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What on earth is time-based media?

By ucyow3c, on 17 January 2014

pencil-iconWritten by Jordan Rowe, Editorial Worker for UCL Media Relations

What is ‘time-based media’? A clock radio? A calendar? How about the tickers that 24-hour news channels plant at the bottom of the screen?

Tessa Power, Channel, 2010

Tessa Power, Channel, 2010

Funnily enough it’s none of those things, at least not in UCL Art Museum’s interpretation.  Its latest exhibition examines how video, sound and multimedia are used to create a dialogue between the viewer and the work of art.

The time-based media, in this case, explains exhibition curator Dr Martine Rouleau and UCL Art Museum curator Dr Andrea Fredericksen, are works of art that could change meaningfully with respect to time. That could be a video, experimental film or audio – anything that depends on technology.

This has caused the UCL Art Museum to head into the archives  – which hold almost 10,000 different objects given to UCL for various reasons over the centuries  – and display multimedia winners of the William Coldstream Prize.

This is an annual purchase prize that enables the museum to acquire work by Slade School of Fine Art students, recognising a student’s particular excellence in any medium.

When I visit, there’s ironic brilliance in the fact that two of the screens meant to display artist installations are not working. A fault of technology and our relationship with it – this could be an installation in itself.

Rather coincidentally, it raises the question that the whole exhibition is asking: what happens when technology used to create art becomes redundant? In 100 years’ time, will our descendants be able to access the visual or audio art we’re creating now?

There’s a chance that the works on display here have a shelf life, hence time-based media. One example that comes to mind is the fate of VHS.

What happens to all of the installations captured on video when those machines are no longer available for purchase, and existing machines become (even) less reliable? The same can be said with the now humble DVD, as ‘downloads’ fast make this medium unnecessary. Therefore, this exhibition takes on a double meaning.

The works on show are quite varied; a result of the broad parameters that the exhibition has set itself by focusing on all ‘multimedia’. Saying that, there are only six winners of the William Coldstream Prize who have presented such work – all of which are on display.

I’m captured almost immediately by Tessa Power’s Channel, a short, looped video that asks us to question our pre-conceived notions of natural and unnatural. As a way of visualising this, she has filmed people swimming in the ocean wearing impressive animal heads (a panda, tiger, fox, penguin, and deer).

It was the 2010 winner and a great example of an artist developing an idea and executing the production with that idea constantly in mind.

Marianna Simnett, Dog, 2013

Marianna Simnett’s Dog is another one that jumps out, quite literally. It’s the most recent winner of the William Coldstream Prize and is the most visually shocking.

The artist questions human superiority over other beings through a number of storyline threads. One contains an older woman playing the role of the artist’s dog. Other frames focus on Simnett’s mouth as she attempts to hold it open – creating a gagging effect. Another prominent feature of the video are bums. Lots of bums

Nicole Morris, I Was Here!, 2011

Nicole Morris’ I Was Here! presents us with a sitcom-length video of an elderly woman going around a room doing yoga and other activities. It’s a comment on how space is constructed and the issue of visibility in our society (the lady’s jumper matches the colour of the wall in the background).

While the presentation is brilliant, the connection between the thesis and the visual didn’t capture me in the way that some of the other work did.

Other alumni on display include Dana Ariel, Tom Chick, Chris Cornish, Marcia Farquhar, Nicolas Feldmeyer, Reynir Hutber, Viveka Marksjo, Julia McKinlay, Eleanor Morgan and Georgina Tate.

Also on display is A Printers’ Symphony, a collaborative multimedia piece aiming to bring the printing process into the exhibition space. The sound recording accompanied by a concertina of printed images and marks was awarded the first UCL Art Museum Prize in 2013.

The exhibition is notably visual heavy, a shame as it would have been nice to have some art purely for the ears, but this is pettiness.

Overall, the exhibition is an ingenious use of the museum’s extensive catalogue and provides a new way to present work that has previously been shown separately.

As I leave, my brain is working full speed to digest some of the stuff that I’ve seen. It’s a challenging way to start the new year, making you actively question multimedia art and feel queasy at the potential loss of some gems.

Time-based Media takes place Mondays to Fridays between 1-5pm until 28th March in the UCL Art Museum (South Cloisters, WC1E 6BT). Details can be found here.

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