Close Encounters of the Fourth Kind

Curator's Note

A car is travelling through a grey and featureless rural landscape, animated only by electricity pylons. From the corner of one window a tangled mess of wires and metal coheres briefly into a recognisable figure: a giant ‘Four’ suspended in the sky. Elsewhere, a similar configuration appears amid the confusion of buildings, satellite dishes and domestic debris seen from the balcony of a decrepit apartment block. These sequences form part of a series of fifteen idents commissioned by Channel Four since 2005 under the heading ‘Atlas Project’. Although each ident is a self-contained narrative, they are linked by the recurrent use of a mobile, first-person perspective. As such, it is possible to track (or at least imagine) a narrative progression extending from the random sighting in ‘Pylons’ to a more purposeful quest, evident in the longer clips. In one of the most overtly spectacular idents, the Four emerges from the chaos of a vast construction site in Dubai. Here the sense of adventure becomes almost palpable, enhanced by the silhouette of a helicopter on a skyscraper as it circles the site in search of the hidden figure. There are echoes of Spielberg’s Close Encounters of the Third Kind in this quest, perhaps because the Atlas Project is clearly intended to reposition Channel Four within a globalised and explicitly post-terrestrial broadcasting landscape. The original Four logo has persisted in some form or another within the channel’s brand identity since it was designed by Martin Lambie-Nairn in 1982. The earlier clips tended to emphasise a static space of viewing in which the animated logo underwent a continuous process of transformation but in this latest series it is the experience of viewing that is characterised by mobility and transience, while the Four itself stands still. Obviously, the message here is that Channel Four is now everywhere: its constant presence can be experienced from many different vantage and access points, including those that are particular to the digital and post-terrestrial era. At the same time these idents seem to disavow the very process of advertising to which they belong, suggesting that this particular Channel does not need to announce its presence or even solicit attention: instead it simply waits for those who might be observant and curious enough to follow the trail


Aswin Punathambekar's picture

After this clip, I ended up

After this clip, I ended up looking for and watching a few others! And one of them was set in Tokyo where a “4” is constructed using a number of neon signs in the city. In addition to getting away from positioning themselves as a channel that doesn’t need advertising, I think it also offers its audiences new ways of being in the world when compared with the BBC One idents ( that frame the channel in resolutely national terms. In other words, instead of asking ‘how is the world in channel 4’, they seem to be asking ‘how is channel 4 in the world.’ And that’s an interesting way to approach the branding question.


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