Waves – the art of deconcealment
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: Fighting "Monopolies of Consciousness"
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.
Science and 'Waves' – at the margins of the real
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.
The Electromagnetic Sculpture
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.
Heidegger and the machine
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.
Beyond the 'information society'
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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- 1. I would like to be careful with the use of the word 'global' as global communications, traffic and interchanges have occurred for a long time. And as electricity and electromagnetism are natural forces they have shaped this world for as long as it has existed, however a global society in a specific sense (as capitalist and based on the industrial revolution) started in the mid 19th century with telegraph and later radio.
- 2. See on this point the impact of Marshall McLuhan's theory in Understanding media: extensions of man [McLuhan 1964] and the legacy of McLuhanism [Barbrook 2007].
- 3. Nowadays digital projectors are used and the source file is a digital film as well, but that does not have a strong impact on the meaning of the art work.
- 4. McCall uses this phrase in Dasgupta 1977.
- 5. As Marc Tuters implied in his blog [Tuters 2006]
- 6. We become carriers of our own space-time, which is actually a consequence of relativity theory and quantum mechanics that is not so well known [cf. Greene 2004].
- 7. My emphasis [McCall, Dasgupta 1977, 59], Anthony McCall suffered from the gap between the political intention and the political effect of the work so much that he gave up doing the solid light films, and only recently returned to the art circuit [cf. Joseph, Walley 2005].
- 8. Waves based relativity theory and quantum mechanics at first did not go down well with each other, an argument known as the Einstein Bohr debate [cf. Whitaker 1996].
- 9. An expression attributed to Einstein, who disliked the probability in quantum mechanics. [cf. Whitaker 1996]
- 10. As opposed to claims that science is 'objective'. The epistemological framework of religion, whereby a deity serves as organisational principle in the world, was replaced by science, whereby the deity was simply substituted by 'laws of nature'. Such a naive belief in the 'realism' of science amounts to the construction of science as an ideology, as scientism, granting it a privilege of knowing which cannot be contested by 'social' claims [cf. Habermas 1968].
- 11. In a text about Ambienttv.net (2009)
- 12. In physics wavelength is signified through the Greek character (Lambda). The wavelength of an electromagnetic wave is the result of the speed of light divided by the frequency. For instance, the frequency on which wireless LAN operates is 2.4 Gigahertz. 300 000 / 2400 000 = 0.125 km or 12.5 cm. To transmit or receive at this wavelength, the length of an antenna needs to be λ/2 = 6.25 cm or multiples of it. [Waves 2006]
- 13. "From the undifferentiated matter of the earth's concealing (of materials as diverse as leather, or stone, or clay), the artist's techne deconceals, reveals the knowing in the work" referring to Heidegger's The Question of Technology [cf. Keltner 2001 in Finegan 1995].
- 14. I think the intellectual rehabilitation, in recent decades, of Heidegger via France is problematic. There is not only the question of whether he was a Nazi – this has been clearly answered, yes, he was – but also whether his philosophy as such carries a 'totalitarian' bug: the approach behind Heideggerian 'ontologies' may itself be prone to 'essentialisms' close to blood and soil ideologies. [cf. Habermas, McCumber 1989].
- 15. In the sense of Latour [Latour 1999], as dialogues between humans and non-humans.
- 16. Interview with Ina Zwerger, ORF Ö1, Matrix.
- 17. Audio recording, unpublished, archive of RIXC.
- 18. See also McCall on that matter, who says something like that the value of art is the speculation itself rather than the hard data [Dasgupta 1977].
- 19. Which is a simplified version of the basic methodology of natural sciences which has been disputed by Paul Feyerabend (Feyerabend Paul. Against Method. London: Verso, 1988).
- 20. Paraphrasing Franz Xaver, from an interview with the author, 2006, unpublished.
- 21. See catalogue text for waves exhibition
- 22. Among scientists, the radiation coming from Hydrogen is discussed according to its wavelength of 21 cm: "The 21-cm line of atomic hydrogen was detected in 1951, first at Harvard University followed within a few weeks by others. The discovery demonstrated that astronomical research, which at that time was limited to conventional light, could be complemented with observations at radio wavelengths, revealing a range of new physical processes." See uplink.space and Wikipedia .
- 23. Interview with the author, 2006, unpublished.
- 24. I consider the 'information society' an ideological term which has to be contested, for instance through reference to the electromagnetic society, a term which I have proposed for „Waves“ exhibition in Dortmund, see Medosch 2008.
- 25. Cf. report by workshop participant Lindsay Brown
- 26. The workshop also corresponds to the Mini FM project, insofar as small radios can be built by everyone. Cf. Kogawa Tetsuo. A Radioart Manifest. In: Spectropia. Acoustic Space. Liepaja: MPLab, RIXC. No. 7, 2008.
- 27. Douglas Kahn discusses phenomena such as 'sferics' (short from atmospherics), 'tweeks', 'whistlers' and 'chorus' in more detail in this volume in his text on Alvin Lucier.
- 28. There are also Schumann resonances on higher frequencies, see Schumann resonances in Wikipedia .
- 29. This by now classic text constructs parallels between biologic life and information, thereby being foundational for the new science of Bioinformatics. [cf. Reichle 2005]
- 30. 30.In cities a big source of electromagnetic pollution is, for instance, power lines.
- 31. This works much better in German as 'Werk' and 'Wirkung'
- 32. Whoever turns on a microwave oven or a red light bulb participates in the discussion about 'open' spectrum and electromagnetic spectrum licensing issues; this aspect is explored further in Priest Julian. The Visual Spectrum. In: Spectropia. Acoustic Space. Liepaja: MPLab, RIXC. No. 7, 2008.
- 33. This is not a fetishisation of craft but a celebration of a specific type of artistic autonomy, which is very different from the more traditional notion of artistic autonomy. The artists need to be in control of the instruments, which they use to engage with nature, they cannot engage middlemen or unseen, abstract 'dead labour'. [cf. Marx 2007]
- 34. Maxwell City was the title of a workshop held by Martin Howse and Erich Berger in Oslo, 2007; documentation available online: .
- 35. The notions of 'isolation' and 'insulation' have been very prominent in Marko Peljhan's work, which is in many ways relevant for this article and the Waves exhibition concept and evaluation, but had to be left out for the sake of brevity of this text. See for instance the by now 'historic' Makrolab homepage.
- 36. Such a dialogue, which transcends the epistemological (and sociological) framework of 'science' in the traditional way could be the beginning of a new, more 'open' type of science that does not deny its link with the social world. Such a science would be at its core philosophical, its realisation the making of 'speculative' art works.