Exhibition review Peter Dailey: Prime Time Lawrence Wilson Art Gallery University of Western Australia 17 May - 30 June 1996
Television is a pervasive presence in contemporary life, yet increasingly the conventions it employs to describe the world give proportion and measure to reality. They become a screen imposed between an event and its audience, who remain isolated in the comfort of their own home, cushioned from a hostile world in a favourite armchair.
Truth's fate in the era of mass media is the theme of Peter Dailey's exhibition Prime Time. He constructs mixed media sculptures to investigate the alloy of reportage and entertainment that constitutes TV news and current affairs, presenting a parody of their conventionscomplete down to the ubiquitous station logo.
In Creative Nation Dailey places a TV set on a baby's highchair. On the floor are scattered numerous blank white plastic screens and a box of coloured pencils, contrasting the spontaneity of the artistic imagination to the conventional reality on TV. The work introduces the exhibition's primary theme: the steady diet of sensation and half-truth served by TV has affected our perception of the world to the degree where 'truth' and 'reality' are now nothing more than hollow conventions. Rather than actively using the imagination to disclose truth, the infant passively sits before the screen, establishing a voyeuristic relation to the world. Indeed, the future is writ large on the screen: the infant watches an image of a lounge room with obligatory TV set.
Other works compare TV to a carnival. The Lone Stranger reconstructs a side-show shooting gallery, but substitutes cameras for weapons, powerfully suggesting the media's complicity in the assassin's fifteen minutes of fame.
The two central works are Prime Time News and Truth, Whose Truth?. Both are based on an enormous TV set composed of 64 small screens set in an 8 x 8 grid. However, the beholder's position before the screen is usurped by a camera and other accessories. The technology's blank stare displaces the beholder's reflexive eye.
In Prime Time News Dailey has placed a coffee table and TV camera before a grid of screens depicting a vacuous news reader; on the table a dinner is set, and Dailey has reconstructed a miniature lounge room on a tray, towards which the camera is focused. The work revolves around a discrepancy between the vicarious horror of the news, exemplified by a seductive patina of bright colours and dazzling patterns, and the drab reality of the viewer's immediate surroundings. To highlight this discrepancy Dailey replaces the TV set on the tray with a sculpted representation of the news storya castle, chess-set and gallows. A case of similar stories rests beside the camera, codified according to the conventions of news reporting. Rather than responding to actual event, TV news translates these events into existing conventions, carried in a suitcase like the news crew's other accessories.
Truth, Whose Truth? comments on the debasement of justice produced by media sensation. A large bronze camera placed before a bank of TV screens usurps the jury's position, while a judge's gavel lies abandoned on a black chair; in the centre of the grid of screen are four bronze screens embossed with braille, while the surrounding glass screens are inscribed with the court-room oath of evidence.
Justice recedes in the face of the spectacle: TV not only blinds its viewers, but their passivity contrasts to the artist's active role, who employs imagination to distil eloquence from mute materiality. Yet by starkly opposing art to TV Dailey succumbs to the lure of Romanticism, evading the more radical conclusion that mass media has profoundly transformed art's own relation to 'reality'.