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Devon Dikeou MTV Altarpiece

June 5 – July 31, 2021

“Ignore it and it will go away”. That’s the graffiti scribbled on the hallway wall before you open the door to the studios. This hallway graffiti is proceeded by five flights of stairs in the List Art Building at Brown. There’s lots of graffiti here, nefarious some, but mostly band names mimicking their fonts/logos, couples’ names probably long broken up . . . And other time felt unnecessary scrawls. It’s the segue—this architectural journey—the in-between between MTV the channel and MTV the Altarpiece. 

How that segue happened. MTV was one of the first channels of the 24 hours cycle—on 24/7 and that worked for me and a whole lotta others who were among the initial subscribers . . . It featured music videos directing viewers, and their oral and visual vocabulary, to soak in every second, only to drift away in a bevy of dreamlike and hazy images melting together . . . Eventually . . . It provided thin plot lines—boy meets girl scenarios—stylized for a mix of audiences and visualized in melange of genres by a myriad of musicians from Madonna (think Lucky Star) to Culture Club to Bryan Adams and Springsteen. And the graphics . . . MTV had 3-D graphics and they seemed to be animated, in a low-tech way, not like their rival 24/7 subscription channels ESPN and CNN. MTVs graphics were flashy too, but more like done at Kinkos, with a lotta color xeroxing and quick cut shots and tons of overlay: like graffiti. And they were contentless . . . With that eponymous logo snuggled in the corner, piping, almost breathing, while the videos slowly became the sound track of the 80s . . . Then that in-between, that no content diet between videos—the oooozing sound in riffs of repetition, MTVs own version of a jingle, smack in the middle of a rocket launch, all before the next video, next commercial. Some might take smite with this appearance of commercialization stemming from the source, the in-between mercenary, but that’s the short end of it. The long view takes in the same eventual influence . . . And what this medium spawned because of its omnipotent influence both financially and visually . . . the extended video comes to network TV: Miami Vice and Flashdance, the Movie . . . And then it exploded . . . An ever-present nonexistent soundtrack of curated cool. MTV became religious and its singularity, demigod like, curating the tastes, impulses, vocabulary: “Video killed the radio star”. 

The pilgrimage . . . descending those stairs at List, leaving a created, supposedly figurative world—the studio—whose subject matter is dominated by a platform whose basic function is to mesmerize, with almost nothing, in anticipation of its literal manifestation on the actual TV airways. “Ignore it and it’ll go away”, I don’t think so.

Devon Dikeou


*All covid-19 precautions are in place. Please arrive wearing a mask and expect to wear it for duration of the visit. Any more than two visitors at a time will be asked to wait outside.