By Ciéra Cree
On Wednesday 4th of December, first-year students taking the Media Studies course were invited on their first university field trip – a day that played out to be both exciting and memorable for many reasons.
During class when the trip was announced, we were told where to collect our train tickets and what the trip would entail. The plan was to visit two exhibitions in London – one by Nam June Paik held at the Tate Modern, and the other being a ‘multimedia show’ taking place at the Store in Temple. We agreed to meet-up by the train station’s Christmas Tree before setting off on our journey.
The fact that it was the festive season made this little adventure all the more enticing to me – who wouldn’t want to see the pretty lights adorning London streets? I was excited to see the exhibitions too! ‘Media’ covers such a wide spectrum of topics, so it’s difficult to gauge what to expect from an exhibition about a subject so broad. Because of this, I was very interested to see what was yet to unfold.
At 10:15 AM, our train started up and we were on our way to London. Our journey there was relatively quiet and the train itself wasn’t too busy, at least not around where I was sitting. There was a low hum of chatter, some people reading, others on their laptops working, and the occasional person addictively looking down at their phone. Coming from a small village without public transport meant I hadn’t actually been on that many trains before. This was something rather amusing to think about while looking out of the window. I don’t mind trains, not particularly, but the ones that go really fast can be a bit…disconcerting.
Our first stop was Kings Cross to meet with Neil, Deputy Head for Film and Media, so he could join us on the final leg of the ride. After that, we all boarded another train bound for central London. The journey from Cambridge wasn’t excessively long – it’s a doable trip that’s definitely worth taking for students who want to go exploring in the city.
Nam June Paik Exhibition
At 12:30 PM, we arrived in London and made our way over to the Tate together to have a look around. It was exciting to see the doorway into the exhibition without knowing what was next. We could see a bit through the entrance while we waited, but there was so much more to follow.
The walls of the exhibition space were both a pale cream and white partnered with wooden flooring. It really helped to enhance the space of the room – the minimalistic choice ensured that the pieces remained a viewer’s undistracted focus throughout their stay.
Something I quickly noticed and appreciated, was the range of exhibits on show – evident due to Media’s broad nature. There were metaphorical pieces, symbolic pieces and literal pieces. Pieces that worked on their own and others that worked collectively. Pieces which were physically there in front of us and others that were both digital and interactive. Some rooms had screens with the lights out, while others were standing out in the open. There was something here to cater to everyone’s tastes.
One of the more popular exhibits in the Nam June Paik exhibition was the silhouette screen which projected coloured images of the subject in front of it onto the adjacent wall. It was fun to move around, experiment with the projection, layer colours on top of one another, and to see how the projections changed depending on the proximity of the screen to the subject.
In the same room, there were some other thought-provoking exhibits: the first of which being two life-sized humanoid figures made out of old radios and TVs. Visually they were appealing regardless of further inferences, they were well-produced and very innovative, but it’s always interesting to delve into the thoughts of what something could symbolise beyond the surface. Could they be representative of how television or the media, in general, infiltrate people’s minds and become an inescapable part of them? Could they be a way of showing how people’s thoughts and lives, similarly to that of a TV or radio show, are something that others can “tune into” at their leisure? Or perhaps it may be a metaphorical way of showing how we broadcast certain aspects of ourselves – only the aspects that we want others to see.
When I looked closer at the expressions of the two characters, on the female figure I noticed some marks that looked like tears under their eye, and that the mouth is notably sadder than that of it’s smug, male looking counterpart. Perhaps this signifies something deeper about gender disparity within the media industry?
A few paces away from the figures was a rather peculiar table. On the table was an egg sat under a lamp and by this egg were two projections of the egg. What could this be saying to us about life? How could this be applied to Media? My initial interpretation of it was that it could be displaying the simplicity of life in its beginning. The world is stagnant when nothing has occurred. We aren’t aware of others or our surroundings, and for all that we know, we could be alone. That feeling, in relation to the projected eggs, is illusionary.
As for my thoughts on this in regards to Media, the lamp was the key to deciphering my meaning. Media so often puts people under the spotlight, presenting them to us as being “real” and “perfect” (what Richard Dyer would deem as “stars”). We idolise them and put them under our own spotlights, causing ourselves to feel faded and unable to shine as bright, like the projections, in comparison. We forget that these people aren’t real, they themselves may forget that the persona they show isn’t who they are, so the projected illusionary eggs around them could also be interpreted as versions of their former selves, to whom they have grown detached.
My favourite piece from Nam June Paik, however, had to be the Television Garden which, as the title suggests, was a garden filled with TVs. The television screens were synchronised, sat in a dark room, showing the same images simultaneously in a loop among the leaves. It was one of the first things I approached when walking into the exhibition as it immediately intrigued me and appealed to my love of metaphors.
‘The Nam June Paik exhibition was an interesting walk through another person’s view on TV, audio and Media. His artwork maybe didn’t make sense at times, but it was more about our interpretation of his thoughts, work and presentation. My favourite was the TV garden.’ – Elizabete Sipko
What could a garden filled with televisions mean? Well, it can mean a number of things, whatever your heart desires in fact. Off the bat it serves as a great juxtaposition between nature and technology – it could be showing how the natural world today has become less appealing to people, and how instead of being surrounded by greenery that people would rather be immersed in a TV show. Or perhaps it could be illustrating how media sources demand our attention regardless of where we are, making it difficult to disconnect and be present in the real world. Or maybe there’s a more ecological message being pushed, and it’s a cry out for the environment. Some food for thought – does the garden have to mean a literal garden, or could it be representative of something else?
Nam June Paik, as I’ve mentioned, was presented to us in a minimal style. Artefacts were well spaced out under their natural lighting for us to see or from within their darkroom. The second exhibition we attended however carried an entirely different, more modernised vibe.
‘I thought the trip was really fun and I liked that we were shown different exhibitions. I was able to learn about different artists that I’ll definitely look more into. The Nam June Paik exhibition especially made me think about the ways you can mix different mediums as an artist, and I think this is something that could inspire my work in the future.’ – Sara Roberto
Store in Temple Exhibition
After a lunch break on the South Bank, we made our way to the multimedia show at the Store in Temple. This exhibition was divided by corridors and curtains which not only helped to build up a sort of anticipation for each exhibit, but to also give our minds a moment to clear before heading on to see what was next.
Each room seemed to have a predominant colour theme that starkly contrasted with the ones immediately before it. There were lots of coloured lights and screens flickering through montages of images. My favourite place inside this exhibition was in a room where the walls were made up entirely of mirrors and screens playing videos. These videos varied: some were just patterns whereas others had narrators speaking profound messages. One of these profound messages was spoken while a man was shown on a beach looking out to the sea, which, to me, really stood out among the rest of the exhibition.
The multimedia show was a colourful and fun experience, but to me, it wasn’t as impactful or thought-provoking as Nam June Paik. The artwork was appealing and trendy, which I appreciated, but as someone who likes to think, the first exhibition was preferred. However, I would still definitely go back to this exhibition again given the chance – it was visually spectacular.
‘I really enjoyed the trip and thought that the artwork was really interesting and unique. It wasn’t at all what I was expecting! I liked the second exhibition especially as it seemed the most experimental and abstract.’ – Lorenzo Barba
Marian Goodwin Gallery
To our surprise, we ended up going to a third exhibition – Nan Goldin at the Marian Goodwin Gallery – which was free and not too far away. This third one seemed to be very ‘people focused’ and often over-sexualising, though I feel it was trying to communicate something about femininity or the concept of beauty itself. Wall displays showed photos of people in drag attire, people attending pageants, and others that were entirely naked. There were also some rooms showing videos, one of which I remember was rather vivacious, and another where a woman was shown celebrating her birthday and reflecting on her younger years. The link between age and beauty can be made here, as well as the fact that women are often sexualised within the media.
Among all this upstairs was a room made up of pastel landscape paintings which I thought were beautiful despite seeming out of place. The room was so calm and spacious, and the paintings held an enormity of depth to them. They were by far my favourite part of the exhibition.
As we made our way out of the building, down Oxford Street and back to the packed train station where we struggled back on board our train, I sat and thought about the day gone by. It had been lovely, not just as an experience, but as an opportunity to spend time with people from the course without being in a classroom environment.
‘The trip to London was not only great fun but also a great insight into different types of art that is shown within multiple galleries. Also, who could forget about the guy on the tannoy in the underground during rush hour – that man deserves his own sold-out show.’ – Johnny Knoll
Overall it was fun, interesting, and a day that I am grateful for.