Second thoughts on The Space

8th May 2012

I know it’s early days and there is still the best part of six months to go, and there is a ton of great stuff to come, and cool new features are on the way including personalisation, and that I shouldn’t rush to judgement, but… a week in I have to say I am a touch underwhelmed by The Space. I recognise too that there’s a great team working incredibly hard to an impossible schedule and that, in many ways, it is extraordinary for Arts Council England and the BBC to have achieved this collaboration at all. But at the same time what comes off the screen needs to be taken on. I’ll continue to be a dedicated follower of The Space, and I’ll continue to blog about it, but these are initial thoughts after seven days.

Perhaps my disappointment is to do with having expected so much, or perhaps it is because I had envisaged something different, or perhaps, just perhaps, it is because The Space is not – yet – very interesting. Today’s new offerings are a Tate Shots with the late Maurice Sendak which you can also find on YouTube and an audio item from the Today programme last December in which Tracey Emin takes a tour of Margate. Is it me, or is it all just a bit ho hum?

The defining offerings so far are the two recordings from the Globe to Globe season of Shakespeare’s works by companies from around the world: Venus and Adonis and Measure for Measure. I am beyond excited at the idea that we will see each and every one of the Globe’s presentations, but I want to discuss this initiative in a separate post later this week. For the moment, though, and as far as these go… bravo, bravo, bravo.

For the rest, I have found little about which I can get really enthusiastic. The archive elements (Dance for the Camera, more Tate Shots, first films by major filmmakers courtesy of the BFI, David Shrigley animations) are fine as far as they go, but in the context of a cutting-edge online digital arts offering that’s not a great distance. The Martin Parr slideshow in the strand Black Country Stories prompts a smile or two – but I can find great image galleries every day at, for example, the Guardian online.

Indeed, the most exciting and provocative element of media that I’ve found online in the past month is available not on The Space but via the Guardian. Angus Jackson’s short Young Vic film Epithet with Patrick Stewart, inspired by their work together on Edward Bond’s play Bingo, is tough-minded and allusive, knowing and resonant. It also celebrates elements of explicit language and includes, albeit fleetingly, violent imagery – neither of which you sense would find a home, as yet at least, in the cosy and comforting context of The Space.

What I really, really want from The Space is what I want from all art and from all media about the arts – something to challenge me, to provoke me, to make my heart beat a little faster, to offer me a new way of looking at the world. There are all sorts of online media elements that do that, and all kinds of digital arts initiatives from a whole array of institutions and individuals, but nothing – so far – from The Space.

I have hopes that such originality may come from the live presentations, of which there have been three components to date. I missed David Shrigley’s opera Pass the Spoon on Sunday and I am surprised that it is not available on demand, at least for broadcasting’s seven day catch-up period. Along with several hundred others (there was a counter at the bottom of the screen) I jumped in and out of Monday’s three-hour transmission from Breakin’ Convention at Sadler’s Wells. I know I’m not the person to offer a judgement on this, but the show didn’t do anything to make me think that I might want to become that person. (The full list of commissions promised that there would be ‘on demand’ access to this afterwards but that has yet to appear.)

And then last week there were live streams via Vanilla Galleries with artists making work responding to events in the news (which have also left no trace in The Space). I can do nothing but acknowledge that I found the parts of these that I watched to be entirely devoid of interest. Live media is hard, whether on air or online, and it demands discipline and planning and focus and rigour and – well, you get the idea.

I don’t know whether this was the case with the Vanilla Galleries streams, but elsewhere there is only minimal or no acknowledgement whatsoever of the media teams who are creating this work. On the Globe to Globe recordings for example, there are no credits to camerapeople or a video director. Nor can I find these credits anywhere else on the site. It is as if these screen realisations have come about without active mediation – a nonsensical notion.

Overall, this first week of The Space reminded me of nothing so much as the early days of television. Not that I can recall pre-war broadcasts from Alexandra Palace, but I have been studying that moment in recent months. There was the same mix of live and pre-recorded material, the same sense of expediency about presenting what might simply be available, the same notion that the technology itself is somehow fundamental (here, with the multi-platform focus) and the same idea that what’s before the camera is somehow transmitted to a (small) audience without the medium being part of the message.

The Space also feels like television in its reliance, at least so far, on the tried and tested broadcasting model, pushing out programmes and making no allowance for response or dialogue. I recognise that there is an active Twitter feed and a Facebook page. But where’s the blog? Where is the encouragement for me to engage with all of this and in some way make it my own, even if only by commenting or recommending or curating?

Then again, look what early television grew up to be. So perhaps after all the future’s bright and beautiful for The Space.

What does anyone else think? Am I being too harsh or too precipitate? Should I shut up until The Space has opened up a little more?

PS. In the interests of full disclosure I will continue to append to each post about The Space this note detailing that I contributed some early consultancy to the project and that in the funding round Illuminations’ proposal was rejected at the second stage.


  1. I’d echo all of that, especially about the blog. I find the website weirdly difficult to navigate. I emailed to ask about RSS feeds and they’ve said they’re coming, but it would have been nice to have something like that up front.

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