We live in a society wrestling with the desire to reduce excessive consumption while also grappling with the reality of planned obsolescence. In the group exhibition New for Old, curator Kyle Weise has assembled a group of screen-based artworks by Australian and international artists in order to reflect on these issues using the symbolic potential of obsolete cathode-ray tube (CRT) televisions. Weise explains that both nostalgia for the old tellies of his childhood, and watching new TVs quickly become obsolete, were part of what first gave him the idea for New for Old. He describes walking through the city over the years and finding footpaths littered with CRT televisions, then LCD flatscreens. “There was something so melancholy about these objects,” recalls Weise. “Once, no doubt, purchased with excitement; now thrown onto a rainy Melbourne street to make way for something new.”
The curator’s imagination was also sparked by the work of Finnish media theorist Jussi Parikka who, according to Weise, asks us to consider that our reliance on “screen technology is leading to ever-increasing ecological impact in terms of the mining, manufacture and disposal of millions of screens,” and the work of American artist Penelope Umbrico, whose video Pirouette for CRT, 2012, is screening in New for Old.
In Pirouette for CRT, Umbrico edits together still images of old TVs from online marketplaces so that they seem to spin. The frenetic pace of her video neatly embodies a cultural anxiety generated by the constant need to upgrade our screens. The exhibition also features works by Jeron Braxton, Stanton Cornish-Ward and Trent Crawford, Susan Hawkins, Danny Jarratt, and Daniel McKewen. All of the artists in New for Old have their own thematic concerns, but together they highlight the role objects play in memory, the pitfalls of technological obsolesce, and, as Weise puts it, “the vast material structures that support the seemingly-ethereal transmission of images.”
This article was originally published in the January/February 2021 print edition of Art Guide Australia.