Written by Christine Cynn
This old-school CRT television has been sitting in our shared kitchen at Tromskysten fylkeskultursenter for at least the 6+ years we have been working there. This is the sort of TV before LCD flatscreens took over the world. It has a big magnetic tube at its core, that shoots electrons at the screen and creates a soft, fuzzy, field of static for kids who touch it. Kids who lick the TV can see thin rectangular red, green, and blue pixels.
I watched a lot of TV as a kid. We had cable. Both my parents worked. My babysitters were permissive and allowed me to spoon Breyer’s mint chocolate chip ice cream directly from a whole gallon box right in front of the big TV in the summer. So I was holding a box of ice cream and sitting in front of another big box, the TV. I watched cartoons and sitcoms. I loved old movies on American Movie Classics, which then became Turner Movie Classics. In the 90s’ David Foster Wallace wrote a long essay on American TV and its influence on American fiction writing. He repeatedly referred to the 6hrs a day that the ‘average’ American watches every day. I’m pretty sure that I was watching something like 6hrs for most of my youth. A quick check on today’s screen time averages shows progress. American white kids average 8.5 hrs of screen time per day. Black and brown kids are clocking in more like 13 hrs a day, according to this study in 2011. Is it more in 2020? I digress. We’ll have to reflect on this in another post.
So this big unplugged TV in the kitchen reminded me of all those hours and all that ice cream. We never turned it on. I tried to connect it to a computer, like an LCD screen, but the connections were outdated. The TV wasn’t claimed by any of the old studio folks. It was left behind.
In the last six months or so, I have been slowly dreaming up a way to make our studio space more like a home. In february, we created a shelving system with lights to grow microgreens during the dark and cold months between October and May when we can’t grow much outdoors. More on microgreens (much more) another day.
Then one afternoon, I was looking at the TV with no particular intention and it hit me. How about growing food in the TV? I have always wanted to take apart a TV. I had fantasies of throwing the TV off cliffs or choreographing a dance piece where a TV would be rolled roughly around the stage, falling apart. I saw in the re-purposing of this particularly significant piece of furniture a symbol of new life emerging from the ruins of a formerly colonized imagination. I also thought it would be funny.
Like many inspired projects, the TV garden idea has been languishing in the margins of interminable lists of tasks that are ‘important AND urgent’ and ‘important and NOT urgent’. Until a few weeks ago.
A little context. As a member of the core group running Resilience Action Lab* in Tromsø, we have been asking ourselves three key questions about resilience.
- What do we most want to keep?
- What can we let go?
- What did we once have that we need again?
These were suggested by sustainability educator Jem Bendell in his now famous (or infamous) paper ‘Deep Adaptation’, which confronts the real possibility of social collapse in the next ten years due to environmental breakdown. These questions have been guiding our current cycle of workshops and our part of the Tromsø Kunstforening’s 100-year Jubilee exhibition, opening 21.Aug.
Resilience Action Lab will host two spaces, one outdoors and one indoors at Tromsø Kunstforening (a local independent contemporary art gallery, now celebrating the building’s 100th anniversary). As a starting point, the Lab agreed to buy as few new materials as possible, and re-use as much as possible. Our intention is to USE the space, and not to create a spectacle or ‘show’, beautiful or otherwise. There can and will be beauty, in so far as this is part of our use of the space, and this beauty should be an incidental artefact of a deeper alignment between biosphere and self, self and others, and self and self, that is the root intention of the lab.
Long story short, the exhibition was a perfect excuse to take apart the TV and start growing something better inside. Especially because we proposed to make a greenhouse out of the sort-of ‘boathouse’ that’s been standing in front of the gallery for over a year, mostly empty. Technically, the structure made by artist/architect Robert Julian is really neither, and both. The TV garden anchors the corner of ‘what we can let go’.
When I was taking it apart on the lawn I looked for instructions online. I found out that old TV’s can spontaneously explode toxic gases and other stuff when taken out of the case. The label says ‘injury from flying glass’. Yikes! The label on the inside of the TV, where no one will find it unless they are repairing or re-purposing the TV, says that when ‘personal exposure is prolonged at close range, special shielding precautions against x-radiation may be needed’. Hmmm… Perhaps a note on the outside of the box saying, ‘Don’t lick the TV’ might be more useful, right under a note that says ‘Free Ice Cream’. They say there can be a powerful charge in the main tube of the ‘boob tube’ even after years unplugged. So we wired up two screwdrivers, put one in the lawn and… nothing happened. No spark. So we were lucky.
No explosion on the gallery lawn.
We took it to the special waste disposal site on the north end of Tromsø island where the jolly attendants didn’t seem at all worried about explosions. They have much more dangerous stuff to worry about, they said.
After some deliberation about how to get light into the TV frame, I decided to turn the TV upwards, fill the bottom with rocks from the parking lot across the street, to act as a water reservoir. The TV is deep, and holds a lot of soil, so if we are lucky, we might be able to actually harvest actual peas rather than just sprouts (which are tasty and what we eat when we plant in shallow trays).
Then again, it’s not food-grade plastic, so who knows what might be in the peas we harvest???
Stay tuned to find out…