Friday on my Tele Visions: Reflections on Day 2 of Televisions from Kath Letch

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I tune in Friday morning online in Melbourne – black silhouette images float across traffic / trees / cityscapes with the whooshing soundtrack of traffic. The need for coffee causes a trip to the local shop for milk supplies and when I return there is static. Full abstract black and white hissing static not just a ghostly tinge of static, and I’m happy that I’ve encountered this moment early in my viewing day. It was my first sense of connection to the Tele Visions project when I read about Lara Thoms work on the ‘passing of static’ and it brought back memories of late nights watching bad analogue reception but watching just the same – there’s no fading with digital. Perhaps simply a flood of fuzzy nostalgia that’s not that meaningful but nevertheless a heightened sense of the ‘passing’ of something in the experiential and visual landscape of my life. A little moment of increased awareness of the way technologies shape our experiences and perceptions rather than just being a complacent user of whatever’s around.

I’m getting old. I started life before there was television, before many houses had telephones and my parents never owned a car. The world was so much smaller and books, newspapers and radio were vital forms of communication. I loved reading and would hide treasured books under pillows and tuck them away in cupboards especially if they were forbidden as ‘too old’ or ‘not suitable’ or comics that were not ‘proper’ reading. Apparently comics were proper enough for boys but not for girls. A friend who visits in the afternoon (and a somewhat younger vintage) tells me her and her brothers were not allowed to watch The Simpsons when they were young – it was considered too vulgar. I worry about my lack of connection to The Simpsons as some sort of core reference point for Tele Visions – it’s not my generation. It was late 80’s when The Simpsons started in the US and ’91 when it first screened in Australia. I wasn’t watching much television by then – CD’s were just taking over from records and I was busy trying to rescue a community radio station in Perth (RTR) that had been closed down by the University. I’d been a volunteer broadcaster there for maybe 10 years by then and it was a lifeline of music and information before the days of search engines. I came to know of The Simpsons of course as Simpsons quotes crept into popular culture and conversations – I even watched a few episodes over the years – but it didn’t shape me or form part of my early understanding of the world – it wasn’t a reference point for me. So there it is – I’m entirely ill-equipped for analysis of The Simpsons!

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But I get the performance of watching the entire series of episodes and starving, I’m comfortable when Kafka comes into the conversation, and I get the questioning of consumption and the dearth of creative expression that is missing from the television experience. I get the way art highlights what can simply be taken for granted and gives us ‘new eyes’ – so all is not lost.

Late morning I return to Tele Visions and I’m watching Frances and Kate watching The Simpsons. They look a little bored and I’m a little bored too – I like the concept but the actuality of watching the watching is not so stimulating. I wonder if Frances and Kate might write about the experience later – that could be interesting – I watch and wonder. I realise I’m not really watching other than noticing when Kate or Frances twirl their hair or move their legs around because I’m listening to The Simpsons soundtrack. I’m searching for something to engage with – I make a snack.

Little Falling Words appears. I like the way the images fragment and fall off the screen. I’m enjoying the sense of tumbling, a really old black & white test pattern floats through, a phrase appears saying ‘take my advice I’m not using it’ and I smile at that. A pastiche of images rush by and I find myself examining the faces mixed in – what am I looking for?

We’re back to The Simpsons but there’s another guy on the couch with Frances and Kate – I’m not sure who he is – maybe an audience member or maybe a video artist. I can’t really work that out ‘cause the mics are floating about not so close to the mouths that are talking and the Simpsons soundtrack is more audible than the comments. I turn the volume to max but it’s still hard to hear clearly. I lose interest but I realise that Frances and Kate watching the Simpsons is becoming like an anchor point – I can just check in – oh they’re still watching and having a chat with someone – nice – what will I do next. A friend arrives and the screen stays on.

Some sort of home movie drifts by – kids and horses – cute – then an Ad for Self-Immolation by Christine Brache comes on ‘being on earth is like being on fire’. Hair analysis and notions of idealised western perfection are being explored – does the magic shopping bag really make it all disappear I wonder because if it did why do those with the shopping bags still display so much pain and confusion. I decide the shopping bag might be full but emptiness prevails. Maybe that’s what Christine is getting at – I’m not sure. The Girls in New York Go Beep takes over.

Late afternoon sets in with bikini babe silhouettes and beach fires, gunge guns, a little line dancing, TV’s in a coral reef setting and static noise, a bit of communications history cut into the story of Rapunzel. More watching Frances and Kate watching the Simpsons – Lara Thoms joins in.

Pulsing red and blue orbit shapes draw me back in – I would happily watch that a little longer but it moves on quickly to Meditation Meditation by Hilary Basing and loud ‘oms’ emanate from a split screen. I decide to watch the mind / body split more closely but get the giggles when it seems nirvana has a beats soundtrack (though it does push the anxiety) and then nirvana shifts to more of a disco track. I know disco is having a little renaissance but I still can’t get past my 80’s loathing and if that’s what nirvana sounds like I don’t ever want to go there I’m thinking (I did tell you I was old). The heart murmur is soft and embracing though and then the screen explodes with quite beautiful pink and green mandala graphics. Mesmerising.

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I notice a green apple with toothpaste coiled on top and black powder sprinkled around just before entering The Cockpit of Pampered Isolation (great title). This is the live broadcast / netcast session with Nick Keys and guest Tom Lee – they are philosophy nuts apparently (their description) and Tom is a poet but sounds more like an academic. I might prefer more poetry I suspect. They are going to talk about Itchy & Scratchy, body deformation (from a topological perspective and Tom explains topology – phew) and hunger artists (that’s where Kafka comes in). I note that Tom is wearing a Duffy Duck Tshirt and I warm to that a little more than the intensely academic discussion. Maybe I’ve just become so accustomed to the dumbed down discussion of TV viewing that I’m rejecting the site of this discussion I wonder. It’s challenging my notions of what belongs where perhaps – OMG I’m being resistant I realise. I stay in some sort of semi-engaged / semi-rejecting space and dip in and out of the Cockpit session and at one stage of body deformation discussion I even note down ‘hipster boys are just as interested in body mangling as boys have always been’. Maybe I just didn’t read enough comics!

Phone conversations interrupt the flow of Joel Stern’s Neurovision and I only get to a superficial engagement with passing images so I end the night back at the Box Set anchor point with Frances and Kate – it seems the right end moment. Nick Keys has joined them and says Homer has redemptive qualities but I get the feeling he likes Family Guy better.

I fall asleep in the comfy green armchair being glad that Alex White and Emma Ramsay pulled this little feast of Tele Visions together, astonished at the time and energy to bring the event about, and happy that artists and intellectuals quite rightly took notice of the passing of static, took on television, and caused us to notice and celebrate the end of analogue TV.

 Kath Letch

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