Mark Leckey b. 1964
Felix Gets Broadcasted (2007)
In his video "Felix Gets Broadcasted" (2007), Mark Leckey explores the history of the moving image. Based on photographs that document the television experiments conducted by America’s National Broadcasting Company (NBC) in the late 1920s, the artist attempts to trace the course of the first television transmissions. While today’s electronic television works with cameras, early television images were scanned by a mechanical scanner and then transmitted. The central element of this scanner was the so-called Nipkow disk, on which holes are punched in a spiral arrangement. Each hole is exactly one hole-width deeper on the disc than the previous one. The subsequent image field is as large as the distance between two consecutive holes. When the disc is rotated, a hole thus moves from left to right through the scanned image window. This process repeats for each line of the image in each second. Light reflected from the object can thus be scanned over the entire image with a single light-sensitive selenium cell line by line – in 1928 there were just 30 lines – and converted into a continuous electrical signal. (1)
In the experiments of the 1920s, Otto Messmer’s cartoon character Felix the Cat served as a test object; in "Felix Gets Broadcasted" Leckey reconstructs these first American television broadcasts by placing a sculpture of the comic figure against a black enclosure, in the middle of which is a mirror surrounded by four spotlights. The figure stands in the center of the arrangement on a grammophone turntable, which begins to rotate. Situated across from this is a mechanical scanner with two wooden discs. A ray of light is emitted from the point at which the photocell would be. The apparatus seems to scan Felix the Cat; besides shrieking and screeching noises, the rotating disks can be heard (this, however, is more reminiscent of a crushing sound than the sound of scanning). The video repeatedly shows closeup images of Felix’s head – fragmented and cut up into bar patterns – underlaid by an electrical crackle. This is what the image in the interior of the machine must have looked like when it was sent to the airwaves the first time. The flashing light from the system intermittently makes the cartoon cat look monstrous and frightening – it was not for nothing that the cinema world feared the invention of television. With the first television broadcasts, the cinema encountered its greatest competitors: While information was initially available only in a process of collective viewing, the invention of television made individual reception possible.
In “Felix Gets Broadcasted” (as
in other works), what is crucial to Leckey is the transformation of an object into an image of the object. "Actually, it’s about the fact that I have a problem with experiencing objects in the world, so I have to turn that object into an image before I can experience it as an object." (2) Our perception of objects has been influenced by visual media such as film or television ever since their existence, whereby the two forms of media are fundamentally different: Film is primarily about the rapid succession of individual photographic images. The object in its entirety is captured on celluloid, and the change from one image to the next is perceived as a movement. The focus is on the issue of image and likeness. In television (and video), on the other hand, the image – thus, the object – is divided into lines. The object is "dematerialized" and the light is converted into electrical current, which passes through a conduit to the receiver. These types of images consist of a steady flow of signals that have nothing in common with the object in the real sense. Therefore, with "Felix Gets Broadcasted", Leckey also exposes the nature of television as well as digital images, whose main feature is the fragmentation of reality and its reconstruction.