Moving forward with some new projects has allowed me to reflect on my most recently completed work STATION, which has been confirmed in a number of exhibitions across Canada, and has taken on a number of forms, especially in it’s beginning stages. I realize that many people who came across the work in the early stages of it’s development (from 2013-2014) may have had very different experiences of the work in spaces outside of a gallery. The sites chosen in these early manifestations immediately allow us to consider the direct relationship between distance, proximity, and technologies that have allowed us to travel, and therefore essentially communicate, without mediation. The Brigus Tunnel and the Faubourg Elevator both had uninterrupted paths from one location to the other, without stops between the two floors, or alternative routes between the two sides of the tunnel. Because of this, while travelling through each location there were only two possible directions one could go (forward or backward, up or down), thus provoking at some point a feeling of being physically immersed in the work, while experiencing first-hand the the feeling of becoming a messenger in a vessel for transmitting the media from one place to the other.
STATION in Brigus Tunnel, Summer 2013 as part of The Rooms Provincial Art Gallery and Landfall Trust Artist in Residence Program.
From January to May, 2014 I had the opportunity to work as Artist in Residence for a project directed by Dr. Bart Vautour and Dr. Emily Robins-Sharpe titled Canada and the Spanish Civil War: A Virtual Research Environment of Canadian Cultural History About the Spanish Civil War (CSCW). My position as Artist in Residence was to utilize the online research material that this project offered to create a work that considered the role of Canadian volunteers during the Spanish Civil War. The SSHRC funded CSCW project brought together valuable research material that was scattered in small collections throughout the country and abroad onto a virtual research environment online. This was the first time such thinly distributed information was made publicly available online, and having access to these online resources made for productive collaboration between Dr. Vautour and myself during the research stages of STATION (EAQ). The groundwork to find an appropriate site for this installation had also already begun over the summer of 2013, as a proposal I had made had been accepted to the Manif D’Art 07 the Québec City biennial of contemporary art. This exhibition was scheduled to be installed for the duration of the biennial from May 3rd – June 4th, 2014 in the Faubourg Elevator as part of their off-site programming for the biennial.
Looking back to how the Government of Canada decisively overlooked efforts by volunteers who fought against fascism both during and following the conflict, it is clear that despite the variety of distribution methods available today, most coverage of global events is applied through the same filter. During the Spanish Civil War, the only immediate experience Canadian civilians had with any global conflict was through listening to shortwave radio. Throughout the Spanish Civil War, from 1937-39, broadcasts were made from Madrid to Canada through a station called “STATION EAQ” over the 9 meter band to inform Canadians about the conflict and to recruit volunteers to donate blood for transfusions to aid volunteers fighting against the fascists. The broadcasts were live, read by Dr. Norman Bethune, Prof. J.B.S. Haldane, and Hazen Sise. In conjunction with these broadcasts were publications distributed throughout Canada by the Committee to Aid Spanish Democracy. This would have been at a time where the experience of listening to radio was still a very communal experience, and where collaboration with print media was especially relevant. After some research, we could not find any audio recordings of the broadcasts, leaving us to depend entirely on archival printed material from posters, flyers, novels, and newspapers to interpret the broadcasts. The successful delivery of radio propaganda became dependent nearly entirely on human memory, and therefore dependent on civilians’ attentive, uninterrupted focus on radio broadcasts.
The Faubourg elevator travels approximately the same distance as a single short wave on the frequency used by Canadian volunteers to transmit signals between the two countries (31.65 megacycles or 9.4786 metres). As this is the height between the two floors of the building, the distance travelled provides an opportunity to replicate the temporal nature of the archival documents in the private setting of an elevator’s sound environment. The location of the Faubourg Elevator marks a borderline within Québec City’s residential middle class and governmental upper class. As the elevator carried people up and down, they experienced two audio signals fade in and out as they travel through the elevator. A broadcast on the top floor broadcasting a distorted heartbeat, while the bottom floor broadcast an instrumental version of the Lied Der Internationalen Brigaden (Song of the International Brigader) played on an electric guitar. Both transmissions were broadcast on the same frequency to intentionally interfere with one another, causing the radio receiver in the elevator to exchange tracks favoring the closest transmitter. The receivers used in the elevator was a Grundig FR200 Emergency Windup AM/FM/SW receiver, attesting to both the post WW Two Manufacturing boom while acknowledging the survivalist characteristics of the model, marketed to the family camping industry. This model immediately communicates a mobile domesticity while grounding the experience through identifying the audio source.
One of the major challenges when designing this work was to create a work that can very quickly connect with people experiencing the work. We realized during the site visit that there would only be about 10-15 seconds when people would be inside the elevator experiencing the audio installation. It seemed appropriate for the radio broadcast, alike broadcasts in the 1930’s, to collaborate with print media. The Faubourg Elevator Building provided bulletin boards in both entrances in the waiting areas near the elevators. These bulletin boards were well utilized, and this was an opportunity to present some printed posters and flyers about the broadcasts.
The broadcasts were made with two short-range transmitters, one on each floor, and a receiver attached to the roof of the elevator. The Manif D’Art festival managed to find an elevator mechanic who was willing to open the elevator and leave the receiver on the roof, hooking it up to a light socket so it would always be on no matter what happened. The cost of the elevator mechanic was too much to ask him to come back again, so we just left he receiver on an would turn the music off on the transmitters so they were playing dead air when we wanted quiet. We were lucky that there were no power outages throughout the month of May!
This was one of my first experiences being part of a larger show or biennials, with so many artists exhibiting around a city as part of a collective, curated series of shows. I have to say, the folks at Manif D’Art were excellent hosts, and worked to make this project a reality. Working with so many unknown factors in a setting such as an elevator can hold many surprises while installing, which requires a lot of flexibility on the behalf of the artist, the and the host venue. The folks who ran the Faubourg Elevator were fantastic. A family-run cornerstone/cafe/elevator stewards. They took an interest in the work and were willing and flexible. It was a great experience all around.
The conclusion of the residency resulted in the completed work STATION (EAQ) that was designed specifically for the Faubourg Elevator. I have since then, taken STATION into the gallery space, and will once again be showing a new version of it in an off-site location on the Kennebecasis River outside of Saint John, New Brunswick with Third Space Artist Run Centre this coming February. I have begun to notice some patterns in how I process my work. I never really feel comfortable showing a work exactly the same way twice, even in the most universal gallery settings. The only thing that is recognizable in STATION now from the beginning stages is the heartbeat audio track. Every context that this track is heard in brings it’s own connotations. It is these elements that I have very little control over that keep me interested in continuing to show the work. Always tweaking, listening, and learning.