March 18, 2010
I grew up in a household without television. I distinctly remember the moment our family’s television broke a few years before I entered Kindergarten, the moment of its separation from me is one of the most vivid memories I have from that age. During my childhood the TV possessed a mystique that I was not able to grasp. As I developed through my adolescence and into my adulthood, that mystique has become a desire to experiment with the TV itself. I construct perceptual languages and structures by employing the TV as a material, thereby harnessing its essential elements of sound, light, and color. Along with every other electronic device ubiquitous in our culture, the TV has a fundamental and undeniable presence in the daily lives of every citizen of the United States. Though I had no direct contact with the TV as a child,
it has nonetheless become tightly interwoven with my own sense of cultural and personal identity. This leads me to ask, what cultural identity does the TV itself posses? I feel a responsibility and a curiosity to discover and explore the TVs life before and after its time as part of American society. By traveling between locations in China, India, and Malaysia I will construct a unique psychogeographic portrait of the TV along its path from beginning to end.
The televisions that once filled our homes were of the iconic Cathode Ray Tube (CRT) variety. With the switch from analog to Digital TV the CRT TVs have been replaced by the new and ubiquitous LCD flat-screens. This mass obsolescence of a generation’s technology has created an abundance of discarded TVs. I am attracted to the TV’s ability to synthesize sound and light to create an influential auditory and visual experience for the viewer. The TV’s ability to synchronize with the human senses is a powerful yet discreet power. Its abundance and affordability as a material allows me to utilize the TV as a sculptural medium in my work. Just as a ceramicist uses clay earth to throw a pot that is bothfunctional and tactile, I use the TV to build sculpture, which allows me to combine both function and sensation.
I volunteer at Office Recycling Solutions, an electronic waste (e-waste) recycling company in Warwick Rhode Island, where, in exchange for my help, I can take home as many televisions as I want. During my mornings in Warwick I unload shipping containers of discarded TVs and stack them ten feet high on pallets, shrink-wrap them, and then load these stacks onto tractor-trailers. Where the containers go once departing Warwick is a question I have yet to answer specifically. According to Greenpeace and the Basel Action Network,1 two organizations dedicated to e-waste awareness and environmental concerns, a majority of the televisions that are recycled in the US are sent to developing countries. They are labeled as “re-useable” but end up being “recycled” and are broken down into scrap in extremely hazardous and toxic situations.
Spending so much time among these discarded household fixtures has led me to ask these questions: Where do televisions originate? Where do they end up? What do the places they go to look, feel, and sound like? These TVs travel halfway across the globe, and eventually some go to Warwick RI where I handle them at their midpoint. How do I, an American, fit into this trajectory? In the United States there is a general disconnect between the consumer and the life that our objects accumulate as they are assembled, shipped to the US, and then sent away.
My travel destinations2 in China, India and Malaysia are extracted both from a parts list from the California based Television company Vizio as well as information extracted from the Basel Action Network’s database that tracks the import and export of e-waste around the globe. The locations extracted from these two sources are the places where our TVs come from and go to. I chose Vizio because it is the most popular brand of television for 2010. Therefore Vizio is the company most responsible for the obsolescence of older models, which are then recycled by
consumers. As well as being the most popular, Vizio is the only U.S. television brand to outsource 100% of its manufacturing, which is done exclusively in Asia.5 Through online manufacturing databases I have located the exact manufacturing locations that correspond to the
Vizio parts list, and from this have formed my itinerary.
Autopsía TV is an autopsy of this global system. I have defined Autopsy using its Greek etymology; Autopsía, meaning: to see for ones self, or as Stan Brakhage put in his seminal work: To See With One’s Own Eye. As I travel through China, India, and Malaysia, I will document my experience through recorded video and audio. I will also keep meticulous notes and maps to record my personal interactions and explorations. This abundance of information will transform simple hardware into biographical collages that will become the landscape for the hardware and its locality. As seen with my own eyes, I will re-construct an understanding of the TV’s substance as I follow its global trajectory.
By exploring the vicinity of the locations on my map I will be able to express the connections that the television has to its cultural roots. For example: In Chennai, India, there are massive circuit board recovery operations that happen in the streets of the city; this is an extremely hazardous and toxic process. In contrast, Chennai is host to the Madras Music Season, a Carnatic music festival. It is also home to the Kapaleeswarar Temple, whose Dravidian Architecture houses inscriptions from the 13th century. Chennai is just one of many locations that represent the TVs eventual destination once exported as e-waste. The Ferrite Bead Core, used to suppress high frequency distortion in Vizio’s circuits, is made by the Hai'an Industrial Co. in Nantong, Jiangsu China. Nantong is located on the mouth of the Yangtze river, and is known as
the pearl of the Yangtze and the East Sea. Nantong, one of the largest shipping ports in China, has a number of interesting cultural attractions such as the Nantong Museum, Taofen Memorial Park, Shenshou Art Museum, Zhaodan Pavilion and Geyi Art Center. Nantong is one of many locations that represent the TV before it is imported to the U.S. The clash of historical and contemporary, or futuristic, draws a unique portrait of these localities; this will be apparent within the documentation of my visits.
After moving on from a location, the documentation that I collect at each destination will be packaged into a box and sent to Providence. Throughout my proposed eight-month journey I will build a library of information and experience. I seek to further my use of the TV as a medium for art making, and in doing so, truly understand its significance and impact on both my life and global culture. I will return from my travels on May 3, 2011. Between my return and August 1, 2011, I will create a room-sized installation where I will re-construct the television for public viewing, based on my newly cultivated understanding of it. This installation will allow for one to physically step through the TV’s screen and visit each part, or story, inside of it.