Original Creators: David Hall, The Godfather Of British Video Art
David Hall in Edge, a film made with Tony Sinden.
Each week we pay homage to a select “Original Creator”—an iconic artist from days gone by whose work influences and informs today’s creators. These are artists who were innovative and revolutionary in their fields—bold visionaries and radicals, groundbreaking frontiersmen and women who inspired and informed culture as we know it today. This week: David Hall.
While some consider Nam June Paik to be the “father of video art,” artist David Hall has been called the “godfather of British video art,” and not without good reason. The pioneering artist was one of the first to experiment with the medium in the UK in the early 1970s, helping to shape and define it for British audiences and subsequent artists.
Hall started out as a sculptor, having studied architecture, art, and design at Leicester College of Art and sculpture at the Royal College of Art. He won first prize for sculpture at the Biennale de Paris in 1965 and had his work exhibited at the first Minimalist art show, Primary Structures, in New York in 1966. Hall then went on to expand his artistic tool belt to include photography, film, and video. In 1971, Scottish TV broadcast his TV Interruptions during the Edinburgh Festival. The work was an interventionist piece, interrupting scheduled programs much like a news flash. Unannounced and unexpected, these ten pieces jarred people from their sated TV states, making them stare in wonderment as a tap filled up the screen with water, and other random pieces created seminal moments in British video art.
After this, he went on to make installations, firstly 60 TV Sets shown in 1972 at A Survey of the Avant-Garde in Britain exhibition, which then bulked up to 101 TV Sets for the groundbreaking The Video Show at the Serpentine Gallery in 1975. As well as making seminal works, he was also an exponent for the medium, helping it find its way into galleries and become accepted by the arts establishment, co-curating the first video installations exhibition at London’s Tate Gallery in 1976.
During this period, television was establishing itself in the cultural and social framework of the nation and its popularity was at a high. Hall subverted the medium by elevating it above the mass produced shows it broadcast, while also maintaining a kind of anti-art aesthetic that explored and criticized this new visual form and the way mass media was already becoming a ubiquitous and stifling presence. Hall took the television set and the vernacular of this new technology and reworked it, highlighting its seductive power and deconstructing the illusion television created.
Recently he remade his 101 TV Sets into 1001 TV Sets (End Piece) (below), for the Ambika P3 gallery, which has become a final resting place for analogue TV. A sea of 1,001 cathode ray tube TVs line the floor, each of them tuned to analogue stations that will gradually disappear between 4th April and 18th April as the the last analogue signals are broadcast and they turn to white noise—as London (and, eventually, the whole UK) says goodbye to analogue TV for good as it makes the transition to digital.
Here’s a selection of some of his major works:
Hall recalls the first UK television intervention:
The transmissions were a surprise, a mystery. No explanations, no excuses. Reactions were various. I viewed one piece in an old gents’ club. The TV was permanently on but the occupants were oblivious to it, reading newspapers or dozing. When the TV began to fill with water, newspapers dropped, the dozing stopped. When the piece finished, normal activity was resumed. When announcing to shop assistants and engineers in a local TV shop that another was about to appear, they welcomed me in. When it finished I was obliged to leave by the back door. I took these as positive reactions.
101 TV Sets
Produced in collaboration with Tony Sinden, the sets were tuned to broadcast signals at varying picture qualities. The piece was a forerunner of multi-channel video installations in the UK.
Looking a little like a modern day electronics store with its mirroring screens, this was a live interactive installation in which the viewer saw an image of themselves mirrored on the screen. Hall says: “Many early installations were devised as a complex analogical mirror where the viewer, interacting with his/her image as collaborator rather than spectator, was simultaneously viewed in a process of self-referring consciousness.” This whole idea is prevalent in many of today’s interactive art pieces.
Images: David Hall