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Penelope Umbrico

February – March 2019

Public Viewing Hours:
Fridays 6–8pm
Saturdays 1–5pm
Sundays 1–5pm

Screen to Screen (Craigslist; eBay) is a large-scale video work by Brooklyn based artist Penelope Umbrico. She cropped the screens from found images of broken LCD-TVs for sale on Craigslist and eBay and collaged them together, bringing them back to life on the unique LED screen structure of the 150 Media Stream. Her rhythmic sequencing of one screen to the next reflects the relationship between LCD and LED, old and new, tracing the shifts in screen technologies and the exchange value placed on these objects by consumers who once owned, and then discarded, them.

Interview with Penelope Umbrico

As your “Broken TV Sets” series spans more than ten years, can you talk about the origin of the series and its development.

I first began working with images of TVs when, searching for material on Craigslist, I realized that the camera flash reflected in the screen of the sellers’ TVs indicated the presence of the sellers in the screen – they were effectively inadvertent self-portraits of them. I found it incredibly poetic that the surfaces of these unwanted TVs– and the last picture of these TVs that will exist--contain little ghostly images of their owners that don’t want them (or conversely, the ghostly figures of the owners are forever stuck in their unwanted TVs). So I cropped just the screens from these images for my project TVs from Craigslist. Many of the images in Screen to Screen are from that series. That work led to the Broken Sets (eBay) project (many of which are also in Screen to Screen) because I started to find broken TVs for sale that were sold for parts – the seller would turn on the TV to show the parts worked. With that series I was struck by how a quintessentially Modernist technology could, in its degradation, present a quintessentially modernist aesthetic form.

Has the changing technology/materiality of television over the years affected the outcome of this project?

Yes, and actually from the start, this work tracked the shifts in screen technologies. People taking utilitarian pictures of TVs to sell are inadvertently cataloging these changes, and their sharing of these images on consumer-to-consumer platforms creates an inadvertent archive of them. And the screen is the outward visible face of this technology - the technology is made for the screen.

Since people are selling TVs they don’t want, by extension, these TVs are old, so their screens, their shapes, aspect ratios, the various ways light emits from them when they break, and the way camera flash reflects off of them, all register the shifts in their technologies. Smart-phone camera technology has changed as well, so I am able to find better and better images, with more detail and at higher resolution than I was able to find when I first started this project.

How does seeing the images in motion on a unique and large scale LED screen structure of the 150 Media Stream differ from photographic prints and artist books? In other words, how has the medium affected the message?

One thing I have begun to work with recently is the idea of screens talking to other screens. If there’s now more computer-to-computer communication than there is person-to-person communication, I’ve been thinking about the face of that communication - the surface on which this communication might be visible. And I’ve been imagining the possibility of screen-to-screen empathy (something I fear is lacking between humans in our increasingly screen-life world). So my framework for this project is a sort of fantasy about screens talking to each other, utilizing signals that we can’t decipher, that are based purely on a screen ontology. The title Screen to Screen can be read in two ways, screens talking to screens and in this case LCD speaking to LED, or screens moving from one to the next. I love that fact that one screen technology is represented by another.

It’s interesting to see the materiality of the broken TV screens and the LED panels of the 150 Media Stream work together. On one hand, the broken TV screens represent failed or outdated technology, but the images of the screens are still aesthetically beautiful—There are several layers of meaning in this work. What are your expectations of how the audience (public and tenants) for the 150 Media Stream will respond to the project?

Well I hope people come way thinking about the materiality of their own screens—screens are really the most prevalent objects in our lives. They’ve replaced sunlight, we are more intimate with screens that we are, often, with our own partners (we touch them more for sure, they are the first thing we see when we wake up, the last before we sleep), and we don’t really think about them as material objects, we see through them. Until they break.

How do you see your work (which in the past has been shown in museums and other art venues) as public art? Does that affect your approach to the work?

Yes of course. Context is always a big part of how I approach making something. I have done public works previously:

a few here:

Cabinet 1526-2013

Beautiful Armoire — Perfect Condition

Four photographs of Rays of Sunlight in Grand Central

and I love the challenge to produce something that is effective in a public context, and the opportunity to speak to a public rather than a self-selected art audience.

Learn more about Penelope Umbrico here

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Joel Swanson

150 Media Stream website:
design by the narrative
photography by michael salisbury