When thinking about television, what we watch and how we watch are two things that consistently change. The recent exhibition ‘The TV Show’ at Wollongong Art Gallery curated by Daniel Mudie Cunningham (30 November 2018 to 24 February 2019) took television as a ubiquitous reference point and considered how it frames personal and collective experiences of the world. Including work by Liam Colgan, Sarah Contos, Amala Groom, Sara Morawetz, Liam O’Brien, Philjames, JD Reforma and Giselle Stanborough, it existed as a reflection of a particular moment. Themes of gender and social media, hierarchies of taste, nostalgia and narrative offered multiple entry points that relied on shared social coordinates. The next generation of digital natives may not share the same nostalgic references, but that’s not really the point.
Beneath the nostalgia running through the exhibition was the poignancy of deep and lasting affection – for the characters we remember and the times they mark. Contos presented Friends (2018), a hanging mobile of plush, stuffed shapes referencing journalists, TV characters and Jeanne Little. Coupled with Contos’s poetic artwork description, Friends captures the power of TV to epitomise a moment of hope, escape, ambivalence, aspiration and family turmoil.
The nostalgia invoked throughout the exhibition was also one of contested images and meanings. Groom’s single-channel video presented on multiple small monitors, Lest we...get over it (2017), cuts up and re-edits together archival footage of the bleatings of Australia’s media mainstream – politicians and shock jocks alike. Reforming their words of Australian, British and Anzac pride, assimilation and national unity, Groom’s video imagines a situation where the same kind of energy used to defend Australia’s colonial project is redirected to centralise indigeneity at the heart of the nation. The tricky-to-follow, choppy nature of the cuts imbues the powerfully satisfying narrative with anger and frustration; the affirming and accountable statements Groom draws together are a far cry from the rhetoric of Australian nationalism. Narrative restitching, selective memory and our relationships to dominant representations were multiple threads unifying ‘The TV Show’.
Part of the charm was its thematic pairing with Wollongong Art Gallery’s concurrent and adjacent exhibition ‘The Box in the Corner’ (30 November 2018 to 17 March 2019). Curated by Nigel Giles, it presented TV ephemera from 1956 to 1999, including TV guides, advertisements, costumes, signed headshots, stills and an ‘applause’ light box from the heyday of studio audiences. For all the difference between the two moments – the internet of the twenty-first century and analogue of the twentieth – these exhibitions fed off each other and reflected our collective fantasies around TV as social object and personal artefact. Both, in their own way, archived the impact of TV on our lives.
Paul Kelaita, Wollongong