also reinforced the family structure. Popular sitcoms pictured romanticized versions of family bonding; even the news was generally presented by a couple. As Dan Graham observed: “Television might be metaphorically visualized as a mirror in which the viewing family sees an idealized, ideologically distorted reflection of themselves”.

democratic television

Artists were among the first to oppose television as an instrument of power. They employed video as a weapon against television’s representational hegemony. In the sixties, underground groups such as Videofreex, People’s Video Theater and Raindance Corporation provided program alternatives to mainstream television and explored the democratic possibilities of mass media. They documented street life in a direct, real-time and unedited style, modeled after the French “cinéma-vérité”. The 1971 manifesto of the alternative movement, “Guerrilla Television”, outlined a plan to decentralize television so that the medium could be made by as well as for the people. Through public-access channels, they covered political conventions from a deliberately subjective position, challenging the objectivity of commercial television journalism.

an alternative place for art

At the same time, other artists, such as Vito Acconci, John Baldessari, Joan Jonas, Nancy Holt and Richard Serra added video to their repertoire of media, not with intentions of changing television and directly affecting social change, but with an interest in changing the standard relationship between artist and viewer. An example is Richard Serra’s video Television Delivers People (1973). The opening statement, “The product of television, commercial television, is the audience”, subverts the common notion that we control the role of television in our lives. These artists were interested in redefining the rigid criteria of the commercial art world. Video's impermanence and reproducibility were seen as a denial of art as precious object. Video thus was part of a more general questioning of the traditional art object through nonmarketable art forms such as performance, conceptual art, land art and body art.

Since the eighties, artists have been less preoccupied with seeking adversarial positions inside the communications industries. Their positions even seem to have been reversed. Many of the early revolutionaries have become official television producers, contributing to popular series as Hill Street Blues, movies and documentaries, supported by public channels such as Channel 4, BRTF, ZDF, PRO and DD. Artists are actually hired as creative directors for MTV clips and commercials. However, through strategies of appropriation, parody or pastiche these works still create a difference, subverting mainstream imagery at a moment when television has become so common it sometimes seems like wallpaper.