Sitting on a dark grey sofa watching television programs from the 70s and 80s is probably the best use of this 18th-century domestic architecture in Spitalfields, London. Raven Row returns from a 5-year hiatus with “People Make Television,” an archival show on the history of community-access television in the UK. The Community Programme Unit (CPU) at the BBC, as well as short-lived community cable channels owned by commercial stations were united in their efforts to give unheard “voices, attitudes, and opinions” access to the airwaves as a response to the volatile political and social climates in the early 1970s.
Access is the motto of CPU’s first series Open Door, which aired on BBC2 from 1972 to 1983. On an open call basis, applicants were given technical and financial support with editorial autonomy. From ex-prisoners to female film co-ops, those featured mostly felt marginalized and neglected: “Your own say in your own way.” There was no restriction on the productions, ranging from documentary to interview. Community cable stations also signified participatory access to discursive power. Commercial companies were licensed to cablecast content to communities in areas with poor broadcast reception. Here, neighbors and community activists formed their voices in the process.
Access and power are linked. Open-access television not only empowered the “misrepresented, underrepresented, and unrepresented” to make; access to their programs also gave power to the receiving end through inclusion and selection, as articulated in the curation. On the ground floor, 12 CRT monitors are chronologically arranged, playing on loop Open Door programs. Audio devices automatically connect to the episode playing and allow simultaneous watching. In the living room-like galleries, visitors can choose which episode to play on old TVs with a remote control, returning a sense of power and autonomy. “Watching” is an active part of making one’s voice heard. The ingenious design returns visitors to a 70s experience of community-access television from a bilateral perspective. Camera and remote, without either one, television could never stand.
People Make Television
Raven Row, London
curated by Lori E. Allen, William Fowler, Matthew Harle, Alex Sainsbury