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Ikono.tv: when TV becomes art - ASHARQ AL-AWSAT English Archive
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Ikono.tv Founder Elizabeth Markevitch

Ikono.tv Founder Elizabeth Markevitch

London, Asharq Al-Awsat – In the midst of a media domain that is full of a variety of different television channels, one television channel has recently appeared with a clear and yet unique direction. Under the slogan “when television becomes art”, Ikono.tv broadcasts a 24-hour service to the MENASA region (Middle East North Africa South Asia) presenting and broadcasting distinguished works of fine art from around the world straight into your living room. Asharq Al-Awsat spoke to Ikono.tv founder and director Elizabeth Markevitch about this channel, its content, and what makes it different from other television channels.

The following is the full text of the interview.

[Asharq Al-Awsat] First of all, can you tell our readers about the main idea behind Ikono.tv?

[Markevitch] I don’t think that we offer a television broadcast in the traditional sense, but we intend to use the medium of television in a special way. Through the use of HD technology, we broadcast continuous live footage of artworks from around the world, 24 hours a day, but without any commentary or dialogue. The channel only focuses on art and the artists themselves, in silence. I think this may be the difference between us and other channels. We opted to use television broadcasting as this is the best tool to publicize fine art and introduce it into every home.

[Asharq Al-Awsat] Returning to the notion of the channel’s lack of sound, why is there no accompanying audio commentary for the images being displayed?

[Markevitch] We have two types of programs on the channel. The first are programs dedicated to video art, with each video presented by the artist, and these are presented with sound such as commentary, music, or sound effects. The other program type of programming is made up of a slideshow of paintings, and this is presented in silence, and produced in-house. This [slideshow] is produced by a team of artists, museum officials, and experts in art history.

As for video art that is exhibited in galleries and museums, these may not have been available for all to see, even to those who visited the exhibitions [in question], therefore we broadcast these once more on Ikono.tv in order to give people the opportunity to view them in full. We can imagine an artist’s frustration when his work is not exhibited to the public in full, and our channel grants the artist that opportunity. The viewers, who may not have had access to see this artist’s work, can now view this from the comfort of their own homes.

[Asharq Al-Awsat] You mentioned that there is a team that chooses the art that is screened by Ikono.tv, how are such choices made? Can you also tell us more about how Ikono.tv broadcasts images of paintings without accompanying audio or written information?

[Markevitch] We choose a particular theme or topic to focus on, such as paintings from leading renaissance artists for example, and then choose paintings accordingly.

We then coordinate with the cameraman, who focuses on particular aspects of the painting; in order to clarify details, give the viewer the opportunity to form ideas, and draw attention towards important features of the painting. I think that the history of art experts know the best way to exhibit paintings in a manner that allows the viewer to have an enjoyable integrated experience before seeking to obtain further information about the paintings on their own.

The experience, in my opinion, is similar to someone hanging art on the wall of his home. He does not pause in front of it every minute, but rather lives with this from day to day. When you live amongst works of art, you may be surprised one day to discover a new painting or work of art that gives you pleasure. You may not know why it interests you, but you love the experience.

[Asharq Al-Awsat] Would it be fair to say that Ikono.tv gives viewers the chance to be an art critic, and judge the artworks for themselves?

[Markevitch] Certainly, and although some are opposed to this principle – some of my colleagues object to the lack of commentary on the channel, and stress the importance of providing information – I simply do not agree. You can view the artwork for itself, and if it catches your interest, then you can read basic details that are displayed at the bottom of the screen, such as the artist’s name, and where the painting is exhibited. If you want to know more, you can access the channel’s website, where we post detailed information about each work.

[Asharq Al-Awsat] So the website compliments the channel?

[Markevitch] In a way, yes, we display the basic information with regards to each artwork on the television channel, whilst additional information is available on the website. This includes links to websites such as Wikipedia where information can be found on each artist featured on the channel, or Amazon.com, where a selection of books can be purchased on this work or that. The channel aims to give viewers an enjoyable artistic experience, accompanied by the website which provides complimentary information.

[Asharq Al-Awsat] What is the channel’s daily schedule?

[Markevitch] We have listings similar to that of the music channel MTV. These listings contain some segments that change randomly. It is rare to see the same segment twice. At present, we have no daily programming, but rather a continuous loop of programming that changes every other day.

[Asharq Al-Awsat] Could you give us an example of the type of programs broadcast on Ikono.tv?

[Markevitch] We are currently broadcasting a nine-minute segment focusing on the painting “The Ambassadors” by world renowned artist Hans Holbein. This painting is on display at the National Gallery in London. During these nine minutes, the camera focuses upon details and features of this painting, allowing the audience a chance to comprehend it, and form ideas. I remember when we launched an experimental broadcast in Germany, in 2006-2007, we screened a segment and asked the audience to send us their opinions, as well as a synopsis of ideas they had come up with from the show. The replies were magnificent, for the audience simply wrote their impressions of the painting, and what they saw, without getting into the finer details, or the historical background [of the painting]. This is exactly what we are looking for with our channel; to give the audience the opportunity to think, dream, and contemplate.

[Asharq Al-Awsat] You previously said that basic information about the painting in question is displayed on the bottom of the screen. Do you also provide this information in Arabic, particularly as Ikono.tv is broadcast to the Arab world?

[Markevitch] Unfortunately, at present, information is provided in English only, but we will soon be providing information in Arabic on our website.

[Asharq Al-Awsat] When was Ikono.tv officially launched?

[Markevitch] The channel was launched in late November 2010.

[Asharq Al-Awsat] Have you received any comments or reactions following this?

[Markevitch] We have received many inquiries from newspapers in the region, asking us about the channel and its objective. We also received e-mails from viewers, and I remember one such e-mail from a viewer in Riyadh, who said that he was glad to be given the opportunity to view the works of famous artists, which are on exhibit in museums around the world, from the comfort of his own home.

[Asharq Al-Awsat] On your website, there is an open letter addressed to the artists in the region, encouraging them to send in their works of art so that Ikono.tv can screen them. Could you tell us more about this project?

[Markevitch] This is an open letter to artists; we broadcast to the Arab world, and I hope that our channel will also reflect art in the Arab region. There is currently a vibrant contemporary Arab art scene which I hope our channel can reflect. We have also noticed that there are a number of unknown artists in the Arab region, particularly women, who display their works of art on internet websites. Our aim is to reach those artists who have something to offer, but do not know how to get their work displayed in galleries of exhibitions, which often only cater for well-established artists. For us, artistic value is the criteria [with regards to what is broadcast]. We may display a work of art by an obscure artist, but the piece will have a lot of artistic value.

[Asharq Al-Awsat] You said that a team is responsible for choosing what artwork is broadcast by Ikono.tv. Can you tell us a little bit more about this?

[Markevitch] Yes, we have a diverse team of experts with different opinions, as can be seen in the variety of art that is broadcast.

[Asharq Al-Awsat] I viewed a short film about the Renaissance artist Sandro Botticelli’s painting, ‘Primavera: Allegory of Spring” which is available on the Ikono.tv website. Is this film an indication of how artwork is displayed on the channel?

[Markevitch] Unfortunately, you will not see this film on the television channel, as it was posted on the website only as a trailer. Actually, because we are a channel that broadcasts via the “Arabsat” satellite network we must take into account certain sensitivities. For example, Botticelli’s paintings may contain nudity, which we avoid screening on our channel. Yet I believe that some sensitivities, especially with regards to religious paintings, or renaissance art for example, are about to change. As time passes, and with the opening of galleries in Abu Dhabi, and the establishment of the Arab Museum of Modern Art in Doha, many things will change.

[Asharq Al-Awsat] In addition to paintings and video art, what other kinds of programs does Ikono.tv broadcast?

[Markevitch] I just mentioned the Arab Museum of Modern Art in Doha; we attended the opining ceremony, and broadcast this event on Ikono.tv as part of a new service in which we seek to cover the opening ceremonies of major exhibitions and museums around the world. These opening ceremonies are not only screened on our channel, but they are posted on our website as well, in addition to our own YouTube channel where we have set up links to the openings of new exhibitions in Berlin, Istanbul and Doha.

[Asharq Al-Awsat] One of these links shows the “Edge of the Arabia” exhibition which focuses upon contemporary Saudi Arabia art. This exhibition is currently visiting Istanbul; can you tell us if Ikono.tv covered this exhibition?

[Markevitch] Yes we have. We are partners in the “Edge of the Arabia” project and we want to shed light on contemporary Saudi Arabian art.

[Asharq Al-Awsat] Finally, can you tell us if you are seeking to expand the regions to which Ikono.tv is being broadcast?

[Markevitch] Yes, we began with the Middle East and North Africa, and we are now negotiating on obtaining broadcasting rights to Germany and Britain. We have also received offers to expand our broadcast to some Eastern European countries, as well as Hong Kong.

Asharq Al-Awsat

Asharq Al-Awsat

Asharq Al-Awsat is the world’s premier pan-Arab daily newspaper, printed simultaneously each day on four continents in 14 cities. Launched in London in 1978, Asharq Al-Awsat has established itself as the decisive publication on pan-Arab and international affairs, offering its readers in-depth analysis and exclusive editorials, as well as the most comprehensive coverage of the entire Arab world.

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