Tuesday, November 27, 2012 at 7:30pm
David Hall + Marlon Riggs
155 Freeman Street, Brooklyn
This Is a Television Receiver
David Hall, video, 1976, 8 mins
Marlon Riggs, video, 1991, 88 mins
In 1976, the BBC broadcast David Hall’s This Is a Television Receiver as an unannounced opener to an episode of its Arena arts program. Hall’s video features Richard Baker, one of Britain’s best-known newsreaders, positioned close to the camera so that his face nearly fills the screen. Viewers probably assumed that Baker had appeared on their TVs in order to relate the day’s headlines. But instead, the medium was the message. “This is a television receiver, which is a box made of wood, metal or plastic,” Baker announces steadily on the tape. “On one side, most likely the one you are looking at, there is a large rectangular opening that is filled with a curved glass surface that is emitting light.” The colors and shades of this light, Baker goes on to tell audiences, “form shapes that often appear as images, in this case the image of a man. But it is not a man.” Hall follows this recording of Baker’s pronouncement with a re-recording of the same sequence off of a monitor. This second sequence was then recorded yet again off a monitor to produce a third sequence with further degradation, and the process continues until This Is a Television Receiver disintegrates into an audio-visual blur. One of a series of Hall’s “television interruptions,” the piece can be seen as translating the radically anti-illusionist ethos of British structural-materialist filmmaking of its time into the electronic medium, momentarily destabilizing the BBC’s voice of authority.
In 1991, PBS premiered Marlon Riggs’s Color Adjustment as part of its POV documentary series. Like Hall’s tape a decade and a half earlier, it too serves as an analysis of television from within, repurposing the medium’s conventions in the service of political critique. Riggs’s first work after Tongues Untied (1989), his seminal video essay on black gay life that became a flashpoint in the era’s culture wars, Color Adjustment tells the story of the African-American image on television, from the days of Amos ‘n’ Andy, through early attempts at positive representation in shows like Julia and Good Times, to the unprecedented success of The Cosby Show. Unlike the more formally experimental Tongues Untied, Color Adjustment employs a deceptively anodyne format of edited clips from shows and interviews with participants in the television industry, including Diahann Carroll, Steven Bochco, Norman Lear, Esther Rolle and others, packaged with a narration by Ruby Dee. In this sense, it appears to be a standard PBS documentary, but it is not. What viewers might have expected to be a straightforward celebration of TV’s participation in the progress of civil rights reveals itself as a far more nuanced reading of American culture, specifically television’s ongoing negotiation of how African-Americans would be included in its “picture of the American dream.”
“The images as they are now constructed to integrate us into the world serve in some ways to deny the full complexity of our humanity, and our experiences as black people in America,” Riggs elaborated in a later interview, “so that only certain kinds of characters are allowed to perform on television....in this formulation of what we imagine ourselves to be.”
Tickets - $7, available at door.
Please note: seating is limited. First-come, first-served. Box office opens at 7pm.