After almost a week of long install days, tremendous support from the Galerie Sans Nom staff and my friend Mar Molano, the show is up! Technical kinks all worked out, radio frequencies all work well, and the elevator is successfully receiving signals from the broadcast station I set up next to the gallery. It was a physically and mentally challenging install, but I’m very happy with the results. There will be an essay written by GSN Director Amanda Dawn Christie coming soon on the show, and I had a chance to present an artist talk about the work on Friday evening before the opening. It will be up until April 4th here: http://galeriesansnom.org
The use of media has changed dramatically in our lifetime, and Shortwave Radio is very much a precursor to communications based media we use today. HAM radio operators and SW enthusiasts were the first to communicate in an immediate way and played active roles in developing a technology that hugely informed and influenced communications strategies as we know it throughout the 20th century until present. With this exhibition I highlighted the personal experience with SW Radio, both reaching back to my grandfather’s experience with SW Radio while at the same time moving forward, applying a toolbox of basic skill sets such as classical interval training on piano, and letter writing, attempting to explore the space between intergenerational skill-sharing and storytelling, technological development, political landscapes, and physical proximity.
Each of the four works in the exhibition offers an open-ended gesture that addressed this distance through physical proximity and it’s effect on the time based media of radio. The first item visitors encounter while entering the gallery is a table with a stack of QSL cards, each addressed to a fellow HAM Radio operator from my grandfather’s collection of QSL cards. These are displayed on the walls outside the gallery and hanging from plexiglass in the gallery space. Visitors are invited to fill out these cards with a message, and place them in a post box, which I will mail to each recipient. Given the 60 years time that has passed since my grandfather received the cards in the late 1940s, it is evident that the original owner of the card (and HAM radio station), is most likely not at that address. This gesture of attempting to communicate with each of these 300+ locations (given a time difference that is close to that of a human lifetime) is not necessarily connecting with the original contact as much as potentially opening up a channel of communication with a person at the same location as that of the original contact. The text on the card encourages the recipient to reflect or act in response through the action of a QSL card, therefore carrying the spirit of the SW Radio community forward in time.
Throughout the exhibition any responses to these mail-out’s will be documented and collected by Galerie Sans Nom, and posted on the wall for visitors to read or engage with. A pile of blank cards are available as well, leaving the line of communication open through mailing of more QSL cards.
Here is a good You Tube Video explaining QSL Cards by K7AGE:
The largest structures in the gallery consist of two of the octagonal structures receiving a transmission of SW Interval signals from each of the countries that my grandfather communicated with through his years as a HAM radio operator in Saint John, NB. I treated each of these interval signals as a musical ear training exercise, applying classical interval training by ear on piano. Piano is an instrument that I grew up learning, and holds a space in my memory as an emotionally charged communication machine. As a late teen I would play the piano for hours at a time, and often thought of it as a supernatural form of expression. In a sense I still think it is, but it also extends beyond improvisational expressionism into much deeper territory, defying prescribed structure much alike colour to any form of visual expression.
More superficially, the piano is an instrument that is used commonly as a translator in western music training, allowing one instrument or musician understand another through the common language of the piano scale. Learning each of these interval signals by ear brought together the important process of repetitive practice and the act of listening, an essential ingredient in understanding other generations and cultures especially in our current state as a culture dominated by the act of delegation over the act of creativity.
In the far corner of the gallery, a selection of four slides from my grandfathers collection of 35mm slides from his year in the DEW line project were projected on the corner walls of the gallery. The projections were small, about the size of a postcard or snapshot photograph, illuminated by the bright light of four identical “TDC 300 Show Pak” projectors. The hum of the projector fans, as well as the size and metallic look of the projectors themselves are as distinctly part of the work as the images, emphasizing each projector as a storyteller, accompanying the images with their bold and steady presence. The fragility of the slides are framed by the sturdy, tank-like machines that tell the story.
The images themselves are paired with each other as contrasts, spring and winter, home and work, drawing on the passing of time, and the weight of distance from family for the sake of work, a common trait of Canadian work ethic that has shaped the structure of the Atlantic Canadian family as much then as today.
The elevator in the Aberdeen Centre was made available as an extension to this exhibition, so was used to receive an audio broadcast of SW numbers stations. As the elevator travels upwards and downwards between floors the listener will experience the mysterious counting of numbers in many languages. This same track was received on three radios inside the gallery, so in the gallery there were the two tracks of numbers stations and intervals, and in the elevator just the number stations, almost as if measuring distance and time as travelling via elevator. The elevator was lit with an orange/red light, to off set the space, offering a warm and radiant environment for listening. The radio in the elevator is intentionally visible, allowing the listener to visualize where the audio is coming from as well as connect the physical presence of the radio with the show in the gallery. This was the first time I had attempted to expand this exhibition to an elevator, so this allowed me to work out any potential technical kinks with the short-range transmitters I used, while working within the limitations of the elevator as a site for installing audio.
Stay tuned for more posts soon including a link to Amanda’s essay and updates on the progression of the show. A huge shout out one more time to Amanda Dawn Christie, Joey Robin Haché, Rémi Belliveau, and Mar Molano for your much needed help during this install!