Lecture: Television and Transmissions: Towards a Partial History of the Live Transmission

April 12, 2016
Alfred University


In his seminal essay “Video The Distinctive Features of The Medium,” David Antin asserted, “…it is with television we have to begin to consider video, because if anything has defined the formal and technical properties of the video medium it is the television industry.” Although video art has long been liberated from the television monitor, Antin’s declaration deserves further consideration. Television, and its most basic technical property, the transmission, continues to haunt media art in the Post-Internet age, a specter lurking behind, artist YouTube channels, glitch art and the rediscovery of analog video tools, but perhaps most apparent in the proliferation of live online streaming experiments. Whether appropriating social broadcasting platforms like Twitch.tv or Periscope or developing their own streaming networks, a growing number of artists are exploring the live transmission as a site for performance, intervention, dissent and audience interaction. In an era marked by video-on-demand, how do we account for this current preoccupation the live transmission?

This lecture attempts to conceptualize a history of the live transmission in an effort to describe its reemergence in the Post-Internet era. From Lucio Fontana’s infamous and much contested broadcast on Italian television in 1952 to programming streamed through ESP TV, the Strobe TV and other artist-run networks, the live transmission punctuates media art history, emerging and re-emerging as a stubborn reminder of its televisual past. What leads artists to experiment with the live transmission? How does our concept of liveness change over time and how does the transmission work to both foreground and resist such shifts? What sort of aesthetic experiences might liveness offer viewers? In an effort to begin to answer some of these questions, I will critically read the live transmission in all of its diverse forms – the televisual, the closed-circuit, the streaming – to begin to make manifest a genealogy of televisions and transmissions.