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  • Photo Essay: Urban Iconography and the Technological Grotesque
  • Anna McCarthy

The TV set is dematerializing, at least for the bourgeois classes. Flat screens, video streams, and iPods are replacing the rabbit-eared receiver in our homes and public places. But for street artists the cathode ray tube still means something. Harnessing its iconographic power, they incorporate it in graffiti and sculptural assemblages as a shorthand emblem of alienation, commodity fetishism, and the monstrosity of machines. With its clumsy silver dials and bristling antennae, the receiver’s bulky wood-grain


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Figure 1.

A reddened eye stares out from the DietV stickers plastered around the city of Berlin (2007).

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housing often appears in depictions of promethean figures—a spermatozoan snail, a grimacing monster—who confront passersby and ask them to bear witness to the technological grotesqueries of modern metropolitan life. In other instances the iconic tube combines with skulls and bloodshot eyes to form an emblem of death, disease, and corruption. In such moments the TV set is rematerializing not as a commodity but as a key term in the mixed-media statements that comprise contemporary urban culture’s existential vernacular.


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Figure 2.

A TV-headed beast is the resident monster at a Cologne, Germany, brewery (2007).

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Figure 3.

A New York street sculpture links the name of a popular show to the fetishism of the medium itself (2006).


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Figure 4.

The addition of antennae foregrounds the animistic fantasy behind this familiar slogan of the anti-TV brigade (New York, 2006).

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Figure 5.

An unhappy or ailing TV-headed sperm-snail decorates a construction site in the New York subway (2008).


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Figure 6.

Brooklyn artist Tom Billings draws a death’s-head and dials on a patch of white paint, making a ghoulish TV set (2007).

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Additional Information

ISSN
1542-4251
Print ISSN
0149-1830
Pages
pp. 44-47
Launched on MUSE
2008-08-01
Open Access
No
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