Simon Biggs

Video and Architecture

Simong Biggs discusses the complex relation between television and architecture on the basis of three video works.


Room for St. John of the Cross - Video installation by Bill Viola. This picture was found in Mediamatic Magazine volume 2, issue 4. Credits for the photo graph of the installation go to Kira Perov, Long Beach. Kira Perov

With: Bill Viola

The most common manifestation of the television is within the home, within domestic space.Thus the manner in which we approach this medium, is established relative to a psycho-dynamic constituted in a mutual interdependence between what may initially appear as disparate artifacts - television and architecture. The relationship between television and architecture is complex, predicated as it is upon various factors that establish the dynamics between maker and consumer. For instance,the view of television by the traditionally marginalized is substantially different from that of those who either have access to its formation or whom are well represented by it, and therefore it would seem likely that their
constitution regarding architecture - as determining factor in personal space - will also be divergent.
The relationship between television and architecture is complex,
predicated as it is upon various factors that establish the dynamics between maker and consumer. For instance, the view of television by the traditionally marginalized is substantially different from that of those who either have access to its formation or whom are well represented by it, and therefore it would seem likely that their constitution regarding architecture - as determining factor in
personal space - will also be divergent. However,it would be misleading to see television as only functioning within architectural space as its manifestations and forms have exploded beyond these parameters. It may be that television has
exploded or entirely redefined the user/object relationships of architecture.It would seem that television has the ability to enclose architecture itself, both physically and psychologically,thus rendering the relationship between these two artifacts particularly problematic.
BILL VIOLA's video-installation Room for St John of the Cross,
JUDITH GODDARD's site-specific outdoor installation Television
Circle (commissioned for the 1987 Television South West exhibition
TSWA3D, an unusual and exciting exercise where an English
television station funded the public exhibition of experimental and
often socially challenging artworks in unusual sites) and MONA
HATOUM's installation with television Hidden from Prying Eyes
(exhibited at the AIR GALLERY, London as part of the At the Edge
series of live events and installations during 1987) all relate to notions
of architecture and its formation through television-and this in
relation to video practise. Each of these artists has a different
perspective on their medium - video-and a distinct approach to the
subject of architecture and its cultural significance.
HATOUM and VIOLA see video, at least in these particular works, more as a presence significantin its own right, whereas GODDARD explores as well its facility as a narrativewindow. The notion of the television as a presence, as an iconic figure primarily signifying its own status, allows HATOUM and VIOLA to deal with this media as artifact,with all its cultural associations at this level, rather than address its stylistic and formal characteristics.However, at this point
the similarities between these two artists diminish. For VIOLA video has a duplicitous presence,both within and outside architecture. Here it functions both as the outside world, a meta-enclosure,and as an object of contemplation within an architectural setting.

Henges' Architecture

HATOUM see video or, more specifically in this case, television as an invading presence into an architecture that functions not only as shelter but as shield. GODDARD, in contrast, sees video and architecture as often synonymous, opposing a video-architecture to the natural environment. As such, GODDARD is seen to be investing into her work not the socio-functional aspects of architecture but rather the mythic-symbolic, as found in such symbolic architectures as Henges, stone circles and monuments. GODDARD reconstitutes an architecture from video rather than seeking or predicating her work upon a video/architecture dialectic. GODDARD views the two technologies as akin, produced by and in accordance with a value structure which is the primary object of her address.
VIOLA views architecture in duplicitous terms as both shelter from the outside world and asa prison-that space constructed to protect the outside from the inside. In Room for St John of the Cross VIOLA outside and inside comes to represent the oppositions subjective/objective and imaginary (idea)/real. VIOLA attempts to problematize these oppositions, addressing the audience with their own vision of the artwork’s plural state via the contradictions inherent in such a binary structure.
For VIOLA video comes to symbolize our own vision, or vision idealized and the conflict between the two, as a duplicitous process the conflict between how we see the world and how we would like to see it, or perhaps the way we see the world and the distance between that and reality. This allows the artist to reflect not only on personal knowledge and understanding but on the institutions that form and externalize this process-for instance, the nature of television and architecture-such that access is gained to the various levels at which the Self is constituted as a social being.

The Artist as Iconoclast

With an image of an idealized mountain displayed upon a small domestic monitor within the shelter and the video projection of a threatening,thundering avalanche of snow upon the wall above that small adobe hut we are confronted with the artificiality of our means of comprehension, and its innate fragility. This in turn can be seen as reflecting upon the function of art to represent and the possibly fruitless nature of such an undertaking-although, alternatively, VIOLA may be presenting us with the image of the artist as iconoclast, creating avalanches of disturbing information that attack established models or means, where architecture becomes metonymic of hegemony and the artist is equated with the primitive forces of nature.
Like VIOLA, HATOUM views architecture as shelter, however she
invests it with a broader range of associations dealing not only with its personalized potential but with references to political and feminist discourses on marginalization and invasion.Her choice of corrugated iron for the basic material from which she constructs the darkened alleyway of a third-world shanty town, and the inability of the viewer to see the televisions placed on the other side of these ramshackle walls(they can only hear them and glimpse their reflected glow on ceilings and in corners), creates a sense of oppression, resistance and temporaryness within the work. HATOUM regards the television more as a political referent than as a an abstract and generalized presence, positing it as an agent of invasion by those forces that these rather shabby architectural structures were erected to exclude.
Where VIOLA's work contains a certain ambivalence - the product of the moral paralysis engendered in recognizing the problematics of being born of hegemonic forces - HATOUM situates herself on the margins with her subject, thus investing an emotional intensity that is highly specific and placed.There is no doubt in this work as to the artist's intentions regarding her subject as she aligns herself with the role of victim.
The difference between these two artists on this point can be seen as metonymic of a more general form of difference as represented between the industrial West and the Third-World, between men and women, the centre and the margins.Through recognizing the problematics of his own position as a representative of the centre VIOLA expresses his disillusionment but in this affirms his own negation as a dissenting voice, whilst HATOUM - a Palestinian woman - addresses us from the margins she represents with little attention to the greater architecture of the art institution, thus avoiding the necessity to address the possible collapse of her own position of power as a producer of meaning.
GODDARD, as HATOUM, to some extent functions from the
margins, her work containing not only a Feminist reading but also an
alignment with the dissension of the ecology movement.
GODDARD's work addresses the symbolic qualities of architecture as
she appropriates its signifying capacity, thus circumventing the traditional male dominance of signification in this and other forms of artifacture. ln Television Circle architecture is regarded as a technology, and thus of the same family of things as television, which intervenes in the natural environment-in this case with negative connotations. Both in the actual presence of the work, temporarily situated in the dense forests of Dartmoor (Southern England), and in the sequence of images displayed on the several monitors (each encased in steel and arranged similarly to an ancient Druidic Henge) we are confronted with a vision of the world enclosed in a technological web or sarcophagus. The technology we have developed to access and manipulate the world has come to enclose it almost the the exclusion of its creators, with us on the outside no longer able to address our environment, or vision of it, directly.


GODDARD regards both architecture and television as singular and equivalent,not wishing to engage any potential multiplicity in their respective functions or signifying characteristics. In this sense her work may seem simplistic or naive compared to that of VIoLA or HATOUM, however it is in this treatment of the issues that emphasis is placed upon the iconic nature of what is essentially for GODDARD a simple and non-problematic opposition-culture/nature.In this regard her work is not dissimilar to HATOUM's approach to the opposition centre/margin or VIOLA's exploration of the personal/social as an oppositional structure.
GODDARD's inclination to equate video and architecture is certainly sustainable, for both share the status of artifacts technological products of human intent. However, the class of artifact is an extremely large one and contains a great many lines of differentiation. This difference is most evident in HATOUM's work, where television is seen as in direct conflict with architecture in its role of shelter. VIOLA, by placing video both on the outside and inside of his stylized hut, has blurred hierarchies and distinctions disallowing any opposition to firmly emerge. In contrast, by retaining for television a singularity within her shanty town structures, HATOUM has emphasized their conflicting and problematic qualities.