Channel G

Kelly Fliedner

Screening above and on our contents page is Channel G, a two week-long internet-based live television broadcast out of the back space of West Space and directed by Melbourne-based artist Sean Peoples. A green room, channel mixing desk and two distinct sets created a crowded all-in-one studio/behind-the-scenes environment for over 100 participants drawn from Peoples’ network of friends, family and colleagues, who all volunteered to work on the project.1

While aesthetically lo-fi, it was nonetheless an impressive feat for one person to organise the participants, technology and knowledge necessary to plan, direct and transmit a broadcast of this nature for long, uninterrupted periods—particularly via West Space, a relatively small organisation with little additional funding to assist artists with installation or equipment.  The 60 hours of footage created by this relentless schedule has resulted in an incredible archive of a particular social moment in the Melbourne art scene.

Early on, Peoples was able to capitalise on his large personal network via social media to create snowballing interest and an immediate community that formed once the project commenced.2 Via the social graph, the majority of Channel G’s audience was either directly part of the project or friends/associated with someone who was.3

For me, not only as a Channel G participant but also the then Program Curator of West Space helping facilitate Channel G, it was a logistically exciting project to be part of. I was encouraged to see so many people realising the potential of the project space that for a long time had been envisioned as a space to incubate on-site activity (and had only been successful to varying extents until now).

Taking the lo-fi aesthetic and idealistic politic of community television as its fundamental model, the programming of Channel G subverted conventional TV genres such as news broadcasts or cooking, game, and chat shows. These programmes attempted to mimic the highly controlled space of television, going some way towards disrupting or subverting that platform, but also inevitably, tacitly representing and embracing the limitations of it.

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Perfetto Italiano, for example, featured artist Michael Ciavarella with his endearing mum, Maria. Over the duration of 50 minutes, the two cooked the ‘perfect’ italian pasta and sauce from scratch. The set—quaintly simulated with small table, portable camping stove and microwave, against a digitally projected background of stock images of cafeterias, Tuscany and the Colosseum—offered a refreshing alternative to the ubiquitous high-production cooking shows on network television. When asked how the final product rated, Michael answered, ‘the pasta is soft but firm enough to still hold together.’ So all in all—pretty successful! An antidote of sorts to the gluttonous indulgence pandered to and championed by the commercial food industry.

One Night at the Hilton starred artist Mark Hilton, Channel G’s crudely-sketched answer to David Letterman. Endowed with his own late night variety show, Mark went through the motions with house band Pikelet, studio guests Lane Cormick, Esther Chang and The Magician, whilst riffing off puppet sidekick Effie the Sock, played by loveable comedy hack (and West Space Gallery Manager) Christina Apostolidis. For the record, Pikelet and The Magician were excellent—everything else was completely disastrous in an hilarious can’t-turn-away-from-this-car-crash-type-affair. Canned laughter and crass jokes about virginity and bodily fluids, were tempered slightly by a brief oration on the hopeless situation that many contemporary artists find themselves in.

Perfetto Italiano and One Night at the Hilton, alongside other programs that mimicked standard TV programming—talk show Things I Would Rather Not Do with Kiron Robinson and NewzNite helmed by Peoples and myself—were, although lampooning the tedious formulae of mainstream television, not doing much new either. Rather, they were inserting familiar faces into familiar situations for a familiar audience; they were effectively playing uncanny dress-ups for grownups.

Perhaps recognising the futility of attempting to authentically critique the format, artist Anastasia Klose chose to re-serve up a classic that does just that. For Kaufman & Klose, Klose sat, merely watching a video of Andy Kaufman interviewing his ex-girlfriend Elayne Boosler whilst the same video was inserted into the green screen background.4 Kaufman—a master at satirising mainstream media and critiquing the egos of late night comedy—placed himself on an eight feet high desk-pedestal in order to tower over his guest. The interview between Boosler and himself completely breaks down: in a display of comedic timing par excellence, the two fight, confusing and disorienting the audience. Klose sits there watching, smiling, laughing and smoking a cigarette. This reminded me of another of Kaufman’s skits, Eating Ice Cream, in which he expertly builds tension by simply eating ice cream for the whole skit. When nothing else happens, you’re merrily left wondering if the joke was on you. In this mode, Klose’s piece could have been called Smoking A Cigarette and Watching Kaufman.

This tongue-in-cheek critique, appropriation and punky DIYness is perhaps what endeared Channel G to viewers most. Low-level production values were embraced: editing of the broadcast took place whilst the programmes unfolded live, and the bump-in and bump-out of each programme happened real time, in front of an audience that could often listen in on the mundane salutations and pragmatic conversations before each show officially commenced. These clunky moments—participants just filling time or Peoples taking a mid-broadcast phone call, for instance—added to the humour, chaos and absurdity of the mix of spontaneously generated and planned programming; it created a visual lucky dip for an audience tuning into who-knows-what.

This relationship between viewer and platform is an interesting one. Whilst obvious efforts were made to build a community and gather a following through social media, some of the programming seemed to want to aggravate and alienate it’s audience, albeit in amusing, Kaufman-esque fashion. Pure Trev featured artist Trevelyan Clay simply staring at the camera with plain white background for an hour. Sea Monkey Cam was an ongoing series throughout Channel G, popping up occasionally to document the growth of the Channel’s in-house sea monkeys. Simon and Simon featured eponymous character Simon Zoric with his trusty sidekick, a ventriloquist dummy in the likeness of himself. The two sat and stared silently at the camera with a romantically starry night projected behind. Simon sighed every now and then, before taking a swig from a can of VB. Eventually he starts talking to others in the studio, but this dialogue is not heard by the audience; rather, it is drowned out by a loud throng of crickets chirping.

A familiar audience, perhaps recognising the unique nature of Channel G within an art context, but mostly (let’s face it) interested in seeing themselves and their friends onscreen, generated a considerable amount of goodwill within the Melbourne contemporary art community.5 The funny (and often embarrassing or inane) moments of chatting, drinking, making music or ‘just hanging out’—or my particular favorite moments, where otherwise unprofessional contributors constantly look at themselves being streamed live on a the screen set-up within the studio—constituted a very real record of the social network surrounding Peoples, which should not be mistaken as a record of the whole Melbourne art world. Perhaps, rather than being a project that invited new artists into West Space, it reinforced the community that already surrounded it.

Here we have a series of tropes beginning to unfold that can account for almost all of the programming in Channel G. If the first programme type (Perfetto Italiano, One Night at the Hilton, NewzNite) is one that provides artists with roles to take on via television genres, and the second follows by embracing minimal deadpan humour and positioning the artist within an anti-genre role (Pure Trev, Sea Monkey Cam, Simon and Simon and Kaufman and Klose), then a third type is defined by it’s representation of the artists’ closed network community.

Ronen Becker and Taree Mackenzie mobilised a group of their friends for GSPN: Table Tennis World Championship—a one night only knock-out table tennis competition on top of a homemade table made specially for the dimensions of Channel G (drinks and snacks provided). Artworld Poker, hosted by Oscar Perry, entailed another bespoke table fitted out with cameras around and underneath so viewers watching the poker tournament from home could potentially see the players cards, watching closely as each play became increasingly rowdy.6

Although the idea of “broadcast” is endemic to Channel G, the project’s nature of speaking directly to a known, familiar and aware audience brings it closer to a narrowcast on the rails of a broadcast. (It’s worth noting that Becker, Mackenzie and Perry as well as Goodwin all featured in the 2013 West Space program.) Community, in this instance, is a very particular collection of people that have been plucked from a total set—the creative content produced for Channel G can be defined in narrow terms by strict or similar aesthetic preferences and values.

Channel G was a project constructed and inevitably controlled by both pragmatic and aesthetic decisions from the project’s creator and director and individual voices were mostly consumed by the guiding structures of the whole. The set was modeled on those of ’90s MTV programs and community stations such as Beyond Vaudeville, and included brightly coloured and patterned wallpaper, mannequin heads, dinosaur toys and landscape tapestries of Melbourne—giving it that local touch. The garishness of the set inevitably meant that anything filmed amongst it was clearly identifiable and defined by Channel G. Whilst individuals were able to create their own content and organise their own programs, it feels inaccurate to describe the participation as ‘collaboration’. Instead, by way of the director, set and broadcast technology, individuals were dislocated from the lineage of their own practices to be subsumed into the aesthetic of the broader project.

Although mimicking the aesthetics of previous television projects before it, it’s also aligned with Peoples’ broader practice, which is often concerned with the relationship between digital art and traditional mediums of sculpture and painting; a playfully repurposing of somewhat artificial and recognisable brands, images, and culturally nostalgic items; a resituating of pop culture and consumerist aesthetics into an art context; and finally, with experimenting with varying modes of collaboration. Additionally, because Peoples was in the studio all day, everyday, he featured in much of the Channel G content, becoming, Berlusconi-like, the face of his own television network in an epic two-week endurance piece.7

Television predominantly being a platform for performance, the most successful works presented in Channel G—and perhaps those that were most able to escape the station ‘brand’—were by artists who already adopt performance as part of their practices. This fourth type of programming included: PAMELA Sings with PAMELA (Jon Campbell, Minna Gilligan, Georgina Glanville); Annabelle Kingston’s Waterfall Person; and Brennan Olver. In addition to these works were a series of video pieces that acted as online televised video art: Greatest Hits’ Computer Use;When everything happens by Hanna Tai, Michael Pulsford and friends; and Hannah Smith & Michael Joseph’s Waiting.

In Channel G, community, collaboration and participation were hermetically restricted. Broadcasting a group of participants and a site closed-off to external conditions, it paradoxically presented itself in the open and accessible format of public TV.8 This mediated community, built from Peoples’ social graph, is further arbitrated under his own personal aesthetics as well as through technological restrictions. This community, however hermetic, was successful in the joy with which it was captured and presented. However, the insular nature of a project like this is potentially indecipherable (or just uninteresting) outside the network. And while there are some very good examples of unique artistic practice presented within Channel G, it’s also necessary to acknowledge the tendency of co-located online art ‘community projects’ that offer only an ‘online version’ of some prior form, perpetuating aesthetics and recasting roles, and overriding any aesthetic plurality within the structural design of the whole.9

  1. Participants included, Ace Wagstaff, Adelle Mills, Akira Akira, Alana Kingston, Alden Epp, Alex Vivian, Alice Mathieu, Anastasia Klose, Andrew Achison, Anita Foard, Annabelle Kingston, Ben Kendall, Benjamin Scott Sheppard, Beth Rose Caird, Brennan Olver, Brooke Williams, Callum Jackson, Charles O’Loughlin, Charly Thorn, Cheralyn Lim, Christina Apostolidis, Christo Crocker, Christopher L G Hill, Corey McCloud, Current Earthly Embodiment and Elder #478, DAMP: Rob Creedon, Narelle Desmond, Sharon Goodwin, Deb Kunda and James Lynch, Dani Hakim, Danny Lacy, Daphne Shum, Darcey Bella Arnold, Eric Demetriou, Estelle Ihász, Gil Knott, Gonzalo Ceballos, Greatest Hits: Gavin Bell, Jarrah de Kuijer and Simon McGlinn, Gregory Joffrey-Core Humble, Guillaume Savy, Hanna Tai, Hannah Raisin, Holly Childs, Jake Anthony Collins, James Barnett, Jaya Fausch and Irma the dog, Jeremy Eaton, Jessie White, Jordan Head, Kalinda Vary, Kat Clarke, Kate Meakin, Kate Robertson, Katherine Botten, Kay Abude, Kelly Fliedner, Kenny Pittock, Kiera Brew Kurec, Kim Brockett, Kiron Robinson, Lauren Bliss, Lisa Radford, Lizzi Parker-Green, Lou Hubbard, Louis Mason, Luke Hand, Made Spencer, Maffew Linde, Maria Ciavarella, Mark Hilton, Masato Takasaka, Max Piantoni, Melanie K. Irwin, Mia Tinkler, Michael Ciavarella, Michael Meneghetti, Michael Pulsford, Military Position, Molly Cook, Nat Ryan, Nathan Gray, Nickk Hertzog, Nicole Breedon, Noriko Nakamura, Olafur & Rubix, Oliver van der Lugt, Oscar Perry, PAMELA: Jon Campbell, Georgina Glanville and Minna Gilligan, Patrick Dagg, Pip Ryan, Rebecca Jensen, Rex Veal, Ross Coulter, Sam George, Sarah CrowEST and Arthur the cat, Sarah Robsinson, Sean Peoples, Simon Zoric, Tai Snaith, Taree McKenzie, Tim Woodward, Tiziana Borghese, Tony Tot, Trevelyan Clay, Tully Moore, Veronica Kent, Waterfall Person, Will Heathcote, and Yeok. []
  2. https://www.facebook.com/pages/Channel-G/145201398997665?fref=ts , https://twitter.com/channelg_tv and https://twitter.com/newznite []
  3. It was the initial project plan to simply screen Channel G to this screen at the front of the gallery, however it’s broadcast online quickly became the driving focus. After the 2 week broadcast period was over, the sets of Channel G were left in the gallery and the television screen was moved into the gallery space with a 60 hour loop of the remaining footage. That loop is now fully intact on the West Space Journal site. []
  4. Kaufman and Boosler interview, as part of the series Soundstage: Andy Kaufman. Full interview here: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Enf3zyziKQM []
  5. During Channel G there was 3,051 visitors to the live streaming, of which 1,470 were unique. []
  6. For the record, artist Sharon Goodwin won Artworld Poker in style. []
  7. It’s worth noting how entertaining it was to watch Peoples’ energy levels noticeably decreased over the two week period and completely crash toward the end a 36 hour long broadcast marathon that wrapped up live filming. []
  8. As part of the Channel G install, the main entrance to the project space was blocked and seamlessly painted over. []
  9. See also: http://www.seanpeoples.com/exhibitions/Channel%20G.htmlhttp://westspace.org.au/calendar/event/channel-g/http://channel-g.tv; Kym Maxwell, Public art = social space, in Stamm October 2013; Patrice Sharkey, Channel G, review in Un Magazine 7.2. []
Kelly Fliedner is an editor of West Space Journal.