‘‘Reality’’ television likes to play with what’s real and what’s not so Canberra artist Samuel Townsend has taken a certain subversive pleasure serving up some of the genre’s own medicine in a new exhibition.
The titles of his mesmerising portraits of family and friends create an expectation and then smash it with the image. Or at least lend some substance to what is otherwise the froth and bubble of television.
So The Simple Life is not Paris Hilton but a friend who craves a quiet existence, in a gentle moment with his dog. The Bachelorette is not a 20-something desperado but an elegant, older single woman in a stunning modern home. Australia’s Got Talent is not a semi-naked juggler but young artist Ned Bott in the sculpture workshop at the ANU School of Art. Bridezilla is not a crazed bride but a friend in a relaxed, reflective moment on her wedding day. Big Brother has a house but it’s not glamorous and the image shows just its steps on which two brothers sit amiably. The Voice, The X Factor and So You Think You Can Dance all feature local performers in mundate settings.
‘‘I like the idea of having titles and images which make an audience think and possibly don’t provide all the answers but leave them asking questions,’’ he said.
Townsend, 30, has gathered fellow alumni from the ANU School of Art to curate the I Heart Television exhibition which opens on Thursday at the M16 Artspace in Griffith.
It explores contemporary culture through people’s fascination and relationships with television - the good, the bad and the ugly. Joining him from interstate and as far as Japan are Belle Charter, Clinton Hayden, Erica Hurrell, Aki Nishiumi and Tess Stewart-Moore.
‘‘I really wanted to invite these guys, who are all close friends, as an opportunity to create art together as a group,’’ he said. ‘‘Television - I wasn’t dying to make work related to it - I just thought it was a concept we could all respond to and provide a unique perspective.’’
Stewart-Moore looks at the escape that TV offers her clients with disabilities. Hayden offers the non-television view - growing up in South Durras on the South Coast, the TV reception was so bad his mother would rent a video player and the kids would lose themselves in films such as The Goonies, ET and The Neverending Story. His work includes childhood emphemera related to the movies. Visitors to the exhibition can view his work through an old-school View Master.
Television is still not an influence in Haydon's life.
‘‘I still don’t own one. I hate it,’’ he said.
Townsend’s work also looks at ‘‘how television can infiltrate your perspective and frame the way you view things’’. The image Please Marry My Boy, which shows his own mother, illustrates how a show Townsend has never even watched can influence his thinking.
‘‘I’m trying to talk about the anxiety that can be induced by the pressures of TV and I think this one really speaks to that,’’ he said.
‘‘You have these shows where there’s a mother character pleading for her son to get married and it becomes a competition. Not that I would watch the show, but seeing the adverts, you can’t help but feel the pressure and think, ‘Gosh, I’m getting on. I wonder if my mum thinks that too?’.’’
Townsend, a former Narrabundah College student now teaching at Lake Ginninderra College, is ambivalent about the wider implications of reality television.
‘‘I don’t pay attention to it - but you wouldn’t think that with the obsession with the titles. It’s here. I think there’s other things going on in this screen-based culture which are probably more detrimental to society but it definitely plays a part,’’ he said.
Social media may be the greater evil.
‘‘Just that that smart phone, living-online and not really [engaging with people] existence,’’ he said.
- I Heart Television opens at M16 Artspace in Blaxland Crescent on Thursday and continues until February 9.