“IN ORDER NOT TO DIE OF TELEVISION”

Lorenzo Micheli Gigotti

INSTRUCTIONS FOR MAKING IT AND HOW TO WATCH IT INTERVIEW WITH SPEGNILATV

from NERO n.02 november/december 2004 They produce audio-visuals for the streets; since 2002 they broadcast when and how they can from the rooftops of Rome, utilising the airwaves’ shadow zones; they teach audio-visuals in schools; they use the web to share their material, to fine-tune and make their project even more accessible. They try to subvert the economic and political logic of making and perceiving television today. We discussed it with them to go beyond the media phenomenon, the clichés, generalisations, and superficial information.

Lorenzo: I’d begin with the name. Why did you choose “SpegnilaTV”? (a play on words meaning TurnofftheTV, ndr) …What prompted you to occupy spaces in the airwaves to propose a self-managed and independent television?

SpegnilaTV: SpegnilaTV seems a contradiction of terms and something like a television programme.
SpegnilaTV is to suggest a possibility of real freedom compared to the formal freedom of choosing between dozens of channels fixed on one message only (consume!). It’s an invitation to stop thinking that the world’s boundaries coincide with those of media visibility, that everything one doesn’t see on TV doesn’t exist – something that seems banal to remember but isn’t…
It can even be to imagine the end of Television as a substitute for information and social relations. When we did the Telestreet network project in 2002, to contribute to the proliferation of autonomous initiatives on the airwaves, our motive was not – and is still not – to create our own niche in this televisual system, but to radically criticise the hierarchical model of vertical communication made by the few, bringing to many. We chose to stand on the side of the receivers rather than the professional communicators to assert in the practice that the airwaves are a resource for everyone who wants to use them in order to communicate.

Lorenzo: It’s very clear that your interest is mainly directed to the “reception” of the televisual message by the viewer. What are your thoughts on the economy of time and attention?

SpegnilaTV: The first thing to do is to make evident the rules of the advertising market in front of a mass of television viewers who, while consuming entertainment, unknowingly produce economic value. The occupiers of television frequencies use the cost/contact formula to extract value from the time you spend in front of the television screen. This market is based on the conviction that by acquiring a quantity of broadcasting time in relation to the number of viewers, one acquires control over the choices made by a community of consumers. Here one touches on the undeclared aim of the organisation of mass communications: the selling of the time and attention of television viewers to advertisers.
So while you’re watching TV you’re actually working, while who owns the media exerts control over the production of consumption and over the forms of social relations. This makes Television an instrument of bio-political government. For us, street TV offers a different theory and practice. And this practice begins from all those actions that contribute to the reassessment of the television medium’s authority over the viewers and the modification of social behaviours with respect to making and receiving media-related communication.

Lorenzo: As I understand it, your activities focus on audio-visual literacy in schools and audio-visual educational projects in the streets. What do these practices consist of, and what does it mean to work on this front rather than the broadcasting front?

SpegnilaTV: To be able to enter the schools as a place of training is a good point of departure, but for this type of education every place can be the right one, also the street… and here I would add the street above all.
…Since street TV needs time and money in order to exist, the collaborative projects with schools or realities that work with adolescents or the mentally troubled are some of the solutions we wanted to develop.
While aware of the problems that exist in the dynamics of working in communications, these situations enabled us to try out innovations: in the educational street practice made with audio-visuals, for example. Dozens of kids living in the outskirts of Rome experiment with us, using the television camera as a pen with which one can learn to write in order to tell what you see and what you are. However, if this is the first area in which we were able to achieve results, it doesn’t mean that we prioritised it over broadcasting. The project as a whole consists of diffused information, production and experimentation on language, relationships of exchange in network with other street TVs, broadcasting, and feedback with the territory. None of these aspects can be separated and, rather, must be a stimulus for the others. This gauges the complexity and time that the project needs to unfold, and also shows why we don’t have to be in a hurry.

Lorenzo: What kind of response have you had from people? And what new strategies are you considering with which to engage and involve the public?

SpegnilaTV: Making street TV, in fact, means to longer be the public.
SpegnilaTV is a message that works if you think about contacting us after having read this interview.
The street TV network has reached only the minimum number of potentially interested people. It’s fundamental that this project is always perceived as a project open to anyone who wants to participate. Above all else, it’s this and not an audience that we need.

Lorenzo: By now, we’re used to thinking of the television medium as a benchmark of one-way and monopolistic communication, the very communication that you criticise. If your intention is to de-structure and rethink the language and practices of that kind of communication, then why do you use and identify yourselves with TV?

SpegnilaTV: Because if Television has occupied social relations and sequestered the power of narrating reality, for us “to become” Television means to take back our sociality and ability to narrate. We’ve been travelling around Italy and abroad for over two years now, encountering different realities, creating community ties, and co-operating with individuals and collectives that continue to spontaneously converge on the street TV network project. They get lost, find themselves, stop temporarily to take new impulses every time we meet, they share difficulties encountered, objectives reached, projects to do together. In this sense, if the communicative power of the televisual networks is in the ubiquity and ability of connection, what we’re working on is television. At the same time, it’s evident how much this practice can de-structure that type of one-way communication and how much it’s potentially capable of transforming the television war machine into a machine that creates desire. The first transformation concerns the relationship between the TV’s technical apparatus that goes back to being an instrument that radiates airwaves on which images and sounds travel, the current use of which is not the only one possible.

Lorenzo: In recent years, the street TV phenomenon has received great acknowledgement, especially from the ideological point of view. Not many, however, will have had a way of knowing about the tangible results of your projects. Your intentions still seem unexpressed. What have been the major obstacles encountered in the practice of SpegnilaTV?

SpegnilaTV: The Telestreet network project deeply struck the media-related consciousness; it even became an object of study in the universities. Some aspects of the mythology created around the “phenomenon”, like the small “home made” TVs that defeat Silvio Berlusconi’s monopoly, encouraged many of the people who were interested in street TV to adopt an approach that soon showed its limits, not the least of which were technical. Despite the brilliant idea of “fai la tua Tv”, (“make your own TV”, ndr) it became clear that high frequency broadcasting – Vhf and Uhf – can not be improvised with an apartment building’s aerial antenna without obtaining little more than symbolic results. A lot of energy in these two years of work, in collaboration with other groups in the network like InsuTV in Naples and TazTV in Milan, was focused on the technical experimentation of transmission apparatuses, the recognised weak spot in the Telestreet network project. A research geared towards the sharing of solutions to be used by the entire network to collectively reinvent a transmission technology suited to the communicative experiment. It should be said that the powerful mediasation of the “phenomenon” rewarded the statements more than the practice, sometimes to the detriment of the openness and real inclusiveness of the project.

Lorenzo: Today we witness constant media-related battles between opposing parties. The aim seems to be the hoarding of the attention and ideological consensus of the television viewer. In what way can the antagonistic media forces avoid the logic of appropriation?

SpegnilaTV: In the first phase of the Telestreet debate it was difficult to liberate oneself from the idea of television still tied to the quantitative ratings of listening, maintaining the conviction that one must take possession of the means in order to let in fairer and more democratic content.
To battle today for freedom of expression against the censorship of the regime misses the target because censorship is executed by the market and operates a priori. And despite this, there are still people who consider social communication an instrument of ideological propaganda.
It’s a matter of getting out from this cultural subordination in order to demonstrate the possibility of another use of the television device as a laboratory of social relationships. It means bringing street to street, house to house, the conflict with this deterministic idea of the media that, in Italy, unites the government and its opposition, at the same time asserting the use of the airwaves as a common resource. A similar attitude excludes any attempt of involvement by those who inevitably move inside a quantitative vision of the audience, prevented from understanding the importance of the experiment irrespective of its impact in quantitative terms.

Lorenzo: A fundamental fact to make evident is your progressive use of the network and the success of a hybrid language between the web and television. Can the sharing and management of the videos and networking, united in broadcasting practices, represent a valid prospect for the realisation of your project? In what way?

SpegnilaTV: The idea of being able to affect mass communication by creating self-managed communication instruments was developed not two but thirty years ago, at the same time as the first worldwide circulation of the first videotapes. The originality of the street TV movement was the very hybridisation of TV, a means of vertical communication by definition, with the democratic horizontality of the network, both as a model of organisation and as a communication infrastructure. A street TV network project met New Global Vision, an instrument for the archiving and exchange of audio-visual files online. Ngv was created to collect and distribute media productions on the web. It developed a tie of interdependence with the street TVs, thus actively participating in the construction of the network and becoming an essential tool in the exchange of productions and the programming of the street TVs. Here street TV proved to be a hacking practice, as much in hijacking the use of the technological device of Television towards other communication purposes, as in the aptitude for the socialisation of knowledge and other resources. For a while now, together with Ngv, training about the instruments is organised for the sharing of audio-visual files. The aim is to add new connections to the network and to contribute to the continual growth, also in the qualitative sense, of the standard of productions on the Ngv website. By connecting to www.ngvision.org, one can watch and download street TV productions, as well as uploading one’s own production to put them on the circuit.

Lorenzo: A short time ago Discovolante TV, a telestreet broadcasting station, was closed down for broadcasting without a government license. This case could represent a legal precedent for the future of street TV in Italy. What are your thoughts on the matter?

SpegnilaTV: The first proceedings against Discovolante TV, a street TV in Senigallia, are arriving in court now. The street TV was sealed by the “postal police” about a year and a half ago. In the absence of principles and in the law of those who govern television broadcasts, there are no arguments to convict us. I believe, however, that our strength remains in the meshwork, so that striking one link cannot demolish a network of autonomous initiatives that co-ordinate spontaneously. All the hypotheses of creating a single political entity of the street TV network in order to fight the controversy at the institutional level have so far failed because this would have only made us more vulnerable.

Lorenzo: Are other meetings or brainstorming on street TV scheduled for the near future?

SpegnilaTV: After the three days in Senigallia (eterea2004) last March, our last open meeting took place at the Festival Precariato Metropolitano, Incontrotempo 2.0, in Rome. TeleImmagini from Bologna, InsuTV from Naples, and Telefermento from Savona all participated in the festival and with them we organised a live production and began to work on online productions. It seems that there still no proposals for another general meeting, despite the fact that one strongly feels the need for a discussion of paths to take that would lay the groundwork for a new beginning. And if it can be considered an appointment, SpegnilaTV will be on the air again starting in December. In order to know more, and if what you’ve read isn’t enough and you want to check personally, write us at filmrizona@libero.it (the website www.spegnilatv.it is under construction again).

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