We all know that the content of our television guide is designed to push our buttons, but the current exhibition at the ICA, Remote Control, unpacks the influence of television in a more detailed and thought-provoking way. Dipping in to a vast pool of archival footage and artistic responses to the cultural clout television has wielded throughout modern history, Remote Control presents a carefully-curated cross-section of visual material. The viewer is guided through a deconstructive process that draws attention to the illusions of transparency within television broadcasting. It asks us to look at the ways in which culture and politics are shaped by the gaze of the television camera.

The first striking display is Simon Denny’s large installation Channel 4 Analogue Broadcasting Hardware from Arquiva, Sudbury. Featuring ‘transmission hardware waste’ leftover from the shift from analogue to digital television, Denny draws attention to the residual effects of technology that has fallen into disuse. This idea of loss and what is considered ‘out of date’ is an important foundation for our deconstructive journey. From this point, we start to question our hunger for the ‘newest of the new’ and the kind of broadcasting we are now so familiar with, with its increasingly live footage and the popularity of ‘reality’ TV. The absence of this immediacy is emphasized through the retrospective curation of the exhibition. The monitors in the lower gallery feature TV footage from 1968-2005, and the choice of footage on display takes an approach to television-image making as a carefully-considered art form.  It is worth spending time on each of these pieces, and particularly Judith Barry’s two pieces; Mirage and Casual Shopper, which explore the relationship between memories and desires, and the way in which visual culture moulds the narratives we construct for ourselves. The black and white footage of Gerry Schum’s TV Gallery and David Hall’s TV Interruptions also bring a textural awareness to the physicality of filming and watching television, and draw attention to the painterly quality film can have. If you don’t have much time, at least watch Richard Serra’s Television Delivers People, as it clearly spells out some of the exhibition’s latent ideas, such as that “Television defines the world so as not to threaten you.”
Throughout the exhibition is a historical vein, relating to Vietnam-era America: Ant Farm’s Media Burn, an observation on the spectacle of a car driving through a wall of flaming television sets in 1959, and used in their alternative video movement which developed as a social critique of America between 1975 and 2003; Judith Barry’s Mirage, in which the a Native American character returns to his hometown after the Vietnam War; and Richard Hamilton’s Kent State, a screenprint referencing the shooting of four student anti-war demonstrators in 1970. These allusions all point to a time in history during which a new level of awareness of the moral complexities of newscasts had been reached. These three pieces represent a growing realization of television and broadcasting’s potential, and the multiple realities within it. They remind us that while time has passed and global politics have changed, the core concerns of the anti-war era are still relevant now.

The overall message of this exhibition is that whilst we might be confident we have a savvy, knowing awareness of our culture and political climate, it is easy to slip into a false sense of security. Remote Control is a timely reminder, a gentle prompt for us to keep questioning and deconstructing the visual culture around us, so that in thirty years, when we look back on news footage from 2012, we can be safe in the knowledge that while we acknowledged the images selected for us, delivered in high-res to our front rooms, we didn’t unthinkingly consume them.

Remote Control, at ICAJessica Shepherd reviews Remote Control, a new exhibition at the Institute of Contemporary Arts (ICA).4