WAVES - an introduction

The Genesis of the Idea

The idea for this exhibition and event first started to grow in my mind almost four years ago, when I had an extended conversation with Alexei Blinov about electromagnetic waves. Blinov is an artist/engineer who has for many years supported artists technically with Raylab and recently has launched his Hive Networks project. At that time I was doing research for a book which I wrote about wireless free community networks. Community networks based on wireless LAN - commonly called WiFi - are possible only because of an exception in the way spectrum is regulated. It operates in a part of the spectrum which is licence exempt, which means that everybody can use it without having to ask for permission from the regulatory body. In the early days when networks such as Consume started to grow, a lot of emphasis was on home-built aerials, and wireless community activists had to learn about the relationship between wavelength and length of antenna. This triggered our conversation about general properties of waves as a universal principle in nature, which was recognized, in a way, as far back as by the pre-Socratic philosopher Heraclites whose saying that 'everything flows' has survived the times. The scientific community has decided to use the greek charakter lambda, λ, to describe the wavelength in a formula. After a couple of talks with Blinov I started to do some research of my own and wrote down a basic exhibition concept late in 2002.

At about the same time I had an ongoing discussion with Austrian media art pioneer Franz Xaver, currently director of Media Art Lab at Kunsthaus Graz. His position is rooted in the media art practice of the 1980s, when artists started to focus on creating interactive and networked systems. As the internet then was still restricted to military and academic communities, and institutional support was scant, artists had to deploy their own research and come up with technically creative solutions. Using technologies such as packet radio, and building his own satellite dishes, he created autarkic systems, which he described as wave sculptures. At the time of our discussions in 2003 - 2004 we were planning a book (a work still in progress) about the redefinition (or repositioning) of practice and discourse in the area of art and technology. One of his concerns was that what was once called media art had become obsolete with the advances made by the internet and open source software. Everything that media artists had dreamed of in the 1980s, things such as networked connectivity and interactivity, was suddenly there, out of the box, ready to use. Artists who wanted to engage with this new situation had to learn about the net and about Linux/Unix in order to truly understand the material they were working with. This view was based on Franz Xaver's personal work ethos as an artist and on his subsequent development, when he embarked on a journey to explore Linux and the net in depth, which took him further and further away from art. Though still defining himself as an artist, he became an accomplished Linux expert, started to work for an innovative ISP in Vienna and later built a wireless network on the roofs of Vienna, which would become Funkfeuer, a wireless free community network.

Franz Xaver, whose ideas in this regard I find quite rare if not unique in their radicality, insists that an artist cannot just go with the flow of mainstream technological development and work on the surfaces of electronic communication, on the design of the interface. An artist needs to look under the surface and take up a well-considered position. When he created autarkic communication sculptures in the 1980s he could still do that and say, "look, this is my work." But how, with the internet all around us, and Linux offering the opportunity to programme everything that is programmable (a loose reference to the Church-Turing Thesis), can an artist still do that? The new situation was one of unlimited possibilities, but in order to make use of them, artists needed to gain an in-depth understanding of Linux and the net, which can take many years. Yet, however deeply the artists engage with technology, in the new situation, the outcome is still not sure in terms of the autonomy of the art work, as it is increasingly difficult to find that position outside from which to speak. The technology is pushed forward at reckless speed by research motivated by economic and military interests on one hand and by independent developers from the free and open source software community on the other. In a way the hackers have now become the real innovators and artists, according to Franz Xaver.

As we started to discuss what this meant for the discourse about art & technology, we both agreed that the media art discourse of old, which had focused on creative human-computer interaction, and immersive Virtual Reality, had almost completely lost its relevancy, while the new discourse, since about 1995, appeared to be heavily fragmented, falling apart into sections such as net art, software art, locative media, with blurred boundaries between artistic practice and design, between political media activism and (semi-)commercial creative industries. We agreed that a new discourse had to start from bottom up, considering the materiality on which the work was based. In our analysis we came to two fundamental layers, as we called it, waves and code. This does not mean that the materiality determines the art, but, as art is primarily a historically situated human activity, it is about making and doing. Any theorising of that making and doing can not start from an a-historical vantage point but needs to engage with the activity on the ground which means to have a close and good look at the material. Just as a traditional sculptor uses wood or stone, artists working with technology always will have to engage with waves and code: waves as the sort of natural freely flowing, omnipresent medium of media art and code as the means of shaping the waves, as a means of structuring communication, the protocols but also the human patterns of interaction (code as a social norm).

The Art and Science of WAVES

Based on this premise, making the WAVES exhibition and event happen is research into one half of what I consider the fundamentals or basics of contemporary practice in art and technology. Waves are literally the medium of media art, on the deepest material level as well as conceptually. Electromagnetic waves occur naturally, they exist, they are everywhere, constantly passing through our bodies, yet with our natural senses we can only perceive heat and light.

"what is thought of as "light" is actually a propagating oscillatory disturbance in the electromagnetic field, i.e., an electromagnetic wave. Different frequencies of oscillation give rise to the different forms of electromagnetic radiation, from radio waves at the lowest frequencies, to visible light at intermediate frequencies, to gamma rays at the highest frequencies." Wikipedia

Understanding science means understanding waves, writes Mark Fischer in his text for this catalogue. Even though it is not my objective to write an introduction into the science of waves, and WAVES is definitely not an Art and Science project, some basics need to be understood. While atom/wave dualism is as old as Greco-western philosophy, for a long time those concepts were forgotten and rediscovery took till the 19th century when Maxwell joined the concept of electricity with the concept of magnetism to create his theory of electromagnetism, which was experimentally proven by Hertz. The concept of electromagnetism enabled Einstein to formulate his Special Theory of Relativity in 1905. The impact of this scientific paradigm change (Kuhn 1962) can not be underestimated. The old certainties of a Newtonian universe, which had been the leading paradigm for 300 years, were gone. The impact of this theory was immediately understood by some artists. Realism, a relatively new concept, had already been seriously strained by the advances made by photography and by painters' reactions to it who experimented with Impressionism, Pointilism and Expressionism. The new concept of the universe allowed Cubism and abstract art to emerge. Yet the stronger and more lasting influence came from Marcel Duchamp who serialized motion in Nude Descending a Staircase, No. 2, and then abandoned painting alltogether. His conceptual inventions such as the "ready made" and various other experiments about machines and perception challenged what constituted art in an industrial society and signalled a paradigm change of equal significance:

It can surely be no coincidence that this iconoclastic artistic "statement" entered the debate about the nature of the world just as the revolutions in linguistics, physics, psychology and commerce were exploding the rationalist certainties of the 19th century. Robert Adrian 1996

Artistic concepts created during the period of high-modernity with the revolutionary art forms of Futurism, Dadaism, Suprematism, Constructivism used insights gained through a new understanding of the universe by science to project themselves into the future. However, the world would not immedeately follow and the concept of a false or naive realism, as if Einstein never happened, keeps having its comebacks. Later, in the 1960s, various avantgardistic practices flourished under banners such as fluxus, happening, cybernetic systems art, video art and art & technology. The works were about ideas and processes rather than objects. However, despite all this in the visual arts the auratic art object maintained a strong position till today.
The art world in the 20th century always had its own line of development, sequences of revolutions and counter-revolutions, which responded to society at large and political and techno-cultural change, yet the way art developed can never be mapped 1:1 on societies’ development. The impact of 'wireless' in the heated climate of the turn of the century was immedeate and all-encompassing. The inventions of Tesla, Marconei et al triggered different utopian visions, commercially, socially and politically. Marconi set out to build a veritable wireless monopoly, while some entrepreneurs built business empires on the premises of fake technologies for wireless telephony which either did not work or did not even exist; other people thought that the age of wireless would bring about the 'socialist dream'; and artists gave their own twist to wireless utopianism. Khlebnikov thought that wireless transmissions could be used for distant healing and strengthening the population during difficult periods. Marinetti thought that the conventions of language could be left behind to achieve a much more direct radiophonic artistic language. Socialist artists such as Weill, Brecht and the theoretician Benjamin held high hopes in radio as a two-way communication mechanism which would empower the people.

Maybe there is something to Vilem Flusser's remark that electromagnetism equals Bolshevism, after all. Flusser made this rather flippant remark in the context of a debate about how metaphors of light had strongly inscribed themselves into the scientific texts of the age of enlightenment; as if scientific activity was a kind of detectives work uncovering the conspiracy of darkness which had entrapped us before the angels of scientific rationality had come to our rescue. What Flusser does not say is that this grandiose age of enlightenment was also one of rampant European racism, colonialism and imperialism. Scientific breakthroughs at home gave rise to a new class structure with a class of owners and a class of people who didn't own anything but themselves so that they had to become wage earners (Marx). While the boulevards of the big cities got lit up the proletariat suffered in the darkness of coal pits, being uneducated and living in unhealthy, crowded housing conditions, infected by bugs and germs. However, both the class of the bourgeois and their specialists, the scientists, inventors and engineers (in the early days often identical with the bourgeois factory owner) and Marx, Engels and their followers believed in progress. Rather recently, at the end of the 20th century it seemed as if this development, characterized by techno-scientific progress and the dynamics of class struggle had come to a halt. The new image of society is one that is oscillating rather than progressing, one that is based on flickering signifieres between zeros and ones, rather than patterns of absence and presence (Hayles 1999). Coming back to Flusser then, what is interesting about his remark is not the content - to equate electromagnetism with Bolshevism is obviously non-sensical and I don't believe he really meant to say that - but the line of inquiry which he suggests, to study not only the facts of scientific findings, but also the language and the metaphors used. At the end of the 20th and the beginning of the 21st century the leading criteria of judgements about matters of 'truth' are not so much factual but rather aesthetical, as quite a few theorists (e.g. Burnham 1968) have suggested, which is where the artists come in and where they acquire a much more serious role than producing objects of aesthetic experience.

This new situation has been preceded by Gaston Bachelards writing on the Formation of the Scientific Spirit (1934) where he reflected on the consequences of the paradigm change initiated by Einstein, Heisenberg and Bohr. The new scientific worldview is capable of incredible and horrific things, such as taming the atom or unleashing the atomic force in the shape of nuclear explosions. Yet in explaining wave/particle dualism science has still nothing much better to offer than the Copenhagen Interpretation.

"According to a poll at a Quantum Mechanics workshop in 1997, the Copenhagen interpretation is the most widely-accepted specific interpretation of quantum mechanics, followed by the Many-worlds interpretation." Wikipedia

The consequence of this dilemma is to accept (which I very gladly do) that we don't live in a deterministic universe but in a probabilistic one. Some things simply can’t be explained in a strictly scientific or rational way, whereby rationality is defined according to the tradition of scientific positivism. Some things concerning the fundamental explanations of the properties of matter are up to an 'interpretation' made by an observer. And, as the scientific method by its very nature is still reductionist and striving to find 'laws of nature', i.e. deterministic explanations, we need to take into account the possibility of an equally fundamental indeterminism. For scientists this poses a dilemma because it questions the universal validity of their method. For philosophers and artists this presents an interesting opening which allows to ask old questions from a fresh point of view and gives leeway to aesthetic speculative intervention. Whereas some scientists 'solve' this dilemma according to the dictum 'shut up and calculate' (Paul Dirac) for artists it means exactly the opposite. The relationship between chaos and order, between indeterminism and determinism gives us artists a licence to speak up again; not just to 'speak' about emotional and semi-religious 'stuff', as all artistic inquiry was relegated to by positivism, but to have a conversation on an equal footing with science (once these artists have engaged sufficiently deeply with scienceand engineering, as the artists in this exhibition have done).

Air Waves

As important as the scientific paradigm change at the beginning of the 20th century is, the actual use of electromagnetic waves in society for communication purposes is truly exemplified in this period by the inventions of radio and television. Aesthetically and politically the 20th century was characterized by the emergence of the mass society, first a mass society which was prone to being captured by various types of totalitarianism, and, after WWII the emergeing mass consumer culture in free market democratic societies. The focus in the use of electronic media was, and is, on different types of mass manipulation: propaganda and totalitarian indoctrination by fascism and Stalinism, and the seductive voices of the commodity fetish in consumer society. As Guy Debord (1967) has pointed out in The Society of the Spectacle the use of media in the postwar Western world has a totalizing influence, suppressing dissent and opposition through sheer mass media fire power and by turning people into captive audiences exposed to the force field of spectacular messages. Some aspects of this theory, though not its brutal antagonism, were developed further by postmodern philosophers such as Lyotard and Baudrillard, yet it is a sign of the times that theories about simulation (Baudrillard) and immateriality (Lyotard) recently seem to have gone out of fashion whereas Debord's message only now seems to fully come through.

In this regard some of the basic premises on which the WAVES exhibition is built can become visible. First, a difference needs to be made between radio and television. It took radio relatively long to become regulated by government and to be turned into a medium of mass indoctrination and free market driven manipulation and infotainment. The first decades of radio belonged to the amateur, the do-it-yourself technicians who built their own sets which were not only receivers but also transmitters. Even after the transmitter part had been successfully omitted by commercial and political interest, the radio listener remained an important force to be reckoned with. As manyplayful childred have discovered, tuning the reciever between stations to produce static noise with only traces of signals can be a more aesthetically rewarding experience than listening to the official stations. And, as the old radio sets illustrated so beautifully, with dials not just showing frequencies but also station and place names such as Hilversum, Moscow, Berlin, Riga, radio is an experience of displacement. Sounds and voices travel the earth, it is up to the listeners what they do with this, the artist is giving up control. This may be the case with television too, as illustrated by some of the early works of Nam June Paik, for example distorting the TV image by use of a magnet. Second, radio, almost as soon as it had been subsumed by the powers that be, got liberated again by the new social movements of the 1960s. Student radio as a medium of protest against the Vietnam war in the USA, alternative and oppositional minority channels and later the Free Radio movement, most vibrant in Italy and France, overturned the media political postwar consensus between Capitalism and workers aristocracy (Barbrook 1995). Besides state radio and commercial radio a third force of grassroots democratic free media movement emerged. As Felix Guattari pointed out and Tetsuo Kogawa illustrated in practice and writing, community radio creates micro-communities who, through their close proximity, spatially and socially break down the producer-consumer barrier. A similar movement of community media activism using film and later Sony's PortaPak started in the 1960s and kept gaining momentum, but for a number of reasons it never could reach that level of critical mass. To my knowledge video activists never got full control of a terrestrial television station anywhere in the world. Experiments happened on cable tv and satellite, in the US but also Netherlands in the 1980s. But those were the exception rather than the rule.

Television was always more expensive and difficult to produced. For commercial and political reasons the TV medium was always much more controlled. Video activism very soon turned into Video Art and went onto a trajectory of its own, becoming 'spectacular' with worldwide satellite transmissions (Good Morning Mr. Orwell 1984) and impressive multi.channel large scale video installations. This work was important as it showed some of the possibilities of art and telecommunication with a very utopian 'healing' message. At the same time only a small class of very priviliged high recognition brand name artists got temporary access to high-tech resources such as satellite transmissions (Beuys, Paik) and got offered the opportunity to build video 'installations' with hundreds of monitors in large scale museum exhibitions. But, by and large television remained fiercely controlled by capital with video remaining its poorer cousin restricted to home distribution and minority channels with limited dissemination power.

Pure Waves

The concept of WAVES recognises the significance of media activism and in particular radio activism and the almost hidden history of radio art and do-it-yourself radio technologists or 'radio hackers'. Yet it is built more strongly on another undercurrent in art & technology practice: some artists simply shifting away from radio waves as carriers of appearantly meaningful 'signals' and turning their attention to the medium, the signals, the waves themselves. A conventional radio broadcast, for example a political news programme, carries 'meaning' through the words spoken. WAVES was conceived as an exhibition and event that particularly emphasises works of artists who circumvent the layer of meaning -- as in any type of semantical or symbolic/visual structure transmitted by using waves simply as a carrier of information -- and who work directly with the materiality of waves, their physical properties and characteristics, many of which are simply ignored by the mainstream use of media in society. Waves are the sort of invisible work horses of electronic mass society, but the waves as such are usually ignored. In this regard WAVES is one of the first and few exhibitions to focus on types of work which are much more widespread than normally assumed. As we can tell from the feedback that we got to our closed and public calls for participation many artists are working with waves or specific properties of waves but usually they have to disguise their interest under other categories, such as 'sound art', 'installation', 'locative media' or some exterior to art 'social activism' or 'socially engaged practice'.

For the exhibition itself we have chosen not to group works according to particular categories. Any system of categories comes with its own problems, implying hierarchies which may or may not exist, obstructing a more uninhibited perception of the works. With the following paragraphs I would like nevertheless to introduce some themes to which works correspond. However you will find out quickly how problematic this is. Some works apply similar techniques but with totally different objectives. The works are also coming from a diverse range of practices. Thus, for every thread being laid through this exhibition, there exists also an alternative route because the works correlate to each other in different ways. This does not mean that everything is just relative, but that there are overlaps and intersections, different force fields and centres of gravitation, dark attractors and dangerous waves, which the visitors of this exhibition are invited to explore.


As the WAVES project moved from early conceptual stage to realisation stage we (Rasa Smite and Raitis Smits, founders of RIX-C and co-curators of the exhibition, conference and performance program, Erwin van’t Hart, film curator, and myself), met in Riga, in May of 2005, in order to make some decisions about the development of the project. An important part of the meeting was a visit to RT32, or Radio Telescope 32, a Soviet era, top secret radio telescope of 32 meters in diameter, which was built in the 1950s and 1960s some 4 hours drive to the West of Riga. RIX-C have created the project RT-32 - ACOUSTIC SPACE LAB where sound artists were invited to work with signals received from the telescope, a project that was turned into a DVD documentation released in 2002 by RIXC (Conception: Rasa Smite, Raitis Smits; video: Martis Ratniks; sound: Clausthome). When visiting RT32, what struck me in particular was that this object, made of heavy steel, that from the inside resembled more an industrial-era ship than an earth bound object, looked completely out of place and context in the Latvian forrest. This object had more to do with space than with earth. Although the objective of building it was to gather intelligence from Western communication satellites, it may well have been something planted on earth by extraterrestrials. This reminded me that our civilisation had a long time ago been turned into a space age civilisation. Almost needless to add that a lot of the advances in waves science have been driven by military needs with rather earthly power objectives. Nevertheless the strangeness of the object, with antiquated but still functioning technology, struck a different chord. Already, without having conquered space permanently with our bodies, we are a space race, by having installations of this type on our planet, directed at the skies. I find this not only fascinating but also frightening because it implies a power above, to which we are, philosophically as well as practically in danger of being subjected to.

A critical chord is being struck by the French group Bureau d'Études, who have become well known for their mappings of power structures in information capitalism, including the surveillance infrastructure of Echelon. For WAVES they present "ELECTRO-MAGNETIC PROPAGANDA, the statement of industrial dogma."Addressing the numerous waves which, without us being aware of it pass through our nervous system, broadcasts from "public, commercial and private stations, military and police communications, air traffic control, fire brigades, ham radio operators, CBs, etc." they state:

"In short, in the world constituted by electromagnetic cosmology (and industry), understanding the electromagnetic field is the only way to understand ourselves and our surroundings." Bureau d'Études

TEMPEST by Erich Berger taps into "The Secret Life of Electronic Objects", a phrase he borrows from designers Anthony Dunne and Fiona Raby. The activity of electronic technology is not transparent or subject to the way it is used by consumers. Even when turned off, consumer gadgets such as mobile phones emit radiation. "Below the friendly interfaces hide autonomous processes with their own dynamics." Berger utilizes so-called "Van Eck Radiation," to create tight compositions of sound, noise and light. With OZONE, Bas van Koolwijk and Derek Holzer "explore the shifting tide of signals, frequencies and codes streaming through the air and passing through our bodies every day." While those works create an aesthetic experience out of the radiation which constantly floats around and through us, AION by Jacob Kirkegaard, deals with "a sonic and visual experience of time, absence, and change" inside the Zone of Exclusion in Chernobyl - "in an area haunted by an invisible and inaudible danger, amidst the slowly decaying remains of human civilisation." Jean-Pierre Aubé, in SPYING THE ARSENALS WORKFORCE, receives very low frequencies which are occurring naturally in the magnetosphere but are also produced by powerful electrical cables and other sources in the urban environment. All those works, in different ways, further our understanding and raise our awareness of the electromagnetic field as demanded by Bureau d'Études.

ELEKTROSMOGFREIEN (PARTICIPATION IN THE WILL AND LAW OF THE CREATOR). A study on statistical properties of multivariate measurement series. by Farmersmanual attempts to conduct experiments in the spirit of Hartmut Müller, who proposes a complete cosmology, the Global Scaling theory, which is based on a scientific explanation of the universe which is completely at odds with mainstream science.

Honor Harger and Adam Hyde of r a d i o q u a l i a also direct their attention to the sky with SOLAR LISTENING_STATION, a work which turns radio waves emitted by the sun into sound art. Dmitry Gelfand and Evelina Domnitch do something similar yet very different indeed. With CAMERA LUCIDA: SONOCHEMICAL OBSERVATORY, they turn light into sound, directly, using the scientific phenomenon of sono-luminiscience.

Just like r a d i o q u a l i a and RIX-C, Austrian artist Franz Xaver points his antenna to the sky and turns a signal received by a radio telescope into sound with HYDROGEN (RT03). One major difference is that he insists on the autonomy and self-sufficiency of artistic production. Under no circumstance would he use equipment or technology over which he has not complete control. By receiving background radiation of the universe he creates a link with the worlds distant past and claims electromagnetic space as a wave sculpture, an autonomous work of art. Important is also his proposition to use wave/particle dualism as a starting point for the art world to come to grips with contemporary practice in art & technology, as there is an objective correlation between electromagnetic waves and static form, through the antenna as a means of receiving and sending waves. The antenna has the properties of an old-fashioned object or sculpture but also serves as a device, which allows us to access Hertzian space. Thus we can shift between form and formlessness. To underline this point he has created a series of photographs, which are printed in this catalogue.

David Haines and Joyce Hinterding draw a correlation between "between the invisible forces of Nature's mystic 'natural' power and the pumping of thousands of watts through the frequencies of the electromagnetosphere." Their work PURPLE RAIN also creates an interesting parallel between the image of nature in Romanticism and neo-romanticism of the TV age, the constant roaring of thousands of TV channels which numb the brain and senses. In a subtle and therefore very interesting way the work is deeply political. Robert Adrian and Norbert Math direct their antenna at short wave radio with RADIATION, capturing and re-mixing the sounds of about 40 different frequencies.

Marko Peljhan has become well known for his project Makrolab, which interrogates the use of the ‘electromagnetosphere’ by commercial media and the military industrial complex on various wavelength and frequencies. At WAVES he presents LADOMIR QIKIQTAQ (together with Sašo Podgoršek), "encompassing moving image memories from" a research trip to Nunavut, an Arctic region inhabited by "Inuit tactical media workers and hunters". The work gives an outlook on "Makrolab mark VII modules" which from 2007 will operate a radio link between Nunavut and Latvia, utilizing "high frequency spread spectrum radios with automatic link enabling". BLACKOUT – THE ANTIPHONY VIDEO SUPPLEMENT by Disinformation (film copyright Barry Hale, concept and location research by Joe Banks) "features video footage of concrete parabolic air-defence Sound Mirrors, built at various sites on the UK coast between the first and second world wars." The purpose of these Sound Mirrors, functioning as "a primitive acoustic version of Radar", has long evaporated. The video engages with the architectural legacy of obsolete military r&d - which takes us back to RT32 and Franz Xaver's sculptural qualities of the antenna.

A number of works deal with WiFi, which is the commercial name for a technology to build WLANs (wireless local area networks). Usman Haque, Bengt Sjölén and Adam Somlai-Fischer show what a Camera Obscura of our age might look like, a Camera Obscura which projects invisible parts of the spectrum in the band used by WiFi (WIFI CAMERA OBSCURA PROTOTYPE). Not only do they ask what a 21st century notion of the "picturesque" might mean, but their work also relates to the question of privacy in Hertzian space and thereby corresponds to the critical notion of the industrial dogma as posed by Bureau d'Études. Additionally, WIFIO by Adam Hyde, Aleksandar Erkalovis and Lotte Meijer engages with WiFi from a very different angle. The group offers a simple to operate device, which allows to hijack a WiFi connection to browse the web for free. A similar hacker spirit is applied by the work PORTA2030 by the group Take2030 who also use WiFi. In this case, however, instead of hijacking somebody else's connection, PORTA2030 creates an autonomous mesh network, an ad-hoc network using dynamic routing protocols and wearable 'portapacks'. As with WIFIO, the porta devices are easy to use WiFi devices, however, the project goals are totally different. First used in the politically contested inner city area of Broadway Market, PORTA2030 tapped conceptually into the history of video activism, by updating it for the (wireless) networked age. VOLUME RENDERING OF INTERFERENCE PATTERNS by Aaron Kaplan and Doron Goldfarb also deals with WiFi and mesh networking. They are presenting a quite straight-forward visualisation of wireless LAN mesh routing networks applying "a volumetric rendering" technique known from computer tomography. Kaplan and Goldfarb create a truthful rendering of what interfering waves would look like, if they were visible, and in so doing, they address our vague idea what electromagnetic interference patterns might look like. THE POLITICAL SPECTRUM by Julian Priest is a work informed by his involvement with wireless community networks. Priest has been one of the co-founders of the Consume network in London and has remained an activist since, now working more internationally. With THE POLITICAL SPECTRUM he encourages people to think about spectrum differently than current regulatory practices suggest - as a piece of land or a pipe through which data is streamed. Originally devised as a visualisation piece he now focuses on the social processes surrounding spectrum regulation in a workshop held together with fellow community network activist John Wilson.

In a way, the only thing that some of these works have in common is the use of or relationship with WiFi. Using a different way of grouping those works, Porta2030, THE POLITICAL SPECTRUM and WIFIO could be subsumed under a political media activism agenda, whereas WIFI CAMERA OBSCURA and VOLUME RENDERING make waves visible. As I have said above, different works correspond to each other in different ways. The exhibition visitor is advised to explore the connotations of each work and put together a wholly different picture in her or his mind than produced in my narration here.

A number of works share a slightly more traditional visual arts and sculptural approach (which by no way means to say they are old fashioned). BEYOND6281 by Artificiel (Alexandre Burton, Jimmy Lakatos, Julien Roy) & Pascale Malaterre uses the light bulb as a sound source. High voltage and a sort of sculptural fine arts approach is also at work in the piece TENSION OBJECT by Judith Fegerl, a truly hair raising experience. Luke Jerram shows THE EDISON PROJECT, an engagement proposition engraved into a silver ring which can be played back using a specially constructed 'record player'. HELLO, WORLD! by Yunchul Kim (in cooperation with Tuna Arkun) uses an analogue technique to store information within 246 meters of copper tube.

While there are some younger and, indeed very young artists at WAVES, an important aspect of the concept was to juxtapose their work with the work of some true pioneers. Robert Adrian, who shows a work created in collaboration with Norbert Math (see above)nhas been working with art & telecommunicartion since the late 1970s. DOUBLING BACK by Anthony McCall uses "two identical travelling waves which migrate very slowly across each other’s paths at a 90-degree angle to one another." The film is not projected on a screen but uses artificially generated mist "which makes palpably visible a giant, three-dimensional, curvilinear object whose internal chambers very gradually expand, contract and mutate. The spectator is free to enter and explore this sculptural form." Anthony McCall, who will also give a special lecture, has become well known with "Line Describing a Cone" from 1973, which also created a sculptural form through the projection of light. INTERACTIVE BRAIN WAVE DRAWINGS by Nina Sobell is a documentation of three decades of pioneering use of work with computers and brain waves. Another pioneer, but from the Eastern hemisphere, is Bulat Galeyev. Based in Kazakhstan and working as a scientist in the Russian space industry, Galeyev has created art & technology works since the 1960s with the group SKB "Prometheus". Exhibiting SPACE DANDELION, a series of photos, as well as SMALL TRIPTYCH and SPACE SONATA, two light-music films, the presence of this artist's work underlines the message that there is not just one media art history, but that there are diverse histories and traditions. It would have been interesting to highlight those diverse histories more, as there are distinct traditions of WAVES art also in, for example Japan and Latin America, yet for budgetary reasons this had to be deferred to a later stage.

Some artists find the future in the past. Paul DeMarinis is well known for what I would like to call 'applied media-archaeology'. Unlike Media-archaeology as a theoretic approach as developed by authors such as Erkki Huhtamo and Sigfried Zielinski, DeMarinis often materially recreates 'obsolete' or 'impossible' media, as he calls it. The piece ROME TO TRIPOLI, which he shows at WAVES, utilises a radio transmitter "based on the hydraulic microphone/transmitter apparatus of Majorana and Vanni that successfully broadcast voice messages from Rome to Tripoli, a distance of nearly 1000 Km in 1908, inaugurating the age of radio-telephony." As so often in DeMarinis' work, the use of obsolete technology is not an end in itself but plucks wholes into the social meanings of technologies and opens up a utopian space with possible notions of alternative media histories.

Mark Fischer defines himself as "a cetacean acoustics specialist." Cetaceans are marine mammals such as whales, dolphins and porpoises. He is doing "independent research in cetacean acoustics using wavelets, exploring both the science and the art of the way they use sound." Although he does not define himself as an artist, his 'paintings by numbers', transforming sounds of whales into films by using wavelets are among the most aesthetic works in the exhibition. PARAVENT by Steve Heimbecker uses data he created and recorded by the Wind Array Cascade Machine, an in situ installation, between 2003 and 2005. The movement and wave patterns of the wind are transformed into an audiovisual representation. Fischer and Heimbecker come from a very different background but both use nature as a source of visualization and sonification, a practice shared by SOLAR LISTENING_STATION and HYDROGEN in this exhibition. Indeed, visualization and sonification are becoming increasingly important in science, and a relatively new discipline of art history dealing with the science of the image is also emerging.

TELL ME A SECRET by Jay Needham encourages exhibition visitors to share secrets by speaking into a microphone. BREAKTHROUGH by Scanner uses recordings made in his childhood home, while UNTITLED by Antanas Dombrovskij is a sound piece based on a modified synthesizer, which creates unpredictable results. The SINE WAVE ORCHESTRA from Japan focuses on the basic element of the mathematical formulation of a wave, the sine wave. Each member of the audience is asked to add a specific sine wave of her choice, which together creates interfering patterns of noise. Technically very simple, this work literally reverberates with the multitude of individualities contained in WAVES. These explorations of acoustic space have been selected out of dozens of other works that explore sound in an art exhibition context. Work of this type could easily fill a huge exhibition space of its own, as sound art has exploded in recent years, possibly enabled by new technologies.

WAVES also presents the works of Latvian artists, -- COMMUNICATION INTERFERENCE - 2 by Martins Vizbulis, AIR COLUMN by Oskars Poikāns, SUM by Voldemars Johansons, SPECTROSPHERE by Martins Ratniks (Sound: Clausthome) and BEYOND THE SHUT EYES by Gints Gabrāns -- further variations on the themes of the exhibition and evidence that Latvia has a vibrant art scene always eager to experiment with new and old technologies.


The exhibition is just one element of the programme of the 10th anniversary of the Art & Communication festival in Riga. Other elements are a conference which brings together renowned experts such as Douglas Kahn, Heidi Grundmann, Konrad Becker, and Tetsuo Kogawa, to name just a few, and a film programme curated by Erwin van’t Hart which shows works of outstanding pioneers of abstract avantgarde film as well as more recent works. As yet, it is impossible to say if the project achieves its ambitious aim to serve as research aimed at creating the foundations for a new theory of art & technology practice. Perhaps, however, more important than any 'results' is the opportunity to conduct some research, and and to collaborate in a relativelyfree, and autonomous space, devoid of self-censorship or other such limitations. I would like to thank in particular RIXC without whose engagement and dedication this event could not have happened, but of course also all the artists, the film makers, conference speakers and everybody else who contributed to WAVES.

Armin Medosch, Vienna, 3 August 2006

[1]  Raylab http://www.raylab.com/
[2]  The Hive Networks tikiwiki for artists and developers http://hivenetworks.net
[3]  Armin Medosch, Freie Netze - Geschichte, Politik und Kultur offener WLAN-Netz. Hannover: Heise Verlag, available online: http://theoriebild.ung.at/view/Main/FreieNetze
[4]  λ = 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. The length of the antenna needs to be λ/2 = 6.25 cm or multiples of it.
[5]  Medienkunstlabor http://www.medienkunstlabor.at/
[6]  Funkfeuer http://www.funkfeuer.at/
[7]  Wikipedia about Church Turing Thesis http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Church-Turing_Thesis
[8]  I am sharing this current position to some degree having not yet made up my mind fully (for that you have to wait for my book), you can, however, find more, specifically about this old discourse of media art that I call 'high-media art' in: Armin Medosch, 2005. Technological Determinism in Media Art. available from http://theoriebild.ung.at/view/Main/TechnologicalDeterminismInMediaArt
[9]  A similar approach of 'materialistic analysis' is proposed by Lev Manovich in The Language of New Media.
[10]  It shouldn't be forgotten that the electricity flowing through a computer is also a wave, but a wave which is modulated digitally, with each Clock Cycle moving through its different states, at a rate which has reached Giga Hertz frequencies.
[11]  Many artists in the WAVES exhibition engage deeply with science and some work within a scientific context or collaborate with scientists. However, what I mean when I say that WAVES is not an Art and Science project, is to distance it from a certain context of officially condoned Art and Science projects in which the artists usually just illustrate scientific concepts and work as a kind of cheap science communicators.
[12]  This is either the result of a tradition of visual orientation in a solid 3-D universe as a sort of hangover from the age of Gutenberg or convenient 'thinking' and laziness comforming to art market pressure (or simply object fetishism).
[13]  I have written more extensively about this in Wireless Utopia, Medosch 2004
[14]  For an in depth analysis of all those concepts see: Wireless Imagination, Douglas Kahn and Gregory Whitehead, eds. Cambridge and London: MIT Press. Another very recommandable publication which reprinted some of the seminal texts of the early radiophonic era is: Radiotext(e), Neil Strauss and Dave Mandl, eds. NYC: Semiotext(e).
[15]  Thanks to Bob Adrian for this remark in a recent conversation.
[16]  Yet whereas the use of the radio as an instrument is signified by tuning in between channels, the most significant home user practice regarding television is zapping, switching between channels, an exhausting activity which only succeeds to expose a false array of 'choice' that essentially, confirms Debord's critique.
[17]  cf. Tetsuo Kogawa, Toward Polymorphous Radio. available from http://anarchy.translocal.jp/non-japanese/radiorethink.html and Félix Guattari. Popular Free Radio. in Radiotext(e) . Tetsuo Kogawa will be speaking at the WAVES conference.
[18]  Although radio, never-the-less, remains, technically-speaking, a broadcast medium as opposed to two-way communication channels.
[19]  "There were also some activist experiments with local self-managed TV studios in apartment blocks in the 70s. The 5th Network conference in Toronto was broadcast live on Rogers Cable in 1978 ... a conference which was largely about gaining access to satellite communication. The participants in the conference were artist-run spaces, native peoples groups, political and social activists, community broadcasters etc. It was organised by AnnPac, the association of Parallel Galleries ... heavily populated
by video artists." Bob Adrian 2006. Email to the author.
[20]  In 2004 Kunstverein Cuxhaven showed "Ohne Schnur - Kunst und drahtlose Kommunikation" (wireless - art and wireless communication) organised by Institute of Art History of Ludwig Maximilians University (LMU), Munich (Website: http://www.ohne-schnur.de/). A different approach was used by the travelling exhibition "Electromagnetic Bodies", curated by Nina Czegledy, cf. http://www.virtueelplatform.nl/artefact-1561-en.html
[21]  This introduction falls a bit short regarding such aspects as esoteric, mysticist and spiritualist ideas inspired by electromagnetism, aspects which will be covered more in the forthcoming publication.


Adrian, R., 1996. Media Culture [online]. First published in the catalogue of Ars Electronica 1996 on "Memesis". (available from: http://alien.mur.at/rax/TEXTS/memesis-e.html)

Bachelard, G., 1934/1985. The New Scientific Spirit. Translated by Arthur Goldhammer. Boston: Beacon Press.

Barbrook, R., 1995. Media Freedom. The Contradictions of Communications in the Age of Modernity. London and Boulder: Pluto Press.
Flusser, V.,1997. Medienkultur. Frankfurt/M: Fischer, first published by Bollmann, Mannheim 1993

Kuhn, T., 1962/1996. The Structure of Scientific Revolutions. 3rd Edition. Chicago: University of Chicago Press.

Kahn, D., and Whitehead, G., eds., 1992. Wireless Imagination. Sound, Radio and the Avantgard. Cambridge and London: MIT Press.

Mandl, D., and Strauss, N., eds., 1993. Radiotext(e). New York City: Semiotext(e)

Manovich, L., 2001. The Language of New Media. Cambridge and London: MIT Press.

Marx, K., 1967/1957. Das Kapital. Kritik der politischen Ökonomie (Vol I-III). First published 1867 (Vol I), 1893 (vol. II) and 1894 (vol. III) Edited by Benedikt Kautsky. Stuttgart: Kröner.

Medosch, A., 2003. Freie Netze - Geschichte, Politik und Kultur offener WLAN-Netze. Heidelberg: dpunkt.

Medosch, A., 2004. Not Just Another Wireless Utopia. In: Grzinic, M., ed. 2004. The Future of Computer Arts. Maribor and Ljubljana: MKC and Maska. 43 - 54.

Medosch, A., 2005. Technological Determinism in Media Art. MA dissertation thesis. available from http://theoriebild.ung.at/view/Main/TechnologicalDeterminismInMediaArt

Armin Medosch (and the essays "Roots Culture" and "Society in Ad-hoc mode" for the data browser publication series by i-dat. Together with Shu Lea Cheang and Yukiko Shikata he is initiated the floating online platform <KOP> (http://kop.keinUK/Austria) is a writer, artist and curator. From 1996 to 2002 he was co-editor-in-chief of the award winning international online magazine Telepolis (www.telepolis.de). He has published, edited and contributed as a writer to many publications. His latest written works include "Freie Netze" (2003), a monograph about wireless free commnity networks .org) which conducted a two year R&D project Commons | Tales | Rules, whose results were presented at the NTTICC exhibition OpenNature, Tokyo, in 2005 and led to the event PLENUM at Node.London, March 2006. Currently he is doing research for a new book on the relationship between media art, net art and the free software and open source movement. Based in London since 1997, he is Associate Senior Lecturer in Digital Media at Ravensbourne College Postgraduate Programme.

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