E.S.P. TV hybridizes technologies old and new, contemporary and discarded, to realize the live television studio as a site for performance-based works.
Directed by Scott Kiernan and Victoria Keddie, E.S.P. TV utilizes a mobile television studio to explore transmission, analog and digital media, and broadcast. Through an ongoing series of live television taping events, the collective places the control room of the TV studio on center stage, making the means of production into a vehicle for performance. E.S.P TV investigates the language of television through artistic practices and has built a strong network through artist collaborations. Produced from this ongoing effort is an extensive archive detailing these unique explorations of performance, sound, and vision.
For our recent solo exhibition, WORK, at Pioneer Works in Brooklyn, N.Y., we made the office staff the subject of a six-week, performative, televisual installation by relocating the organization’s office to a live TV studio set in the main exhibition space. Inspired in part by works of Michael Asher and Keith Sonnier, WORK addressed key concerns of ours, namely, to find the performative aspects of production itself and demystify systems of image creation. The office we rebuilt in the gallery doubled as a studio set– painted partly in chroma-key blue with movable walls and props of our design– and the actual site of the staff’s five-day workweek. A camera crew, TV control room, monitors, and projections permeated the office as the staff performed their daily work to administer the very show they were inside of Spaces between producer and performer, viewer, and cast became blurred as cameramen crossed each other’s shots and hourly commercial jingles by Susanne Ciani rang through the space. Each week, we taped this new office in a live multi-camera mix from our on-site control room to produce 6 serial television episodes.
Throughout this modified “contemporary” office, a series of sculptural set pieces could be activated in real-time or visually through our live video edits. Each workday, staff “logged-in” to an algorithm combining their names with a glossary of camera shots and an office etiquette handbook. The algorithm generated live captions featured in the episodes to act as an obtuse, layered narration over the shots, while cameras and crew are featured on-screen, working alongside curators and development teams. The office “performs” labor, though it’s never clear in the episodes what work is being done. Performance here applies to “job performance” as much as it does an on-screen presence. No audio was recorded of the office staff and their conversations. Instead, all one can hear is our directorial cues to the cameramen and to each other in the production booth.
Our live, improvisational edits dramatize office banality without any dialogue and play with the term “reality television.” As the staff is simply going about their workday, there is nothing to script. Viewing the episodes, one feels they are watching three shows at once: edited images of staff and crew on-screen, the shot about to happen as we verbally cue it, and a third, parallel narrative described by the algorithmic captions.
“Through [E.S.P. TV’s] attenuation of processes of production and transmission, they actually draw attention to the cultural construction and the symbolic value, within an artworld context, of televisual liveness.” – Maeve Connolly, “TV Museum: Contemporary Art and the Age of Television”
E.S.P. TV has held over 85 live taping events internationally and has aired over 110 episodes to date. In addition to live tapings and screenings, E.S.P. TV has initiated the TUBE Archive as a means for republishing works and ephemera from early artist-based engagements with broadcast media. In Fall 2014, E.S.P. TV built a mobile broadcast van and in April 2015 toured across the United States in partnership with organizations and artists across the nation. UNIT 11, a yearly residency program in transmission and electronic arts, launched from this same news van in Spring 2016.
E.S.P. TV has worked with various venues and institutions including: The Whitney Museum of American Art, New Museum, Museum of Arts and Design, Swiss Institute/Contemporary Art, Printed Matter, Millennium Film Workshop, New School, Recess, Camera Club, Hunter College Art Galleries (NY, NY); Interstate Projects, Spectacle Theater, Issue Project Room, Pioneer Works, Knockdown Center, Flux Factory, Roulette (Brooklyn, NY); Queens Museum (Queens, NY); Harvard Art Museums, Franklin Street Works (Stamford, CT); Liminal Space (Oakland, CA); Yerba Buena Center for the Arts (San Francisco, CA); Human Resources (Los Angeles, CA); Ballroom Marfa, Marfa Public Radio, (Marfa, TX); Museum of Human Achievement (Austin, TX); S1 (Portland, OR); Nightingale Cinema (Chicago, IL); Museum of Contemporary Art Detroit (Detroit, MI); General Public (Berlin); STORE (Dresden); Studio XX (Montreal); SAW Media Centre (Ottawa); Kling and Bang Gallery (Reykjavik); and Pallas Projects (Dublin).