A book for the collection of finished papers on Waves; electromagnetism as the medium of art which appeared in the Spectropia Reader.
This text is my first attempt to reflect some of the issues arising from the two Waves exhibitions. The exhibitions in Riga (2006) and Dortmund (2008) were conceived as research projects. By looking at waves as "a principle material and medium of art" the exhibitions were made with an outlook on building a bottom-up, materialist theory of media art.
This text was written for the peer reviewed publication Spectropia. Acoustic Space. Liepaja: MPLab, RIXC. No. 7, 2008. Special thanks to Zita Joyce for her thoughtful comments and editing work. Thanks to Douglas Kahn for comments.
The discovery of electromagnegic (EM) waves, and the understanding and mastering of their mathematical and technical foundations, has facilitated the building of a 'global'1, electromagnetic society. Applications of em are manifold, ranging from broadcast media radio and tv, to remote sensing techniques such as radar, to medical and scientific usages of the spectrum. While artists were keen on exploring the new electromagnetic medium from the beginning [Kahn,Whitehead 1992], the biggest attention has been given to the electronic mass media of radio and tv2 [McLuhan 1964, Barbrook 2007]. The problems of mass media and propaganda have shaped political history for almost 100 years. Mass media culture, once dubbed the 'consciousness industries' [Enzensberger 1996], has been the place of struggle over political, social, and economic domination. With so much attention on electronic mass media, other issues concerning the electromagnetic society have been sidelined. Only now, as new wireless communication and data networks are blossoming, are societies slowly becoming aware of how dense the 'electromagnetic jungle', which surrounds us and passes through us, is becoming. Concerns over the health impact of mobile phones and mobile phone masts are rising. The fact that the electromagnetic basis of society has been neglected in discourses on society and mass media and media art, as well as generally in social understanding, became the starting point for the Waves exhibition project. The field of media art has been troubled by its fascination with the surfaces, the user interfaces based on machinery built for consumer culture, and the audiovisual stimuli of a 'spectacular' mediascape. The underlying structures - the waves - have been ignored not just in society but also by the mainstream of media art. The postulation that waves are the “principle material and medium of art" for the first Waves exhibition in Riga signalled a 'stepping behind' the commodified user interfaces of today's mass media culture. The exhibition was conceived as a tool to build a new theory of media art, to cast a fresh look at the whole field via the 'prism' of waves. Artists, by engaging directly with waves through their self-built systems, are circumventing the hegemonic mass media system to engage with 'primary sources'. EM waves have different properties on different wavelengths of the spectrum. As art works engage with those different properties on different wavelengths, they deconceal their scientific, technical, political, commercial and cultural content. Works of waves art are those that use waves 'directly', and not just as a carrier of information. Artists, by engaging with flows of electricty and energy, make the audience see, hear, feel, and engage with those realities that are normally excluded from human perception. The work of the artists exposes the reality of those layers – they inform about and contextualise our relationships with the em aspects of the world.
The Waves concept enabled a different viewpoint on a wide range of artistic practices which had until then been scattered across other media and categories, such as sound art, as the first Waves exhibition in Riga [Waves 2006] showed. The continuation and expansion of that theme in Dortmund [Waves 2008] under the new subtitle of "the art of electromagnetic society", show that there is still a lot of ground to be covered in this area. This text is a first attempt to take stock of some of the original intentions behind making these exhibitions and what they offer in terms of developing a new vocabulary, or even grammar, of media art. I am proposing to look at the art works in the Waves project as speculative objects, works that make possible a deeper intellectual engagement with the artistic and social dimensions of the electromagnetic force.
Anthony McCall became first known for his 'solid light films' [Joseph, Walley 2005] in the 1970s. He produced a series of 7 works which dealt with the light beam of the projector directly, rather than emphasising the projection of an image through film on a screen. This work, exactly because of its 'simplicity' and precision, reveals key ideas and positions that are relevant to the Waves project. McCall's most well known work is Line Describing a Cone (1973); when it was first realised a 16 mm projector was used to send a strong light beam3, starting as a single point and slowly growing to a cone of light. The 'content’ of the film is not the projection of a flat image of a screen as in conventional film, in which 'meaning' is derived from a representation of the moving image, but the gradual creation of a space with which the viewer gets directly involved.
Illustration 1: Doubling Back (2003 - 2006), Anthony McCall, Photo: McCall
While the genre of the interactive digital art [Brouwer, Mulder et al. 2007] installation claims to get the audience involved in the creation of the piece, it does so often on the basis of a very narrow set of choices for the 'user' of the art work. Often, the whole 'interaction' is defined by the artist (or the software, or the technician) and the user has to 'learn' in which way s/he is actually supposed to 'interact' with the work. In McCall's work nothing is 'interactive' in that sense, yet the viewer gets involved and participates in the creation of the artwork on a much deeper level [Ballard 2007].
The Waves exhibition included McCall’s new work Doubling Back (2003), which continues the project of the solid light films. Here, two intersecting waves slowly move towards and then again apart from each other. The movement is so slow that at first it is hardly noticeable but over time creates very complex spaces. Artificial fog from a modern type of fog machine (using tiny drops of water and not dry ice as its source) makes the space created by the two slowly moving lines almost tangible. The changing relationships between the lines in the otherwise completely darkened room challenge the perception of the user. Often, people will stretch out their hands to feel if the light beams actually can be felt, if they offer any resistance. It is also very much part of the intention of the author that people would move around in the projection space and set their bodies in relation to the changing spatial patterns created by the moving light beams. As Anthony McCall has explained solid light films are 'dealing with the projected light-beam itself rather than treating it as a carrier of coded information' [Dasgupta 1977, 51], as the artist carries out his own act of 'stepping behind'4. Going one layer behind, relieves the burden of representation from the work:
"The film exists only in the present: the moment of projection. It refers to nothing beyond this real-time (in contrast, most films allude to a past time). It contains no illusion, it is a primary experience, not secondary: i.e. the space is real, not referential; the time is real, not referential." [ibid, 52]
The facilitation of this 'primary experience' however, is not motivated by any 'intrinsic interest in formal light geometries', just as the Waves exhibition is not motivated by any intrinsic interest in 'pure waves science'5. Artistic research has its own set of values which can but must not overlap with 'science and art' as we know it. Rather than the emergence of 'pure form' McCall was/is interested in facilitating the self-'empowerment' of the audience by 'attacking the notion of the audience [...] another culturally approved form of passivity" [ibid, 55]. He considered 'art as a tool for constructing, deconstructing, reconstructing current ideological and cultural sets' [ibid, 56]. The way he does this is not by spreading explicit political messages, but by questioning the conventions of the medium. In Long Film For Four Projectors, a work of six hours' duration, he uses time to give the members of the audience the possibility to find their own viewpoints; people are free to enter and leave the work at in their own time. The work of McCall is based on a critique of 'participation' art as a "token gesture" [ibid, 59], and a society based on a consumer culture with inherent social divisions between producers and consumers. While the work is 'open' in the sense of Umberto Eco's [Eco 2006] demand for an open art work, and it encourages the participation of the viewer, it does not reduce the viewer to a laboratory rat engaged in a multiple choice experiment. The work is, in the words of the artist "didactic, authoritative", comprising "professional statements formally constructed to question things", and remaining "closed off, definitive" [Dasgupta 1977, 56]. Because 'empowerment' of the audience in the utopian tradition of avant-garde movements is a key objective of the artist, he avoids the patronising rhetoric of 'inclusion'. The minimalist and intellectual 'composition' of the works facilitates participation as an open act of enagegement. The works become speculative objects, things to think with, which deconceal the ideological content of, in this context, film and the projection machinery. In the 'durational' work, the repetition of simple elements is shared over 4 projectors that each at times use the same material, but at different speeds and in almost random relation to each other; time and space as homogenous and universal entities are broken up and become individual6. However, the aesthetic and formal perfection of the work is also its potential weakness, as the work, within the culture industry that is the contemporary art exhibition circuit, can also be perceived as 'merely beautiful'7. The political objective and effect of a work do not necessarily coincide.
The Maxwell equations and the experimental verification of the existence of electromagnetic waves by Heinrich Hertz made Einstein's Relativity theory possible [Greene 2004]. In the sequence of events, first Relativity Theory, and then the not so unproblematic8 [Whitaker 1996] arrival of quantum mechanics, shattered Newtonian physics and taught us to understand that the 'truth' about the universe is counterintuitive, that the rules governing the macro world which we inhabit are not what we had thought they were, and that they are incompatible with the 'laws' governing the microworld of atoms and quarks. In a probabilistic universe, does 'god throw the dice'9 or not? The existence of the universe was an extremely improbable thing to happen, yet our existence is evidence that it did. How can we know we exist? Not through the 'mind-in-vat trying to gain some objective knowledge of the world 'out there' through the power of mathematics and geometry', argues Bruno Latour [Latour 1999, 4–5], not through that 'false epistemological settlement, [one] that treats consciousness as a tool to fend off the rule of the mob' [ibid, 13]. Once 'objective knowledge' came from the skies to oppress self-rule by the multitude [Bachelard 2001]. But science, as it started to know more, suddenly looked less omniscient.The findings of Relativity Theory and quantum mechanics are not just great breakthroughs towards a new scientific understanding of the universe, they are also surprising 'hard' scientific evidence for the possibility of human freedom [Castoriadis 1976]. The more critical scholarly work is undertaken, the more clearly we can see the links between deterministic concepts of nature and totalitarian religious or philosophic and political doctrine. The 'swinging' atoms with their unexpected quantum leaps come to the rescue of liberatory political ideologies from the grassroots democratic spectrum. At the scale of the individual very small 'particle' or 'quantum' we are faced with indeterminacy. As we engage with those non-humans, i.e. 'forces of nature' or so called 'scientific facts' [Latour 1999], they are being socialised, and their social, political, economic and artistic connotations are being revealed. Science historically 'produced' nature as its subject, a lifeless, dead nature [Hayles 1998]. Nowadays such universal models are taken apart, deconstructed [Weber 2001]. Science becomes visible as a historically contingent activity by humans10. The disciplinarian and authoritarian framework of science gets deconstructed through science studies, but also through media artists 'doing science studies' dirty work' as I have postulated elsewehere11. Media artists carry out the dirty work of science studies by socialising Latour's 'factoids' and by opening spaces for political, social and philosophical speculative thought, through their concrete work.
As we have seen with Anthony McCall's work, the relationships of simple and concise geometric forms, changing over time, create a 'relational' [Bourriaud 2002] artwork which needs the participation of the viewer to get 'produced'. Both Joyce Hinterding and Franz Xaver deal with another type of relationship and proportionality, that of the antenna. The antenna is a unique class of object because it acts as an intermediary between the world of 3-dimensional objects and the world of electromagnetic waves. Because of the way the world is physically shaped there is a relationship between the wave, its frequency and wavelength, and the physical properties of an object12. Any object made of conductive material resonates when it is placed within an electromagnetic field. If the object has the right proportions, it resonates with waves of a specific wavelength. The most simple example is a piece of wire:
"If the length of the wire exactly corresponds to the distance the wave needs from one end to the other, then exactly one single wave is situated in this wire. With the feed-in at the right location, the zero points of this wave are located at the beginning and the end of this wire" [Xaver In: Waves 2008].
The wire acquires a 'natural oscillation' and a 'standing wave' is created. What works with a simple wire antenna works with electrically conductive materials shaped in other ways as well. There exists a link between the material and the proportions of an object, which are properties classically associated with sculpture, and the capacity of the same object to send and receive waves, a property normally ascribed to a technical apparatus or machine. The Austrian artist Franz Xaver thinks that through this connection between form and formlessness, between the 'Hertzian space' of waves and the physical, analogue dimensions of objects embodied in the antenna, the 'artificial divisions' between visual arts and media arts can be overcome. Whereas traditionally fine artists deal with objects, paintings or sculptures, media artists deal with flows of energy and electromagnetic fields. Historically those differences have contributed to the separating out of different artistic genres. Whereas sculpture was primarily concerned with space [Krauss 1981], electromagnetic art forms are usually subsumed under the time based arts. There is a widespread perception that this contributes to the problems media art has in finding acceptance. This must not be so, says Franz Xaver [Waves 2008], because the antenna is the link between the world of static objects and the world of flows, as the antenna has agency in both domains.
To make this point Xaver has created a 'painting' using conductive silver paint. The work, called 433 MHz (1993), consists of a black canvas on which straight silver lines have been painted. The length of the lines has been calculated to correspond to the wavelength of 433 MHz. This frequency belongs to a so called ISM band, one of a range of frequencies which are licence exempt and can be used as a waves 'commons' for industrial, scientific and medical applications. This particular frequency, 433 MHz, is used for instance by baby monitors and wireless keys such as car keys, as well as wireless microphones. When waves of that frequency pass through that painting, it starts to 'swing', as the painting gets charged with energy.
llustration 2: 433 Mhz, Conductive Silver on Canvas
Joyce Hinterding has created a similar work Oscillators (1995), using three sound producing drawings. Here, graphite lines on paper are wired into a solar cell and a simple speaker/transistor. The changing light conditions and the patterns of the drawings determine the sounds produced. "What more traditional and time-honoured mode of artistic production?" exclaims Ann Finegan in a catalogue essay about Hoyce Hinterding's work [Finegan 1995]. Indeed, Franz Xaver's postulation, that the properties of the antenna transcend the false dichotomy between fine arts and media arts, gets confirmed through Hinterding's work.
Joyce Hinterding's series of works under the title Aeriology combines the properties of a sculpture and of a 'machine'. In one particular work of that title, Hinterding uses 20 km of copper wire to create a large coil. This coil is both a beautiful object that can be perceived as a 'sculpture' in the classical sense, and an 'untuned antenna' that picks up all sorts of frequencies and static 'from the air' and charges itself with energy through resonance. Ann Finegan describes in vivid words her first reaction to this art work:
"Aeriology: when I enter into the space of the gallery I am confronted by a machine. At first I may fail to read it; [...] I see a sculpture; perhaps a writing or a graphic; I don't at first see the machine. My eye has not been trained to view this coil of wire as a machine, much less as an energy gatherer." [Finegan 1995]
Illustration 3: Purple Rain, Hinterding and Haines, 2006
Finegan then continues to describe the artwork in language inspired by Heidegger, as a 'deconcealment'13. The work of artists such as Hinterding and Xaver does indeed deconceal something. Despite problems with Heideggerian 'essentialist ontologies'14 [Habermas, McCumber 1989], I have decided to use the term but try to strip it off 'Heideggerianism'. It is a common trait of Waves artists to make accessible, audible, visible the world of electromagnetic waves, and to open up important issues related to that. The waves are made to 'speak' to us15 without having to be essentialised in the Heideggerian way. I propose to understand the term deconcealment in a manner that is closer to what Brecht did with the V effect: 'deconcealment' in the sense of laying bare the workings of the theatre machine that creates the illusion; deconcealment also in the tradition of critical art forms since the beginning of modernity that seek to 'enlighten' the audience under a broad emancipatory framework [cf. Bourriaud 1998], and finally, deconcealment as the work of the artist who creates relationships with a world for which we have no sense organs.
As humans we do not have organs with which we could participate in the sphere of waves except for the relatively narrow band of visible light and heat. Therefore we need aerials to connect us to Hertzian spaces. For Joyce Hinterding, making her own aerials is a way of interacting with the forces of nature and 'tuning'16 into frequencies. In her conference talk at the Waves conference, Riga 200617, she described spending time in the open spaces of Tasmania or the Australian interior where there is comparatively little electrosmog. Hinterding works with em frequencies in the very low range -- so called Very Low Frequencies (VLFs) [Kahn 2008], which occur naturally and are triggered by lightning from thunderstorms. Very Low Frequency waves get reflected by the earth's ionosphere and because of that can travel around the world. Hinterding considers her Aeriology work as research, a 'science of the ethereal', as Finegan calls it [Finegan 1995]. While she uses electronic equipment similar to that used by scientists, Hinterding insists that her research is based on a different episteme, that of art. Scientists and engineers are concerned with exact measurments and increased efficiency, but for artists, carrying out those works is another type of speculative thought18. Artistic practice is both enabled by and in turn facilitates speculative thinking about the work that only becomes possible through that practice. While scientists conduct experiments to verify theories19 [Feyerabend 1988], and have to make measurements and generate 'data' to create intersubjective knowledge, artistic research can be carried out without 'hard data'. The practice enables intellectual speculation, it propels the artist onto another mental state or 'plateau'.
The work shown by Hinterding at Waves together with David Haines, Purple Rain, uses the energy received by an antenna to modulate and interfere with a 'romantic' image, a computer animation of an avalanche endlessly falling off a mountain range. Here, the "noise transmissions, normally silenced in TV," are amplified and allowed "to dominate in order to yield a physical experience of the electromagnetic force behind the broadcast image" [Hinterding, Haines In: Waves 2008]. The work reveals the strong electromagnetic force that is emitted by radio and TV transmitters, and refers also to a concern with the ecology of em waves. The antenna, a resonator, a special kind of object which sits at the margins of the real, acting as instrument, tool, sensor, machine, yet also art work, an intermediary of different forms of existence, which allows us to 'feel' electromagnetic fields and energy differences, just like pressure swings in the atmosphere, as the missing link between sculpture and more fluid practices, is also the focus in Franz Xaver's work.
Illustration 4: Hydrogen, Franz Xaver, with Visitor leaning, Photo: unknown
Franz Xaver began to produce kinetic sculptures in the late 1970s, which lead him soon to work with computers and computer networks. In and around 1993 and 1994 he saw 'the utopian horizon of his interpretation of media art being realised by Linux and the internet which forced him to rethink his strategies'20. He built his own Radiotelescope, RT03, placed on the Austrian countryside near Linz and powered by a solar panel. RT03 tunes into the frequency of Hydrogen, the basic building block of the universe21. Hydrogen was created shortly after the Big Bang and from it came, in the long run, all the other elements, molecules, stars and planets. Hydrogen keeps floating through the universe22, and expanding with the universe. In Xaver's work, the radiation received from space is turned into an audio signal. This signal is being streamed live via the internet into the exhibition space. At Waves Dortmund, the audio signal could be listened to via speakers which were embedded in a large white wooden cube in such a way that the black speakers looked like the eyes of a dice. Referring to Einstein's famous dictum that 'God does not play dice', the work carried the subtitle 'yet he does (play dice),' referring to the formation of atoms and molecules out of the superhot mixture of matter and anti-matter in a completely shapeless and random state, shortly after the Big Bang.
The work puts the viewer into a relationship with outer space. The radio waves do not just come from deep space but also from deep back in time: despite travelling with the speed of light it took them a lot of time to arrive. Creating expanded electromagnetic sculptures whose size can only be described in millions of lightyears allows the artist, Xaver says, to keep a perspective on this world. As an artist, or indeed, a human being, he needs to be able to make value judgements23. Being constantly embedded in the webs of signs and relationships that constitute the current information society, it was impossible, he says, to have a 'perspective on' society. Extending the notion of 'sculpture' into outer spaces makes it possible to put the information society into its place: the installation in Riga carried a little handwritten note that asked "what is the internet compared with 10 Million years of radio history?" Do-it-yourself radio astronomy is an attempt by the artist to create a 'work' in a classic artistic sense. The sculpture, by being very 'long'-- millions of lightyears long -- confronts the audience with a deep relationship with the universe. As the electromagnetic sculpture propels the viewer into outer space it enables a reassesment of the here and now in the socalled 'information society'24
The workshop "demons in the aether" by Martin Howse [Howse 2008, In: Spectropia. Acoustic Space No. 7], held at Waves, Dortmund, also dealt with the relationship between wave and form. Small radio receivers were built by the participants to explore EM spaces and record 'demons' in the wireless medium25. As in Franz Xavers's Hydrogen (1993 - 2008), and Joyce Hinterding's Aeriology (1995 - 2008), the works deal directly with changing power patterns of em fields, translating them into sound to create an em 'mapping' of the environment26. The practical work is linked to a theoretical discourse about 'demons' (EM bodies), Robert Clark Maxwell, and the 'aether', which was once assumed necessary for the waving of waves, then declared non-existent, and now reinstated through the backdoor [Howse 2008, Greene 2004]. Artists such as Franz Xaver, Joyce Hinterding, Martin Howse and his workshop group use their own aerials and self-built equipment when listening to Very Low Frequencies (VLF). This DIY aspect and the direct relationship it enables with EM as material is an important aspect when it comes to the formulation of a new theoretical approach to artistic practices using technology.
But not just artists use VLF, known to enthusiasts also as 'natural radio'. According to radio art expert Douglas Kahn, who has worked extensively on this subject, early telephone and telegraphy engineers spent hours at night listening to VLF sound phenomena, as long distance phone lines also can pick up VLFs. At first they thought they were picking up 'aether music' [Kahn 2008]27.
The Austrian artist Udo Wid also has a long history of work with VLF and also Extreme Low Frenquencies (ELF), yet coming from a slightly different angle.
Illustration 5: Udo Wid, asked everyone to lie down for the opening ceremony of his "Deceleration Point".
Wid started his career as a scientist working in theoretical physics and chemistry. He still occasionally contributes to academic journals. However, already 30 years ago the way that science 'questions' nature became too narrow for him and he started do develop his own strand of research. One long term project that Wid is carrying out is concerned with ELFs, which are waves even longer than VLFs and which are said to have an influence on our pysche. ELFs are, like VLF, triggered by ligtning and travel around the world, being reflected by the ionosphere. The space between the surface of the earth and the ionosphere serves as a cavity resonator with a wavelength is equal to the circumference of the earth, which produces the frequency 7.8 Hz, called a 'Schumann resonance'28, which happens to be the same frequency as alpha waves in the human brain. In a public park in Dortmund Wid installed a Deceleration Point, a small low powered radio transmitter powered by a small solar cell, all concealed behind unbreakable glass and protected by a piece of plastic pipe sunk into the earth. Passers by were invited to lie down on the grass and allow their brains to be tuned into alpha waves, thereby slowing them down and getting into a state to receive new ideas [Wid 2008, In: Waves 2008]. The point is not whether Wid actually influences the brain waves of passers by, but the imaginary he develops, which is as much around his gesture of making 'donations' to cities as about the very weak 8 Hz signal (which does not really influence anything or anyone). Wid has 'donated' such Deceleration Points now to a number of cities, each time placed very consciously at a specific venue, for instance next to Trinity College, Dublin, where Erwin Schroedinger held his famous lecture on What is Life (1944)29 [Reichle 2005]
For the long term project When ELFs Sing (1994 – 2008) Wid created reception stations for ELFs in remote areas where there is as little electrosmog as possible30, and carried out long term measurements trying to find corresponding patterns between ELF emissions and psychological states of being. Because of his scientific background Wid is well aware of the fact that it is near impossible to establish any causal link between ELFs and the psychological internal states and cognitive functions of humans. We are very complex beings, and our moods depend on so many things that it is very hard for 'proper' science to establish conditions under which an experiment could show anything. For artists, however, there are no such off-limits zones. For more than one year Wid lived in a little log cabin in a very remote forest area of Austria to conduct his daily ELF measurements. Later he fed them through a graphical computer software which interpreted the data through a cellular automata [Wid (s.a.)] algorithm to produce abstract graphics in correlation to the recorded measurements. Again, the artist does not suggest a strong link but leaves it to the audience to decide if there are such links at all.
Since Einstein's Special Relativity Theory in 1905 – the year of Malevitch's Black Square and the sailor's revolt in Kronstadt – artists have felt compelled to go "behind": to step further and further back and reveal new layers of reality. There is no such thing as 'pure science', as waves of science studies authors and philosophers of science have shown since Thomas Kuhn and Paul Feyerabend . The scientific theory (or 'fact') immediately affects the social world and vice versa. Theories about the 'true nature' of the physical world are influenced by the social system which forms the humus for those theories. In 'relational' artworks [Bourriaud 2002] the 'social interventions' carried out by artists are burdened by an 'as if'. The intervention is both real and unreal, but fundamentally it is possible only within the reference system of the art world, which has reached a post-conceptual conceptualism. The artworks of artists in the Waves exhibition can exist with much more self-confidence than the works of neo-conceptualism, as they can rely on immanence as well as context. The electromagnetic sculptures of Franz Xaver, Joyce Hinterding, Udo Wid, et al, combine the traditional values of art and craft, as Ann Finegan writes. The 'workliness' [Finegan 1995, paraphrasing Heidegger in 1970s] of the work combines 'work' and 'effect'31. The 'works', results of a manual and intellectual effort by the artists, are dealing with 'real' forces, with flows of energies, with 'effects' in the physical world as well as within social systems32. The Waves art works have left metaphor behind. They are not 'representations' of something, the artist does not behave 'as if' s/he was a scientist. The artists are conducting inquiries of their own, unlimited by science's reductionism. Although the artists do not try to get 'objective data' as the scientists do (or pretend to do), they need to be convinced of the validity of their own data. To that end they can not rely on black box commodities produced by corporations. They need to build their own DIY antennas to feel the particles rearranging and energy flowing between their fingers33. As the artists 'go out' (into the bush, into the cabin log, a remote research station, but also into the 'electronic jungle' that is the contemporary 'Maxwell City'34
) they discover new spaces for thinking. Going out into isolation, the reduction of the possibilities in an isolated situation35 opens new spaces around 'speculative objects'. The presence of such objects imbues us with special powers, like talking with non-humans [Latour 1999], such as EM waves, about things that we have in common with them. The works are not actors who pretend to be something else, they are, what they are. Waves are actually emitted from, and received with, pieces of metal, and sounds are captured. Through their 'truthfulness' the works can at the same time be speculative. While the scientist 'queries' nature, as in a court case, to hear 'nothing but the truth,' the artist asks 'nature to open its eyes' [Habermas 1968] and speak back and allow a dialogue with 'physis' (Greek)36.
As the artists seek to conduct their own inquiries together with nature they also display a form of respect for people which compares positively with the patronising attitude of the broadcast system and the limited options of multiple-choice consumer society. The works offer deeper and more open forms of engagement and participation than many of the supposedly 'interactive' computer art works which have enjoyed privileged attention in the media art world for so long. As exhibition visitors stroll around Franz Xaver's cube they have to think about what they see and hear; attracted by curiosity, held back by fear of the unknown -- when they are told they can listen to 'outer space' -- visitors slowly overcome their reservations and get closer and closer to the object until they put their ears to the speakers, not only to listen to, but maybe also feel, sounds coming from light-years away and ago. Similar processes can be observed in the way people react to McCall's or Hinterding's work. Rather than a narrowly defined interaction, participation of the full person, from head to toe, with body and mind, is asked for. The rules of engagement are quite open, compared to the rules bound behaviour of computer based interactions. The member of the audience is taken seriously as a potential co-conspirator against the media monopolies and technopolitical domination by state and corporations. Since the technical threshold of participation is low (radios can be built cheaply and quickly out of a few easy to get parts), the exhibition is an encouragement for people to become active themselves, rather than to stand in awe at the 'artistry' of the professionals. The presentation of waves works in exhibition spaces compares favourably to the stereotype of the typical media arts exhibition with many monitors and computers. For Waves artworks often no computers are needed either to produce or present the work, so the 'office equipment' character of typical media art installations is avoided, and many works do not even need screens, as there is a spatial or temporal dimension to them. As people engage with the works, and as new layers of reality are unveiled, the works gain another dimension. Because of their 'radical realism' [Bourriaud 1998], because they are 'truthful' insofar as real and not fake matter flows through those circuits, the works are often janus-headed, looking in different directions, exploring parallel universes at the same time. The works are significant as 'real' or 'symbolic only' overlays, as works often exist in a dual state of being, as bare acts [Sarai Reader 2005] or as speculative objects, as real or as mythical. After deconcealment, the work closes in on itself again and leaves us wondering anew, under a sky wide open.
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Hinterding Joyce, Haines David. Purple Rain (Broadcast Delay). In: Waves. The Art of the Electromagnetic Society. Ed. by Hartware MedienKunstVerein, Armin Medosch, Rasa Šmite, Raitis Šmits, Inke Arns. Dortmund: HMKV/Kettler, 2008.
Howse Martin. The aether and its double. In: Spectropia. Acoustic Space. Liepaja: MPLab, RIXC. No. 7, 2008.
Joseph Branden W., Walley Jonathan. Anthony McCall: the Solid Light Films and Related Works. Ed. by Christopher Eamon. Evanston, Il.: Northwestern University Press, 2005.
Kahn Douglas, Whitehead Gregory. Wireless Imagination: Sound, Radio, and the Avant-garde. Cambridge, Mass.: MIT Press, 1992.
Kahn Douglas. Joyce Hinterding and parasitic possibility. In: Re-inventing Radio: Aspects of Radio as Art. Ed. by Heidi Grundmann et. al. Frankfurt: Revolver, 2008, pp. 435–448.
Krauss Rosalind E. Passages in Modern Sculpture. New York: Viking Press, 1977.
Latour Bruno. Pandora's Hope: Essays on the Reality of Science Studies. Cambridge, Mass.; London: Harvard University Press 1999.
McLuhan Marshall. Understanding Media: the Extensions of Man. New York: McGraw-Hill, 1964.
Reichle Ingeborg. Kunst aus dem Labor. Zum Verhältnis von Kunst und Wissenschaft im Zeitalter der Technoscience. Wien; New York: Springer, 2005.
Sarai Reader 05: Bare Acts. Ed. by Monica Narula, Shuddhabrata Sengupta, Jeebesh Bagchi, Geert Lovink. Delhi: Sarai/Center for the Studies of Developing Societies, 2005.
Waves. Electromagnetic Waves as Material and Medium of Art. Ed. by Rasa Šmite, Armin Medosch, Daina Siliņa. Acoustic Space, No. 6. Riga: RIXC, 2006.
Waves. The Art of the Electromagnetic Society. Ed. by Hartware MedienKunstVerein, Armin Medosch, Rasa Šmite, Raitis Šmits, Inke Arns. Dortmund: HMKV/Kettler, 2008.
Weber Jutta. Umkämpfte Bedeutungen: Natur im Zeitalter der Technoscience. Frankfurt/Main: Campus, 2003.
Whitaker Andrew. Einstein, Bohr, and the Quantum Dilemma. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1996.
Wid Udo. Deceleration Point. In: Waves. The Art of the Electromagnetic Society. Ed. by Hartware MedienKunstVerein, Armin Medosch, Rasa Šmite, Raitis Šmits, Inke Arns. Dortmund: HMKV/Kettler, 2008.
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Xaver Franz. Wave and form. In: Waves. The Art of the Electromagnetic Society. Ed. by Hartware MedienKunstVerein, Armin Medosch, Rasa Šmite, Raitis Šmits, Inke Arns. Dortmund: HMKV/Kettler, 2008.
Where the Radio Stops,
In 1895, Breuer and Freud published Studies on Hysteria, a seminal account of the development of the first scientific method for analysing the realities of the human mind, which suggested a new way of making inferences from the symbolic forms created in dreams using techniques such as free-association. This same year also saw the development of one of the first motion picture cameras by the Lumiere Brothers. The Cinematograph, a device that acted as a camera, developer and a projector, had its first public demonstration in the form of a twelve-film screening in Paris. The Cinematograph not only pipped Thomas Edison’s Kinetoscope to the post as the first publicised machine to enable a ‘cinematic’ event, but also hailed the start of an era of innovative communication, story telling and recording of realities. Thus a new narrative of the anthropological was born, in the moving cultural and social act encased in the archaeological object of film. A key element in this process of encasement was electromagnetism in the form of light. With its interaction, reflection and attenuation on, against or through surrounding objects, light provided the pattern of frequency to allow this recording process to take place. In effect, the moving photographic paper or film had been modulated, a modulation that had witnessed a specific moment in time. For the next half a century, the responsibilities of handling the Cinematograph and other subsequent recorders of social and political relationships, fell into the hands of a select few and in much the same sense as the myth of the artist genius, a myth was created that implied only special types of communicators and journalists should have access to this medium. Post Second World War however, saw the familiarisation with society of the moving image through newsreels, cinema and the television set. With the increased demand for modern expression and a thinking that ran alongside to the American dream1 young people in the 1950’s and 60’s demanded that they be taught the use of the movie camera to record their own individual narratives about the world.
Today the motion picture that once could only be created by film and transparency, is digital. A multitude of easily accessible equipment such as the digital camera, mobile phone or the computer, provide a means of recording personal histories with ever-increasing ease. Now not only imagery can be electronically recorded, but sound and written text. The means of sharing these separate histories has also become commonplace. Email, SMS and Bluetooth are all examples of the way individuals transfer and keep information. As in the days of film where light was modulated into a pattern to create an image, social and political concerns are now carried by radio and microwaves that are manipulated by frequency, amplitude or phase to carry code in the shape of a pattern. Similar to the short paragraph in Pynchon’s novel Gravity’s Rainbow where the inhabitants of a town mark their every move by unraveling thread wherever they go, today’s inhabitant leaves a modulated thread which is a unique pattern of their journey through life. Thus a saturation of aether space has occurred where threads of personal, sociological, political and military codings exist together; the act of modulation providing the pattern of a history that is sometimes short-lived, but at other times extends outward, traveling through our galaxy forever marking a specific moment in time.
Thus the perceived scale of the spaces we now live within becomes distorted. In parallel to the text Non-Places by Marc Auge, and his description of Supermodernity as a non-place where the ‘capitalist phenomena’ produces a ‘self-contained…logic of excessive information and excessive space’, the electromagnetic spectrum that we inhabit for our communication, work and leisure is expanding with Supermodern overabundance. Internet connections open doors to new landscapes through the mirror2 of the monitor, secret lives exchange communications in textual heavens, housewives draw new social boundaries with the telephone whilst military muscles flex themselves with stealthy anticipation via satellite. Images, words, plans and theories move past each other at nearly three hundred million metres per second facilitated by an ever-increasing expansion of commercial bandwidth. The accumulation of electromagnetic cultural patterning thus has the paradoxical effect of creating an excess of space by the opening of new areas of potential interaction, yet in the same instant making distance appear smaller. Distance in space-time is collapsing, and everything and everyone can enjoy an unparalleled, if disincarnate, proximity. This collapse of distance is not limited to what we immediately experience as ordinary space and time, but includes complex arrangements of knowledge, behavior, values and social structures.3 The proximity of events, social structures and values has the effect of pushing the notion of History further and further towards the present, where an individual can feel his own history intersecting with History, and can imagine that the two are interconnected.4 No longer is History only present on dusty bookshelves that talk of the French Revolution. History is present in the lifetime of the individual. In terms of the microwave and radio sections of the electromagnetic spectrum where communication has its own modulated mark in time, History was created yesterday, an hour ago, or just in the last moment.
This essence of time is crucial in the notion of non-place, as non-place is a place with no identity, a through point such as the airport, where the individual has had no time to bond with others enabling the formation of a community marked by place. The exemplification of a community would be in the monuments it leaves behind and the codified social structures we would normally associate with place, such as the physical interrelation between church and common, signifying the relationship between religion and community. The airport, the station and the autoroute however are all places of the solitary traveler who through itineraries, timetables and other abundant textual instructions, has no time to create his own inscriptions that would indicate a link to other social identities of place. Yet in the electromagnetic spectrum, we see a History where the modulated wave becomes an inscription, a monument in space and time marking that very development of a modern society. Through their unique patterns and interrelations in time, the inscriptions signify a social and cultural relationship that marks specific codified structures relating to identity, society and community. In this sense then, we can view the portion of the electromagnetic spectrum that mankind uses for communication as anthropological; a cultural and sociological record, an artifact crafted by its users where modulation signifies that craft. Much like the potter or the toolmaker, the modulator of electromagnetism creates a pattern code onto an object that is at once both being and nothingness, yet is embodied with our experience, our signature, our past. The act of consciousness becomes the act of handling this world of information.5 Therefore taken as a whole, this ‘sea’ of modulated mumblings could be interpreted as an unspecific space, a cultural reservoir and an open take on the classic Jungian notion of the collective consciousness, where reoccurring symbolic archetypes can be randomly accessed; space in the literal sense is a point somewhere between points, and in a phenomenological sense, a space not distinguished by its various places, but by one’s sense of “being”.6 However, in viewing this reservoir in an opposing light and by looking at the unspecific whole as a set of very specific self- contained relationships, a new narrative of the anthropological appears; that is, the moving cultural and social act encased in the archaeological object that is the modulated wave. Thus spaces whose analysis have meaning because they have been invested with meaning7 become places. The electromagnetic spectrum with its modulated monuments of societal relations, identity and History becomes at one with an ethnological tradition that holds an idea of a culture localised in space and time.8 Therefore with our intervention, the self-contained unspecific non-place of the ‘supermodern’ electromagnetic spectrum, can become a place.
the Music Begins.
In 1854, James Bowman Lindsay the Scottish inventor and early pioneer of telegraphy, patented his ideas for underwater telegraphic communication by the use of insulated wires. However, due to the excessive length of wire that his system required, which was almost double that to the stretch of water that was attempting to be crossed, it was superceded by other more practical designs. Lindsay nonetheless continued with his research, and turned his attention to transmitting messages wirelessly through the water, which he was successful in doing over short distances. Nonetheless, over one hundred and fifty years later, man still retains the inability to reliably transmit wirelessly through the water over any great distance. As regards transmissions from the land to underwater vehicles such as submarines, direct wireless communication via conventional radio and microwave frequencies is virtually impossible when the submarine is at working depth, which can be around six hundred metres for nuclear-powered attack submarines. High-powered signals used for many satellite and mobile messaging systems are simply ‘lost’ in salt water as the sea absorbs or attenuates the electric part of the wave. Radio communications broadcast on even the VLF (Very Low Frequency) range have wavelengths that only penetrate the water to between ten to forty metres, depending on the salinity (or conductivity) of the water. This is barely periscope depth for a modern submarine. To get around this problem, previous American and Russian governments developed ELF (Extremely Low Frequency) programmes that were broadcasting at 76-82 Hz enabling a carrier wave of sufficient length to penetrate the water deep enough so that sub-maritime vessels around the world could receive information. However, similar to Bowman Lindsay’s problem in the 1850’s, the amount of land-based wire that was needed to produce waves of this length was phenomenal. As the wavelength for ELF communication was around 3500km, which is a quarter of the earths diameter, the antennae needed to produce such a wave was so vast that the earth itself was used as an antennae by utilizing base-rock formations such as igneous granite. Due to the amount of power required to transmit this form of radio, it was a one-way system only from shore to submarine, where the data rate took the form of a few characters per hour. Needless to say, in the last five years these systems have been scrapped for communication purposes due to economic pressures, and dialogue with submarines now takes the form of a beacon that is dropped into the water telling the sub to surface. However this method is still dependant on a pre-organised itinerary, where the submarine will be known to be in the localised area as the beacon is dropped. In this respect every Captain of the sub-mariner fraternity retains a certain degree of autonomy, as when he and his crew are at their maximum depth of over six hundred metres, they electromagnetically do not exist; the contained world of the supermodern anthropological machine finds its boundary. In the un-contactable world of the deep then, they retain the myth of the sea monster, the stealth of being at one with the sea where every Captain’s name is Nemo and every craft is the Nautilus.9
Thus in the Nautilus or the autonomous vessel of the modern submarine, the theories of place and non-place come back into focus. In his text Non-Places, Auge does not posit a non-place in direct opposition to a place, or suggest that the Supermodern is ‘all-encompassing’. Contrary to a more traditional view where ‘old and new are interwoven’ he describes the condition of Supermodernity as being self-contained where places exist separately and outwith non-place, and likewise the non-place can exist within place. In this self-containment, the submarine has the condition of the Supermodern intrinsicly interwoven into its physical and circumstantial properties. By the very nature of the medium that this vehicle travels through and no matter whether the vessel is of military or commercial concern, movement for a submarine is a necessity and itinerary is always a priority. Complacency is avoided as for every ten metres in increased depth the water pressure increases by one bar, which is one kilogram of weight for every centimetre squared of area.10 Submarines therefore not only have a maximum depth rating but also a collapse depth. A series of continual checks must be made in respect of buoyancy, air, humidity, pressure, fuel, temperature and depth, whereby the actions of these checks have the peculiarity that they are defined partly by the words and texts they offer us: their instructions for use.11 The necessity for these actions are ones of survival and are evident throughout a vehicle where function takes over from form, where space is a necessary constraint. The containees in this working machine live by timetables, shifts, actions and reactions for the protection of their enclosed environment, a protection that requires focus at all times and a focus that allows no other social codifications or individual identities to form. The submariner becomes no more than what he does or experiences in the role of passenger, customer or driver.12 If a place can be defined as relational, historical and concerned with identity, then a space which cannot be defined as relational, historical or concerned with identity, will be a non-place.13 Thus in the submarine we see exemplified the classic notion of the Augean non-anthropological, a place that is only traveled through and holds no identity or social codifications that would mark its relationship to place; although the vessel will be occupied by the same inhabitants for months at a time, whilst in the company of the deep, the human submariner will always be the traveler in the non-place of his container.
So the autonomous submarine skirts stealthily around its deepest depth of six hundred metres, electromagnetically invisible in the Twilight Zone14 of the ocean. For a diver at full saturation this depth is probably at the limits of what human physiology could take.15 Standing at the edge of a Moon Pool,16 the threshold between non-space and the other, the diver prepares himself to enter a new world that places him at the centre of a conjunction of space and place. On entering the pool, he is plunged into darkness where all visual representation that would normally provide a sense of scale in relation to self, is absent. Once underwater he is immediately compelled by the sensation of flying, free falling and suspension as he is in his dreams.17 The aquanaut is thus rendered into a space of consciousness, through which his perception restricts the use of space to a sensory experience.18 For that moment, a human in the state of immersion views the subaqua as a sensory space. A space where no relation to anthropological codifications or supermodernity exists, where the mind moves back to notion of the primitive, where interior and exterior are one and the earthly world joins that of the soul.19 However by recognising that a relationship between air, breath and the spirit occurs when the bio/tech unit sustains life in a saturated environment,20 the diver soon snaps back into the realms of non-place. His body as the traveling vehicle, resuming the focus of checks necessary to sustain his life, and returning him to the textual realm of action through instruction. Yet this depth also signifies the edge of a new kind of place, one where another type of frequency attenuates and therefore another form of anthropology exists. From the depths of six hundred to twelve hundred metres, The Deep Sound Channel21 moves through the oceans and around the world, transporting low frequency sound vibrations for thousands of kilometres. In the upper reaches of this channel the diver thus finds himself at the conjunction of three different worlds; one where the space of consciousness merges with the vibrational place of sensory sound, yet is kept in check by the contained non-place of survival. Existence at this meeting point is fleeting, and with the experience of being part of the Deep Sound Channel for just a very short while, the aquanaut returns to his moon pool and the dry seclusion of his vessel.
However, much like electromagnetism in the medium of air, sound in water reverberates for long periods of time providing a poetic view that the sound does not disappear, only gets quieter and quieter. Even though the oceans provide man with a new type of space to conquer, the medium of water that we habitually take for granted, provides us with an undiscovered wealth of possibility. Some say that the special qualities of water extend to electromagnetic and acoustic memory,22 the unique hydrogen bonding of the molecules providing helixical structures23 that trap, record or echo specific frequencies. In a world that is becoming increasingly aquatic through Global Warming, our powers of communication would have to realise, adapt and utilise the very unique qualities of water that could provide new ways of thinking about the modulation and combination of acoustic and electromagnetic wave systems. For the radio transmission that continues forever into deep space marking a point in time, the acoustic reverberates through the oceans forever, celebrating the moment where the radio stops and the music begins.