Sunday, 25 September 2016

Classical Television Portraits

In early September 2016 Unlimited Festival returned to London's Southbank Centre as a celebration and continuation of the artistic vision and originality of disabled artists. As part one of Garageland Blog's coverage Joe Turnbull reviews Cameron Morgan's paintings of classic television shows at Southbank Centre.

Cameron Morgan, 1930 - Laurel & Hardy

Glasgow-based artist Cameron Morgan brought his TV Classics Part 1 exhibition, commissioned by Unlimited (administered by Shape and Artsadmin) to Southbank Centre from the 6-11 September 2016.

Let’s face it, we all have our guilty TV pleasures. Is there anything more comforting than curling up on the sofa with an old favourite? Like music, our favourite TV programmes from the past are signifiers of seminal periods in our lives. But that’s rarely acknowledged in the same way. TV is somehow seen as ephemeral and ‘low art’ in terms of culture.

Despite the fact that Pop Art blurred the lines between mass and high culture all those years ago, television still feels like a medium ill at ease in a ‘high arts’ setting. Morgan’s TV Classics Part 1 can be seen as an attempt to change that. It’s one of the most unabashedly celebratory exhibitions you are likely to see. Morgan is something of a TV nerd or perhaps cognoscente if we’re speaking arty-bollocks. He’s particularly interested in old TV (they don’t make it like they used to).

The concept for TV Classics is deliciously simple. One canvas represents each decade since television was invented. Each has a television set, wallpaper and of course, TV programme taken from that decade. So, a clunky brown box with a dalek on it and lurid, psychedelic wallpaper represents the 60s. A contraption that looks more like a radio with Laurel and Hardy on it takes us to the 1930s.

Cameron Morgan, 1960 - Dr Who

What’s interesting about seeing the decades lined up in this fashion is how pared back everything has become. The wallpaper goes through some delightful turns up until about the 1980s and then starts getting gradually blander. The TV sets start to lose their buttons and their charm at a prodigious rate. It seems we’re getting duller. The same might be said of the programming, with The Voice chosen to fly the flag for the current decade.

Good art should get people talking. TV Classics certainly does that, with people openly recalling memories that particular programmes evoke; or debating the merits of Morgan’s choices for each decade. This definitely feels like an apt exhibition for our nostalgia-obsessed society, where adults seemingly never want to grow up and would rather revel in sepia-toned memories. It’s not often an art exhibition gives you a warm, fuzzy feeling.

Aesthetically, Morgan’s use of colour is vibrant and satisfying. His draughtsmanship is idiosyncratic, with pleasing lines and shapes that coalesce to give a vague sense of alterity. This perhaps could have been embraced further. I can't help imagining if the entire 1960s scene was psychedelic and melting into itself; if the 90s had that saturated aesthetic of sitcoms from that era; if the 40s enshrined the austere make-do-and-mend aesthetic in execution as well as in content.

Cameron Morgan, 2000 - Peppa Pig 

The curation and layout at Southbank Centre also had its problems. Each piece was attached to a weird freestanding white i-beam. Whilst it did create the illusion of a home-cinema set up, it wasn’t ideal. They were set at awkward angles and in seemingly random order. This exhibition was crying out for a more traditional gallery set up, and indeed was produced with a particular space − namely Project Ability in Glasgow’s exhibition space − in mind, and it showed. 

As it stands, the exhibition is accomplished and well executed but just a little too formulaic. But in many ways it mimics the best TV programmes. It’s about the feeling rather than the thinking.

Joe Turnbull

Unlimited Festival was shown at:
Southbank Centre, London 
6 - 11 September 2016

Tramway, Glasgow, 
15 - 25 September 2016

Cameron Morgan, 1970 - The Hulk

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