'Make it new': imagine an online space for the arts by John Wyver

‘Any work of art which is not a beginning, an invention, a discovery is of little worth.’
Ezra Pound

The arts on television have long been defined by forms and formats established more than 50 years ago. The documentaries and magazine shows of the 1950s and ‘60s still set the terms for mainstream media presentation of the arts on our screens.

In those 50 and more years, the arts have changed, technologies have changed, audiences have changed – all to the most extraordinary degree – while media about the arts, by and large, has not.

The Space is the catalyst for change in arts media. The Space intends to respect the strengths of the tradition but to be radically, excitingly, distinctively different. 

The Space sets out to re-imagine how the arts and media might work together. It aims to explore ways in which the arts and media can collaborate in intimate ways to create new forms, find new voices, offer new experiences and reach new audiences.

‘Make it new,’ was Ezra Pound’s maxim. Diaghilev challenged artists by saying, ‘Astonish me!’ The Space will do both.

The Space is a test bed for artists and arts organisations to explore the creative potential of developing media forms as well as their potential for outreach and audience development. 

At the same time The Space offers original ways for audiences of all kinds to be thrilled and challenged and enriched by the arts. Throughout a summer in Britain of unparalleled cultural activity, The Space will stimulate and provoke those audiences, and encourage them to participate on screen and beyond.

To achieve even a little of this, however, everything that we think we know of conventional media about the arts needs to be challenged:

  • the tyranny of fixed durations of an hour or half-hour needs to be taken on
  • the reliance on and requirement for well-known presenters has to be toppled; both the audiences and the arts must be trusted more
  • the sense that arts media is always, and only, about knowledge must be extended to embrace experience – and experience in forms that may not immediately be clear and comprehensible; quite often, thrillingly, the arts are neither
  • the expectations of ‘well-made’ television have to be overturned, so that rougher, rawer elements are welcomed, along with new visual languages and new games with what screens can do
  • the coterie of those currently given the chance to make arts media for broadcast has to be be extended, so that artists, performers and creatives are encouraged to contribute in central ways
  • the range of appropriate subjects has to be expanded in all kinds of ways, with the embrace of contemporary performance, sci-art, artists’ moving images and much, much more
  • the rights and payments frameworks for cultural use in media, including for archive material, need to be interrogated with rigour but also with understanding
  • the forms of partnership applied to date between broadcasters, producers, arts organisations and artists need to be replaced with structures that are far more equal and collaborative

Imagine how even a little of that could shake things up. And imagine what wonders might come forth (along with, almost certainly, a disaster or two) – wonders that could be entrancing and compelling, celebratory and social, truly experimental and most definitely of-the-moment.

But, as the White Rabbit once nearly said, where shall we begin?

My notion is that duration might be one key to thinking about new forms – at least of the kind that will be largely linear. Freed from the strictures of the schedule, we can go short, YouTube style – and we can go long (perhaps even very long).

Imagine making – and watching – a cornucopia of media elements that each last between, say, 2 and 12 minutes. Think perhaps of these as a new hybrid between promotion and programme – but conceive each one as a thing of beauty and joy, of complexity and challenge.

Some of these shorts might take the form of more-or-less conventional video packages, reporting on or responding to an event or an installation. But there are a host of other possibilities:

  • imaginative presentation of integral elements, such as just a particular individual scene, from dramas, dance works and performances
  • construction or installation time-lapses (so much easier to achieve now with D5 cameras and the like)
  • purely visual responses to exhibitions and installations
  • close-up performances of singular poems, dance solos and theatrical or musical fragments
  • songs and poems recorded imaginatively in distinctive locations
  • video essays made by a wide range of voices both from within and about particular arts events
  • collisions (conceptual ones) of two or three objects or artworks from different contexts or cultures, with links made visually or by music or in other ways that are not primarily verbal
  • short, sharp collaborations with visual artists, digital animators, scientists, data experts, cutting edge young directors and video and digital design agencies

Think always about how these elements might not only be viewed but also used, re-worked and re-mixed, re-interpreted perhaps and shared once more with the makers and with a much wider audience.

Then again, imagine how extended performance – too often an endangered species on television – might be re-thought for The Space. 

Are there experiments to be tried with long-form and ambient media? Are there ways to make live events or recordings that can be tuned in to for a few seconds or a few hours, and used perhaps only as background for the other activities of one’s life? Are there forms as yet unthought of for mediating events through screens to offer intense and enriching experiences? Of course there are.

Live presentations – perhaps with developing discussions – also offer exceptional opportunities to explore ‘social TV’ in new ways, integrating a whole range of developing communication forms. Those, too, have to be central to The Space.

Imagine, then, as someone else once nearly said, ‘Imagine there’s no TV’. Imagine that the arts can start over with how its many and multitudinous strands might work in a host of different ways with screens and with audiences. 

Welcome to The Space.