TV Party: A Panorama of Public Access Television in New York City
As public access television was established between 1969 and 1971, it gave rise to many of the utopian hopes we now find associated with the web: consumers would become producers, robbing the entertainment-industrial complex of its monopoly on our imaginations and making savvy and active participants of previously mindless drones. In a way, this actually happened; it just didn't happen on a large enough scale for most people to take notice. And as our clocks slay time, public access television is being swept into the dustbin of history. Could the same fate be in store for our YouTube?
One hopes that if or when YouTube is rendered laughably obsolescent, some people with critical eyes will take the time to recollect, which is why it's heartening to find TV Party. The series, curated by Leah Churner and L Mag critic Nicolas Rapold, offers highlights from NYC's inchoate public access heyday from the 70s through the early 00s. Bare-bone sets repudiate Hollywood glitz; self-styled camp superstars do the same to their more ostentatious counterparts; strange lighting and bizarre camera angles give birth to intentional or unintentional avant-gardisms. One thing public access allowed for, or demanded, was a kind of long-form improvisation; a sense of durability and endurance seen less and less in the age of the gigabyte. This required ingenuity or blind self-absorption or else a willingness to really bore an audience, which all can result in interesting aesthetic effects for the audience. Approached in this context, a lot of YouTube jesting looks like free jazz shoehorned into uncomfortable three-minute pop song packages: you get the texture, but you miss the real experience, man.
Amid the amateur ramblings, post-punk performances, interventions from the credentialed art world and more, one highlight of TV Party is Soho Television Presents: "Outreach," in which the host, multi-media artist and public access regular Jaime Davidovich, goes proto-Borat, terrorizing art-world types by affecting a generic accent, acting as pretentious as possible and making absurd suggestions. Though most well-connected and prominent art-worlders get hip to the scheme quickly, one woman from New Jersey's Monmouth Museum does humiliate herself, agreeing that the desirability of potential museum members be gauged by comparing the width of their shoulders with the width of their cranium; that museums cultivate "liaisons" with "physical education departments" in order to get access to members who will be more physically fit, and thus be sick less often, and thus be more likely to visit the museum; that the Metropolitan Museum should set aside days on which it makes its Roman baths "open" to "the local community.
Jeff Krulik, director of the ultra-low-budg classic Heavy Metal Parking Lot, makes an appearance in The Scott & Gary Show, another highlight. HMPL, which built an intense cult following as it circulated on battered VHS tapes all throughout the late 80s and 90s, has found a more stable home on the Internet and, to some degree, in the art world. Krulik's presence in this program is a reminder of the latent possibilities contained therein: who knows what hidden treasures are waiting—have been waiting for 20 odd years—for the force of your enthusiasm to nudge them along on their path to eternal fame and glory?!!?!
February 11-20 at the Museum of the Moving Image