Broadcast Quality: The art of Big Brother II
by Michelle Matthews
Ed. Kathryn Smith (Trinity Session/Bell Roberts)
72pgs, full colour, RRP: R175
When the Trinity Session decided to curate the Big Brother II house, they felt they had a lot of explaining to do. While I never felt it was necessary in the first place, this book goes a little way towards smoothing over what some artists saw as a betrayal.
The book has one lengthy transcribed reaction to a work, Groshaan's conversation with Big Brother about Isolde Kram's Populating Couple, which was worrying him because it focused his feelings about pregnant Michelle's departure. He also asked to be allowed to make an artwork to express his feelings. Otherwise there were no 'deep' reactions to the artworks. Was the Big Brother II curation therefore a failure? Not at all. This book shows how easily the housemates accepted the art into their 'lives'. Watching them use Paul Edmunds' bronzed polystyrene container as a salad server, Isolde Krams' rubber buffalo trophy (which they were very fond of) as a tub toy and Brett Murray's Guilt Guilty Guiltiest as a towel rack is, quite frankly, thrilling. The Big Brother II house is one of South Africa's best examples of how people react to art outside of a gallery ever.
Most entertaining is the transcribed art commentary running along the bottom of the pages (reminiscent of the constant SMS text on the BBII screen). Unfortunately one cannot detect whether there is irony in her voice when blow-up blonde Mandy declares, 'There's nothing better than waking up and starting to paint.' I doubt it. The conversations show that some of the housemates had picked up, although with a slippery grasp, a feeling for the artist's ineffable understanding of technique and balance. Rabin, in reference to a mosaicing task, comes up with this obtuse statement: 'I'm thinking...the fact that people wanna stick blocks where they wanna stick blocks is up to them. The bottom line is to what extent we stick blocks, you know what I mean?'
The book, like the curation, is aimed at a wider audience. Each contributing artist gets a short, familiar biog and a sentence or two about the motivation behind the work on display. It would have been interesting to see them comment a bit more on their work in the Big Brother II environment. The essays are accessible, if bewilderingly laid out. Kathryn Smith speaks about art representation on television, including an interesting 'aesthetic terrorism' project executed on the sappy Melrose Place, while Michelle Constant and Alex Dodd write very personal (and therefore, less interesting) 'essays' (columns really). James Sey gets a bit Foucaultian on us, but his essay is still an engaging rather than a difficult read, while ArtThrob editor, Sean O'Toole, contributes a short story.
Broadcast Quality is more of a coffee table book than an art book, a basic document to leave lying round your house in the hope that it will spark further debate.