I’m proud to say I have never owned a television in my life. I don’t like the dumb way it captures and controls the senses. Radio seems to treat people with a little more respect, leaving us slightly freer to move around and think for ourselves, to take or leave what the radio is offering. The best media is of course books, CDs, vinyl records or DVDs, all of which allow me to choose what I want to get inside my eyes, ears, mind and consciousness.
My apartment doesn’t have a lounge, a sitting room or front room. The room that previous tenants had used for that purpose is a kind of studio/workspace plus archive space. It contains a couple of large flat surfaces on which to make things, plus archives of all the work that myself and my partner have made, all the books and DVDs we have collected, all the writing we have published and books we have made, records of all the shows we have made or participated in, and all the tools and equipment – from book-binding needles to video cameras – that we have accumulated.
Today I walked into our studio/archive room with the aim of writing my Blog post. I noticed an old ‘Gossen Lunasix’ light meter that I haven’t used in decades, not since the heyday of my long, passionate, but ultimately unrequited love affair with photography. I took the meter out of its little zipped-up pouch and took a light reading. It worked fine. As I sat it back on the shelf I noticed next to it my dad’s old Kodak camera, really a glorified ‘Brownie’, almost a toy really, but designed to look and work a bit like a (far superior) Rolleiflex. I took it out of its little brown Kodak satchel, looked down into the viewfinder and clicked the shutter. I didn’t exactly ‘take a picture’ or ‘make an exposure’, but I went through the motions, my hands and fingers noticing that they were occupying the same places, and following the actions of my dad so many years ago. But I’m glad to say that I did let a tiny bit of light into the dark ‘camera‘ (‘room’ in Latin) just for a fraction of a second, and for the first time in maybe 40 years. Of course, that might be just as important, or perhaps even more important, than making another picture.
The absence of a lounge means of course, that if anyone really wants to relax in our apartment they either have to go lie down in the bedroom, or perhaps watch a movie on an iMac in the studio/archive room – but not on a sofa. There’s also no sofa in our apartment. I’ve never trusted sofas. As far back as I can remember, my mum’s sofas seemed to eat people up and swallow loose change, pens and combs from our back pockets. Many’s the time that, having scoured the house for some lost object, or for a little more cash to buy shopping, my mum and I would end up tipping back the sofa and thrusting our hands into a dark space between its base and its back, only to discover a series of objects we had forgotten we had lost.
For a family of seven (plus one cat) in a small council house, the sofa was a contested space on which the winner would lie stretched-out, softening, and perhaps permanently damaging their spine. And yet from that long-ago day to this, the sofa remains a stalwart of contemporary living, an essential aspect of a modern ‘lifestyle’. Enormous superstores and their rambling websites are dedicated to them, and yet, I believe they are not only wholly unnecessary but do great harm in teaming-up with TVs to prescribe and degrade our behaviour, and diminish our cultural experience.
Sadly, I haven’t travelled to South Asia for some years now, but when I did-so regularly I always looked forward to the feeling of arriving home when I was there, which involved removing my shoes, walking into the almost empty, undefined space of the main room, and sitting down directly on the floor, or on a thin cushion. Having done so I was free to meet and talk with someone; I was treating my back well by automatically taking a kind of yoga position; I was free to choose to sit and think or eat; perhaps select a book to read, or even – depending on the season, the temperature and the amount of exertion I had undertaken – I was free to unashamedly and without any difficulty, keel over, stretch out and lie on the wide expanse of clean flooring, feeling my back and muscles all fall naturally back into place (N.B the kind of flooring in these rooms is heated from underneath in winter, and so deliciously warm, while in summer lying out flat on a clean shining floor quickly cools the body).
Best of all, entering a space like this, my mind was my own, not instantly colonised by the sofa/TV nexus, by the 24-hour back-to-back media organisations, and the ‘anchor-men’ filling every waking minute with endlessly repetitive ‘analysis’ (the shallowest kind) of forever ‘breaking’ news.
My dad shared the same antipathy towards TV. On the many days when I would find a way to stay home from school, I would often enjoy helping my mum to move furniture around, creating new figurations and relationships (N.B. any expertise I later displayed in the art of curating art exhibitions stems from this period). But there was always one golden rule, that established a kind of ‘still point’ at the centre of this domestic world, and that was the decree that dad’s chair must face away from the TV.
Every night dad would come home exhausted from an 8-hour day at work and up to 3-4 hours of commuting, and sit down in a chair that had its back to a TV that everyone else in the family was watching. He’d switch on a little radio near to his ear, or unfold his paper and do the crossword, sometimes taking his meal on his lap. Occasionally, he’d turn his head just a little in the direction of the TV and quietly squeeze out a pithy riposte to something crass – or to his mind wholly untrue – that he’d overheard (N.B. my own critical faculties perhaps arise from this same scenario).