Invisible Fields

Invisible Fields
An exhibition curated for Arts Santa Monica in Barcelona, Spain
14 October 2011 – 4 March 2014

One of my favourite people to work with on projects is my fellow curator, José Luis de Vicente. In 2011, we had the opportunity to collaborate on an exhibition and book that was very dear to our hearts.

Invisible Fields was a major international exhibition that took place in 2011-12 at Arts Santa Monica in Spain. The show brought together over a dozen internationally known artists, designers and scientists to explore the radio spectrum – the invisible environment that underpins contemporary technology. The show included Timo Arnall (pictured above), Thomas Ashcraft, Matthew Biederman, Anthony De Vincenzi, Diego Diaz & Clara Boj, Joyce Hinterding, Rafael Lozano-Hemmer, Trevor Paglen, Job Ramos, Luthiers Drapaires, Rasa Smite & Raitis Smits and a new commission by Semiconductor. It was presented in the Laboratory space of Arts Santa Mònica directed by Josep Perelló.

Invisible Fields explored how our understanding of our world and our cosmos has been transformed by the study of radio waves. With the invention of telecommunication technology at the end of the 19th century, the radio spectrum became a tool for rethinking the world we live in. Radio collapsed geographical distance, crossed borders and cultures, became a powerful catalyst for commerce and enabled scientists to study the cosmos in entirely new ways. Yet whilst the radio spectrum is the invisible infrastructure that enables the technologies of information and communication, most people are unaware of the way it works, how it is managed, and how it is has shaped our understanding of our lived environment. Invisible Fields aimed to shine a light on this enigmatic landscape. The exhibition differed from past explorations of these topics, in that it was conceived as an interdisciplinary blend of social-cultural analysis, science communication, and artistic practice.

– Works in the Show

Drone Vision by Trevor Paglen
Frequency & Volume by Rafael Lozano-Hemmer (pictured above)
Harnessing Wild Electricities From Outer Space by Thomas Ashcraft
Immaterials by Timo Arnall
Invisible Forces by Anthony DeVincenzi (MIT Media Lab)
Loops and Fields: Induction Drawings Series 4 by Joyce Hinterding (pictured below)
Magnetic Movie by Semiconductor
20Hz (new commission) by Semiconductor
Radio Liberty (new commission) by Job Ramos
Observatorio by Clara Boj and Diego Diaz
Office of Spectral Ecology by Matthew Biederman (pictured below)
Skrunda Signal by Rasa Smite & Raitis Smits (RIXC)
The Conet Project by Irdial Records
A community WIFI workshop and infomation space by
A satellite observation workshop and ground-station by Plataforma Cero LABoral
An antenna-building workshop and antenna collection by Luthiers Drapaires
A micro-FM building workshop by Arts Santa Monica

– An Insight into Invisible Fields

More than a linear, historical narration of the evolution of spectrum technologies, Invisible Fields could best be understood as an “observatory”, which enabled visitors to perceive the radio spectrum. It set out the spectrum as a physical space, invisible but present, a terrain that can be studied, mapped, surveyed and explored. It is an environment made of signals and waves from nature, and from us. Its topography is formed of waves of different scales, from tiny emissions given off by domestic objects to vast emissions made by distant astronomical phenomena. It is made up of signals that are very familiar, such as television and radio, and signals which are esoteric and enigmatic. It is an ecology that has public spaces – wireless internet and amateur radio – and secret spaces – coded military transmissions and clandestine signals.

Following on from pioneers such as John Cage, Alvin Lucier and Pauline Oliveros, contemporary artists such as Thomas Ashcraft, Semiconductor and Joyce Hinterding create powerful works that allow us to understand the radio spectrum as an extension of the natural world.  Sitting alongside their almost Emersonian understanding of radio as nature, was recent work in the field of architecture, design and urbanism, which expands the notion of urban space into the invisible realm of the spectrum. “Hertzian space”, a term coined by designers, Anthony Dunne & Fiona Raby, is defined by our transmissions of radio, television, wireless internet, GPS data and mobile phone signals. It is a space interrogated by artists and designers such as Timo Arnall from the BERG group in London, and Clara Boj & Diego Diaz who create clever visualisations of the presence of waves in our daily life. Elsewhere in the show, artist Rafael Lozano-Hemmer’s monumental tribute to the radio dial, enabled visitors to physically move through radio transmissions, giving them a visceral encounter with our ethereal cultural surroundings. Experimental geographer and artist, Trevor Paglen, and artist-activists, Rasa Smite & Raitis Smits, shed light on the dark zones of the spectral landscape.

Invisible Fields was not only concerned with the topology of the radio landscape, but rather the socio-political activities that take place within it. Alongside the artworks in the show were workshops, which reminded us that our position with the architecture of the spectrum is far from being that of a passive observer. As such, the exhibition space hosted intensive activity for a wide variety of audiences, with workshops on Sunday mornings, and a complete education programme offered to schools.

Taken together the works in Invisible Fields made the intangible materiality of the electromagnetic spectrum visible and audible. They opened up the Hertzian space around us, and above us, to our senses. The visions of artists, the solutions of designers, and the experiments of scientists give us the tools we need to create our own mental maps of this profoundly influential terrain.

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