In Test Tube, General Idea (active 1969–1994) quotes several popular television formats, including that of a news magazine, an infomercial, and a talk show. The core of the work is a soap opera–like narrative about Marianne, an artist and mother who is working on a series of paintings and debating whether or not to exhibit them. Throughout the video she struggles with her role as an artist and her desire to succeed in the art world. Marianne’s story concludes as her latest art show is deemed a success. Following this, she is pictured visiting the group’s Colour Bar Lounge, where she tries one of the cocktails presented in a test tube.


General Idea, Test Tube, 1979

General Idea, Test Tube, 1979
Video, 28 min., 15 sec., various collections

Interspersed throughout Marianne’s story are clips of the artists (AA Bronson, Felix Partz, and Jorge Zontal), discussing media and culture, as well as short advertisements for the Colour Bar Lounge. Reflecting the influence of communications theorist Marshall McLuhan (1911–1980), whose work suggests that media shape the messages they produce, the artists speak directly to the issue of television formats. Zontal notes, “Television isn’t just a neutral medium, television is a sensibility, a vision, a pattern of thinking.”


The commercials that appear throughout the video promote a series of cocktails, including Nazi Milk. Through these advertisements, General Idea directly addresses the connections between art and commerce. AA Bronson later explained, “Test Tube talks about commodification and the artist as a participant in the world of commodification.” Test Tube can be read in relation to the group’s earlier explorations of commerce, in projects such as The Belly Store, 1969.


This Spotlight is excerpted from General Idea: Life & Work by Sarah E.K. Smith.

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