'This Is Not a Dream': how underground artists took on telly

A new film shows how alternative performers can beat the gogglebox at its own game

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  • Kalup Linzy

    Kalup Linzy
  • Nao Bustamante

    Nao Bustamante
  • Scottee

    Scottee
  • Dara Birnbaum

    Dara Birnbaum

Kalup Linzy

Since video hit the streets in the ’60s, underground artists have put it to a host of unorthodox uses: creating fantasy worlds, forging offbeat communities and subverting regular TV. Some of these adventures are charted in ‘This Is Not a Dream’, a documentary (which – self-promotion alert! – I co-directed) that screens at the Hackney Attic in the Hackney Picturehouse ahead of a 2014 DVD release. As a taster, here are some of the ways these unique upsetters have messed with TV on TV…

How to hijack a superhero

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In the ’70s, ‘Wonder Woman’ was TV’s leading lady – and an absurd, impossible role model. Young video artist Dara Birnbaum filched footage from the show which she then tweaked, looped and made look a bit daft. She showed it in a store window and lo, the viral mash-up was born.

Birnbaum says… ‘You’re painting my landscape [with] these TV shows. I’m allowed to paint them back again.’

How to be a chat-show superfreak

Joan Rivers’s talk show got more than it bargained for in 1992, when ‘stunt exhibitionist’ Nao Bustamante fibbed her way on to the show as a woman who orgasmed from being watched. She poked Middle American sexual mores in the ribs with a story about hooking up with ‘a really wonderful multigendered ambisexual person. At an aquarium.’ Joan was flummoxed.

Bustmante says… ‘It’s putting something out to millions of people… What does that mean? It's just something we made up!’

How to trash a talent contest

Pliable hopefuls, disciplined stars, machine-tooled slickness: it’s ‘The X Factor’. Rihanna caused a stir when she recruited London alt-cabaret mess-maker Scottee for a 2010 turn on the show. He wore a fetching blue-and-white polka-dot dress.‘You look fantastic,’ she said. ‘Let’s have a cake fight.’ So they did. ‘Are you gonna hang around and clean this up?’ yelped Dermot.

Scottee says…
‘If you’re doing a cabaret venue [or] “The X Factor”, people don’t want you to make a mess. We got in quite a lot of trouble.’

How to turn a soap into performance art

Kalup Linzy always dreamed of being on a soap. As a student, he made his own, playing all the characters from a middle-aged woman to her drag-performer son. After it became an art-world hit, James Franco offered Linzy a role in his tongue-in-cheek stint on US soap ‘General Hospital’. Suddenly there Linzy was, in an ankle-length floral gown, singing ‘Mad World’ as Franco plunged from a two-storey railing.

Linzy says... ‘I didn’t give a shit if the high-art world thought it was low art! Divine intervention… that’s how I was thinking about it.’


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