Village Voice 04.19.2017 : Page 37

37 Public Access Ltd A new show at BRIC House celebrates the not-ready-for-primetime pioneers of commercial-free TV T BY JENNIFER KRASINSKI exclusively to noncommercial public programming. The idea: to break up the cultural monopoly, to put the cameras in the hands of the people to ensure that television reflected local interests and served local needs. After all, democracy should be built — at least in part — on the free flow of information. The irst public access channel went live in 1968 in Dale City, Virginia; Manhattan, New York City, was its next test site, with two channels debuting in 1971. The rest of the country soon followed suit. For video artists and collectives — not to mention political and social activists — the timing was impeccable. Portapak video cameras had hit the market in 1967, offering a lightweight and affordable alternative to the cumbersome models of yore. Public access became not only a new means of distribution, but a new puncture point into American culture. Without stores of corporate cash to count on — but sometimes with the support of NEA fellowships and grants — the artists who irst took to public access TV se-duced (and sometimes repulsed) viewers with low-budget, oddball, DIY aesthetics. Their productions were often subversive riffs on popular forms: the talk show, the elevision is supposed to make the world one big culture,” pronounced the late Glenn O’Brien in the debut episode of his weekly hour-long public access television show, TV Party (1978–82). “Well, we never believed that, did we ?” The eruption of public access — and the colorful, chaotic, eccentric programming that ensued — was a watershed moment in media history, when the opium of the people became its own antidote. An exhibition currently on view at BRIC, “Public Access/Open Networks,” offers a sharp, immersive crash course in the work of the artists and activists who tapped the power of the cathode ray and how their incendiary blasts of free speech have rippled into the internet age. Pre-senting seventeen hours of videos and featuring the work of a hundred artists working individually and collectively, the show is a timely reminder of the necessity of outrageous, creative dissent. Public access was born in America in the late 1960s during the transition from analog to cable broadcasting. As mandated by the FCC, in exchange for franchise rights, service providers were required to dedicate certain channels The show at BRIC House explores the world of public access television and its online descendants. of public access and longest-running variety hour, the man-on-the-street video collectives, invested in producing interview, the newscast. “myth-smashing media.” On view is Doug Hall, Chip Lord, and Jody “Martha Rosler Reads Vogue ,” one of its Proctor created The Amarillo News Tapes best-known episodes, which aired De-as artists-in-residence at KVII TV in cember 1, 1982, and comprised a taped Amarillo, Texas, in 1980. Theirs was a performance of the artist flipping through near pitch-perfect mock newscast that the pages of Vogue , dissecting it for its included reporting on a recent tornado messages about “having it all,” damaging hit — a not-so-subtle metaphor for how to women and, by default, to men. the whirl of news language and footage Relevance is always a sticky virtue for a rearrange our understanding of world work of art, proof as it is of events. Wilder and less for-humanity’s failure to move mally structured, The Live! Public Access/ forward. Specters of the Show was an experimental Open Networks present loom unhappily in variety program by video and BRIC House the 1972 documentary Four installation artist Jaime Davi-647 Fulton Street More Years by TVTV (the dovich (1936–2016). It aired 718 683 5600, bricartsmedia.org collective Top Value Tele-from 1976 to 1984 on Manhat-Through May 7 vision), shot at the 1972 tan’s Channel J, featured Republican National Con-guests and performances vention in Miami Beach, from New York’s art scene, Florida, which saw the nomination of and was hosted by the artist’s alter ego, incumbent president Richard Nixon for Dr. Videovich, who promised he could re-election. In one sequence, a portly cure viewers of their television addiction. white male delegate is asked what he (“Put more art on TV!” he stumped in a would do to a flag-burner. “I’d shoot promo for his show.) them,” he replies matter-of-factly, pro-With TV Party , O’Brien bucked the ceeding to give his opinions about wel-generic oneness of pop culture by hosting fare, mixed-race marriages (“it’s the child left-of-center guests such as Fab 5 who suffers”), and how Nixon is the great-Freddy, Klaus Nomi, Amos Poe, Fred est president we’ve ever had. Although we Schneider of the B-52’s, Blondie, and in 2017 know the fate of that president, we the Clash. With musical performances, also know the present fate of the Ameri-poetry readings, conversations with can presidency, and how long-simmering callers, and whatever else happened to the poisons that fueled his election. happen in the studio, TV Party ran on the The exhibition makes a hairpin turn to platform: “the TV show that’s a party, but contemporary artists who’ve inherited which could be a political party.” the spirit of public access, whether they Art and activism went hand in hand appear on television or — more readily — on public access. “It’s 8:30. Do you know its unruly stepchild, the internet. E.S.P. where your brains are?” was the opening TV may be the most direct descendant, salutation for every episode from Paper organizing live events and broadcasting Tiger Television, one of the early adopters them on local networks, with a DIY look and feel reminiscent of its elders. The collective URe:AD Press (United Re:Public of the African Diaspora) show-cases moving-image works by artists from all over the globe — from Harlem, Portland, and Chicago to the Nether-lands, South Africa, and Switzerland — giving glimpses of what it means to be and think and create in the contexts of cultures wrapped around other cultures. Artist, critic, and character collapse into one for Jayson Musson and his alter ego Hennessy Youngman, host of the YouTube series Art Thoughtz , which Musson produced from 2010 to 2012. In one of the videos on view (on a laptop), Musson-as-Youngman forgoes a lecture on institutional critique in favor of a cri-tique of institutions such as Rikers Island, Auschwitz, and the transatlantic slave trade, “the reason why capitalism is the predominant economic system in the world today,” he explains. “For global capitalism, slavery was like” — Musson then cuts to a clip of Damon Wayans as the character Whiz from In Living Color chanting “MO’ MONEY, MO’ MONEY, MO’ MONEY!” Times may (or may not) be changing, and capitalism might cer-tainly be winning, making this freedom to broadcast more precious than ever. Jason Wyche/Courtesy of BRIC, Brooklyn April 19 April 25, 2017 VILLAGE VOICE.com

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