Auto Italia Explores Live TV For Artists

Auto Italia LIVE’

New performance based series launches on the Web

Last night, Auto Italia South East, an artists-run project space committed to developing alternative approaches to practice and exhibition formats, filmed the first of three live TV episodes scheduled for the coming weeks. These 45 minute programs are conceived and created by a circle of collaborating artists, performed before a studio audience (of which yours truly was yesterday a member) and broadcast live over the internet.

‘Auto Italia LIVE’ is set to explore a range of approaches to the televised live performance, from the live soap opera, to the Blue Peter-style ‘edutainment’ documentary. It aims ‘to reclaim a space within the television format that has increasingly lost its experimental aspect’, and to highlight ‘the demise of risk taking in mainstream cultural programming within the history of British Television’.

Last night’s show opened with a verbal problematisation of TV, with three artist-presenters asking first, ‘What can television be?’ (‘A frame? A box? A set of parameters?’), and second probing the nature of viewership (‘We make this work for you. But who are you. Who are we? … Do you really know why we are here? Who is authoring this work?’).

Watching the creation of episode #1 from the perspective of the studio audience, however, (with only three minute televisions depicting how the show would appear to home viewers) it becomes quickly apparent that this work is primarily about the process of making rather than the product itself – that the point of interest it is not what is going on in front of the camera, but what’s going on behind it.

Obscured by a on-screen mask of relative inaction (much of the program being taken up by meditative repetition, scanning, for example, around a makeshift galley space, from prosaic picture to prosaic picture, a venetian mask, or to a pint of Guinness) is a hive of activity: of directors and deskworkers calling the shots; camera(wo)men enthroned on trolley-cars; trolley-pushers expertly manoeuvring about the set; runners ensuring the mass of wires never tangled; and a composer generating a live soundscape, occasionally interrupted by the clang beer bottles knocked over by clumsy audience members. This is a strange dance, charmingly amateurish but also intense and purposeful.

While Auto Italia live certainly has its weak points (the program climaxed, for instance with a rather contrived conversation between a circle of artists on the distinction between ‘collaboration’ and ‘cooperation’ – for the record, a basic and uninteresting distinction), this collision between contemporary internet culture and the now-retro tropes of television programming is a valuable experiment in communication and distribution for the present-day. It is about time that contemporary artists began to assess the role of television in the post-WWWdot world, and to re-harness TV as ‘A space to ask questions’, a space to be ‘engaging, outreaching, reflexive, self-othering’.

Launched Saturday 24th September 8pm, with following broadcasts, 1st October, 8th October. All the episodes can be watched as part of the live studio audience (434 – 452 Old Kent Road SE1 5AG, doors open at 6.30pm for 8pm performance) or via the website Words/Photo: Thomas Keane © ArtLyst 2011