Artist Ellen Alt presents a fascinating collection of mixed media works that ponder the future using a retro theme. See more by visiting her website.
Test patterns were an early warning system, letting you know that active broadcasting was on the way. You could turn on the TV and it would light up and wait with you for content. Like a friend. Like an indicator of a future where robots would be your assistants, helpers, writers and so much more. We don’t even know how much more.
I rediscovered test patterns during the pandemic. I was looking for a feeling of being in control and drew out a series of shapes that I could fill in with color. It did help. As I was looking for more intricate compositions, I came across TV test patterns, which I recognized from my childhood. I appreciated the nostalgia they invoked and the innocence they represented.
From today’s perspective, even though they seem like a relic of a bygone era, they were actually the beginnings of a technology that has led us to our current artificial intelligence (AI).
In the 1950’s, TV test patterns showed that the transmitter was active while no program was broadcast. They are still used today to check for color, white balance and contrast. From the static image of color calibration and TV programming that went off the air, we have moved to 24-hour access of endless content through a myriad of devices. And are now moving into newly uncharted territory.
When I began this series about TV test patterns, they were the quiet in the storm of the pandemic. Since then, Chat GPT has entered the landscape and added its own sense of the unknown. This makes me even more appreciative of the grounded, regimented structure and symmetrical design of my new friends, test patterns.
Expanding the structure of these patterns has led me in several directions, developing three approaches: test patterns, testing landscapes and no signal.
The test pattern series stays true to the symmetrical design of the original compositions, interpreted through mixed media. Materials used are sand, glitter, paint and collage on wood panels.
The testing landscape work references satellite photographs of the earth combined with test pattern structures. This juxtaposition calls out our changing planet and how much of our current news is about extreme weather. Materials used are acrylic on canvas with objects and collage.
No signal is about the disruption of the symmetry, communication breakdown and our dependence on electricity. Materials used are ink and paint on plastic paper.
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