STATION at Manif D’Art 07: Québec City’s Biennial

Packing up for this installation was fairly simple, it was sourcing all of the parts through kijiji etc. that took a lot of the time and energy, and ensuring all of the radios, transmitters etc. were working smoothly. In preparation, while awaiting arrival of equipment through the mail, I assembled two FM Transmitter companions from a Ramsey Electronics kit, just to have the option to boost some the power of the signal a bit or to balance out the bass etc. if need be. It turns out this came in handy with one of the two elevators in which I installed STATION as part of the Québec City biennial Manif D’Art 07. This will be up until June 2nd in the Faubourg Elevator and the Meduse Elevator in Québec City.

The technical portion of this project was mostly sorted out before the actual  audio was put together, which came after the supportive material from other media such as newspaper and printed matter drawn from archival material found on the website A Digital Research Environment of Canadian Cultural History About The Spanish Civil War a project led by Dr. Bart Vautour (Mount Allison University) and Emily Robins Sharpe to compile the scattered information of Canada’s involvement in the Spanish Civil war, through a comprehensive online research database. Throughout the winter of 2014 I worked closely with Dr. Vautour to source a body of printed archival material based on the unrecorded SW Radio broadcasts of Dr. Norman Bethune, Jean Watts, Hazen Sise, and Prof. J.B.S. Haldane through Station EAQ. Though none of the actual broadcasts were recorded, the printed material from documents on this research database were, through archives scattered in  small collections in institutions across Canada. Working with Dr. Vautour was essential in compiling the necessary material that could properly inform this work approaching such a powerful and historically and culturally significant subject.

The root of this project came from the importance to acknowledge these broadcasts as an attempt to bring awareness to Canadians to an important global conflict, as the first known live broadcasts covering Canadians  fighting overseas. Through this project I aim to eliminate this lack of recognition for these efforts by Canadian volunteers (eventually known as the Mackenzie-Papineau Battalion after 1938), and to bring their efforts as major contributors to the fight against fascism out of the shadows conveniently cast upon them from the Canadian Government upon their return (as far as denying many of them citizenship, or RCMP investigation upon their return to Canada after the war).

Packing for Manif D'Art 07

Packing for Manif D’Art 07

The audio for this work consists of re-broadcasts of two tracks, which passengers of the elevator experience as they ascend and descend the elevator shaft. Of course when transmitting even short range there are always unknown factors that potentially cause interference or diversion of wanted/unwanted signals, so there is an art to letting go of the wheel yet adjusting around it that comes through experience with working with a new space and location with radio. One thing I failed to foresee was the massive amount of airwaves being already consumed by both English and French stations in and around Québec City. This is something that I easily could have figured out had I thought about it earlier. Another hurdle was the concrete building that the Faubourg Elevator is housed in. This I thought may be an issue at first, but I think it’s proximity to being attached to the side of a cliff worked to our favour while installing as the cliff itself acted as a guard for many of the signals that would normally interfere. Another issue that we unfortunately did not foresee is the fact that many people would want to be riding the elevator during installation! This was okay at first, but fairly disruptive and eventually I actually began to feel seasick! It turns out that the hotel room was the best place to spread out and really test equipment before heading into the elevators again.

testing radios at the hotel PUR!

testing radios at the hotel PUR!

The first day of install was the most complex. We had a mechanic come in from the City of Quebec to help us access the roof of the elevator, the only way to securely install a radio receiver without actually cutting through the ceiling. Fortunately my friend and Manif D’Art volunteer Sebastien Merckling and Manif D’Art Productions Assistant Emeric Boucher were there to help translate and work with the mechanic to install the radio. The challenge was ensuring 100 percent that the station we selected to receive signals worked with both transmitters, and that there would be no way that the radio would be turned off accidentally. This is so far, after three weeks, working well, so fingers are still crossed.

(photo credit: Emeric Boucher)

(photo credit: Emeric Boucher)

The printed material installed around each elevator entrance, along with the adjustment of lighting in the elevator provide an important introduction to the experience, which in the end only lasts about 8 seconds inside the elevator. Bart Vautour’s help with selecting this material, translating it to french, and printing the posters through one of Sackville’s favourites Paul Henderson, was essential. Likewise was the assistance by musician Tim Crabtree in performing recording the audio pre-production. The content of the audio included music from Ernest Busch’s International Brigades, meeting field recordings referencing the work of Norman Bethune and the search for blood donors and support overseas. I was happy with the textual elements through a mixture of editing and live radio broadcast interference that came through with this  work. The emphasis on interference was important to this work, interference of a message through any media, as an action in itself. The theme of the Manif D’Art biennial being resistance brought  together 35 artists from 8 different countries, all with a take on the theme. This was an opportunity to experiment both with the physical resistance of radio interference as a communicative media [SW being more closely tied to two way communication than FM or AM commercial stations), as well as the more evident characteristics of the conflict in Spain as a subject.




photo credit: © Cláudio Belli

photo credit: © Cláudio Belli

photo credit: © Cláudio Belli

photo credit: © Cláudio Belli

There are a few other site-specific works in the Manif D’art biennial, which like mine I think many were carefully selected with the help of Claude Belanger and Manif D’Art curator Vicky Chainey Gagnon in sites throughout Québec City. The Faubourg Elevator worked favourably with this installation as both a site referencing the distance of the transmission as well as that of a site in which separates the upper and lower sections of the city. Both sections of the city traditionally and currently divide neighbourhoods distinctly marked by the physical landscape and urban design of the city. The Faubourg elevator itself exists as a democratic tool, attempting to join the two neighbourhoods through its services. The upper and lower towns that the elevator (and the outdoor Faubourg Staircase) connect are very much separated by divisions of class, and economic and political power structures that reach deep into the history of Quebec City. As a place that has experienced conflict through many challenges to this structure, the site that Vicky and Claude chose was fitting and enriching to the subject of my proposed project.

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