Interrupting the Program

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By the late 1960s, a decade after the television became the centerpiece of the suburban living room and sin qua non of American--if not yet global--culture, artists had begun to appropriate the power of official communication represented by broadcast media to their own critical and often confrontational ends. The recently opened exhibition Broadcast, at the Contemporary Museum in Baltimore through November 18th, chronicles 30 years of artists intervening in and manipulating television and radio. Some appropriate audio and images from mass media and re-broadcast them in ways that critically address their values and conventions. Dara Birnbaum's six-channel video installation, 'Hostage' (1994), for example, reworks footage from the kidnapping of German industrialist Hanns Martin Schleyer by the Baader Meinhoff group aired some two decades before, while Siebren Versteeg's 'CC' (2003) uses an Internet connection to feed text from randomly selected blogs into the closed-caption boxes below looping video television newscasts. Other artists participate directly in original broadcasts by either creating their own or intervening in existing media channels. One of Gregory Green's anarchistic experiments with stylized pirate radio equipment joins Christian Jankowski's work 'Telemistica,' which documents the artist's calls to Italian on-air psychics during the 1999 Venice Biennale, as does Chris Burden's literal takeover of the airwaves, 'TV Hijack, February 9' (1972), during which the artist, appearing as a guest on a local television talk show, held his interviewer hostage at knife point for the duration of the program.