The final blog post for our 40th anniversary is an interview with Jeff Bezos circa 1998. This is the first time we’ve made this clip available and it’s a fascinating glimpse of when Amazon was ‘just’ a bookshop but also shows how much Amazon’s outlook remains relevant even now in 2022.
This clip is from The Net (1994-98), which was comprised of four series and which dealt with many aspects of digital communications and pioneered innovative link-ups between television and the internet. The Net was the first series to feature an e-mail address in its closing credits and the first to have an accompanying website.
What is it about the Turner Prize, live TV, and Illuminations? Tracey Emin walked off during Is Painting Dead? which aired live after the 1997 Turner Prize and then in 2001 Madonna dropped an f-bomb of the mother variant at the end of her presentation speech. She awarded the Turner Prize to Martin Creed for his controversial installation “Work No. 227: The lights going on and off”. A few days later painter and ‘genuine artist’ Jacqueline Crofton hurled eggs at it in protest, only to receive a life ban from all Tate galleries.
Illuminations filmed the Turner Prize from 1993 – 2005 and while the prize has had an illustrious array of award givers there have been none more high profile than Madonna. Her speech was on her own uneasiness with artistic prizes and with prizing one artist’s work over another’s. The artists were all winners in Madonna’s eyes. She would later explain that her outburst was partially a response to Tate wanting to check her speech beforehand, with Madonna saying, “The real reason is, and this is my perverse sense of humour, that they wanted to read my speech. I got pissed off with them. Then I just got insulted when they told me not to swear.” It was also because had wanted to be referred to as “Mrs Richie” but had been told this wouldn’t be possible. Her husband at the time was director, Guy Richie.
There was a vain attempt to bleep out the swearword but there’s no doubt that it was audible. Channel 4 issued an apology as it had been broadcast prior to the 9pm watershed. Madonna remained defiant, telling CNN, “As if no one says that word. It’s a cutting edge, contemporary award. People expect that sort of behaviour from me.”
As for Illuminations, once again we were in hot water with the broadcaster and so on our 40th anniversary we give you Madonna and her ‘motherfucker’
Continuing our series of key moments in Illuminations’ history, we are sharing our famous clip of Jean-Michel Basquiat and Andy Warhol together with their collaborative paintings at the Tony Shafrazi Gallery, New York in 1985. It was filmed as part of our State of the Art series which was shown on Channel 4 in 1986 in the UK and then in more than 20 other countries. It is also our most viewed YouTube video on our channel, with roughly 1.4 million views.This HD version was published on YouTube in 2014 with the SD version being released in 2007.
Aside from giving a unique insight into both the thinking and dynamic of both Basquiat and Warhol, there is of course the tragic fate of each artist. The interview for State of the Art would be one of Warhol’s last as he died a little over a year later followed by Basquiat’s tragically early death at just 27 in 1988 and this clip is one of the few filmed interviews with him.
In 1997 Illuminations produced the live show, Is Painting Dead? Chaired by Tim Marlow, it featured Norman Rosenthal, Tracey Emin, Matthew Collings, Richard Cork, Jane Harris, Waldemar Januszczak, Martin Maloney, and Roger Scruton to discuss the titular question.
The show itself might have become a historical curiosity, a discussion on the nature of art broadcast live on British TV back when those things were a possibility. It would have been, had it not been for Tracey Emin. Emin had turned up drunk and began to steadily get more and more annoyed with her fellow guests, starting with a “You’re wrong! You’re wrong! You’re wrong!” directed at Roger Scruton, then announced that she was drunk and wanted to speak to her mum and be with her friends. Finally, she angrily and awkwardly removed her microphone, made all the more inelegant by the almost comically placed finger splint attached to her, and stormed out. And thus, not just a piece of TV history was born but a small piece of British cultural history.
The previous week in New York she had fallen out of a taxi drunk and had broken her finger. Emin claimed that the combination of prescription painkillers alongside her alcohol consumption during the 1997 Turner Prize awards dinner, which preceded the recording of the discussion, had rendered her insensible.
In Artrage!: The Story of the BritArt Revolution, Elizabeth Fullerton writes that when she did re-join her friends she had no recollection of the event. Indeed, her then-boyfriend, Mat Collishaw, recounts that she had thought she had missed the TV show and bemoaned the fact that she had lost out on the £500 fee. When a friend called Emin the next morning to congratulate her on her performance, Emin thought her leg was being pulled. The Guardian at the time wrote, “Tuesday’s performance may be hailed as Tracey Emin’s most significant, certainly her most entertaining, contribution to British art.” Emin herself told the South China Morning Post in 2015 that she wasn’t even aware that she was on television.
Emin would go on to be nominated for the 1999 Turner Prize which would cement her public infamy with her piece, Bed, but it was her appearance on Is Painting Dead? that arguably announced her to the world. Illuminations would produce a documentary on Emin as part of our theEYE series, which was released in 2003.
John Wyver writes: Remarkably, Illuminations was incorporated forty years ago today, 15 June 1982. Which makes this our Ruby anniversary. Five months before Channel 4 went on air, co-founder Geoff Dunlop and I bought the defunct Chromeland (which as I recall was a double-glazing concern) off the shelf and changed its Mem and Arts to allow us to operate as an independent media producer. We have survived, just, across four decades, making at least one broadcast television project each year, and I am pretty certain that makes us the oldest, continuously active independent producer in the mediasphere. To celebrate we are going to offer further anniversary posts here and elsewhere ion social media over the next few days.
John Wyver writes: To compile the usual Sunday list of links to articles and videos concerned with film, art, performance and writing, seasoned with a sliver or two of politics, seems somehow a touch pointless, even tasteless, given the current horrendous conflict in Ukraine.
I’ve been reading and watching a range of exceptional reports, analyses and speculations, many of them by desperately brave writers and filmmakers, and I thought it might be interesting to compile these into a list that I keep updated over the coming days, adding new elements and removing ones overtaken by events.
So here’s the start of that experiment, with a couple of Twitter threads that I have found especially useful. I welcome additional recommendations, either in the comments below or via email to email@example.com.
PS. Yes, I have kept the same image as topped the last post to this blog.
PPS. I’m still collecting my other kinds of links, and I’ll return to these at some point in the future.
John Wyver writes: I’ve spent so much of the past few days reading and listening to informed and important analysis of the dreadful events in Ukraine, and of course I could have filled today’s selections with many of those links. Things are happening so fast and furiously, and so perhaps the best thing I can do is to recommend the Guardian, The New York Times, Politico, New Statesman, The New Yorker, and The Atlantic among many other sources, and choose instead to highlight a handful of alternatives. If I have the heart and energy I’ll add some more suggestions later.
John Wyver writes: welcome to another collection of articles that have engaged and interested me over the past week, starting off with three very different but highly recommended articles about aspects of cinema.
• The weirdness of zoetropes: another wonderful post from Stephen Herbert’s blog The Optiloque, this time exploring the 19th century device that conjured the illusion of moving images from animated strips; for more on this see Herbert’s dedicated website The Wheel of Life.
• Investigate the sock [£, but limited free access]: the somewhat obscure headline conceals a wonderful LRB review essay – of Robert Gottlieb’s Garbo – by David Trotter about the glorious Greta (above).
John Wyver writes: our break in Northumberland was glorious – thanks for asking – and I’m returning now with today’s list of recommended reading, listening and viewing.
• In Our Time – Walter Benjamin: let us now praise, and to the skies, the essential BBC Radio 4 series hosted by the indefatigably curious Melvyn Bragg; the subject this week was the great German critic and theorist, from whose collection of translated essays, Illuminations, we took our company name – the guests are Esther Leslie, Professor of Political Aesthetics at Birkbeck, University of London; Kevin McLaughlin, Dean of the Faculty and Professor of English, Comparative Literature and German Studies at Brown University; and Carolin Duttlinger, Professor of German Literature and Culture at the University of Oxford. And of course you know this but there is a wondrous archive of all the programmes since 1998. The header photograph by Gisèle Freund is Benjamin in the Bibliothèque nationale de France in 1937.
• The Wings of the Dove: … and while we’re with BBC Radio 4, Linda Marshall Griffiths’ wonderfully imaginative 2018 adaptation of Henry James’ great novel is back for a month on BBC Sounds, compiled in two omnibus editions, the second of which is broadcast today.