Forests of Antennas, Oceans of Waves


Among the key factors driving the development of 5G networks are the rapidly increasing number of »smart« devices and wireless digital communication technologies in use worldwide as well as the generally rising level of data consumption. Studies published some time ago already prophesised that existing networks would soon be unable to handle increasing data flows – especially in major cities like Berlin. Today, 5G is already a reality in many areas of the capital. Its goal is to guarantee capacity for the next few years via more radio antennas, wider frequency spectrums, lower latencies and quicker transmission rates. 5G is expected to be significantly faster than the current LTE / 4G generation and, most importantly, have the capacity to link a greater number of devices than ever before via one single connection. In turn, this will enable the linking of all possible »smart« devices and sensors. Experts predict that over 50 billion devices will soon be networked worldwide. 5G will make it possible to connect roughly 1,000 times more devices per square kilometre. To achieve this, a variety of concepts are currently being developed and tested – from the simplified search for available parking spaces to smart rubbish bins.



Even as early as in 2014, the quantity of human-made electromagnetic radiation across the globe was estimated to be roughly 1018 times higher than the naturally occurring amount. This imperceptible space – a human-made phenomenon that spans the planet yet lies beyond our ability to conceive it – became what philosopher Timothy Morton calls a »hyperobject«. Out of this invisible space arose an aesthetic challenge that has long since inspired artists to achieve greater accessibility to »Hertzian Space« for human senses by means of various aesthetic and conceptual strategies, but also for its political, social and ecological dimensions.

The first step in the Forests of Antennas, Oceans of Waves event series will involve using artistic means to bring to light the otherwise imperceptible changes associated with various generations of mobile communications and »smart city« technologies, as well as to highlight the implications of these changes for ourselves and our environments. The second step will attempt to provide the tools necessary to engage in articulate discussions about precisely these changes. Each individual format and event will focus on a specific topic determined by relevant questions ranging from the aesthetics of atmosphere and radiation, social transformation, activism and the contextualisation of technological developments against the backdrop of resource scarcity and sustainability.



The interventions will seek to move beyond an intellectual-theoretical understanding of electromagnetic urban environments towards the acquisition of knowledge resulting from actual physical experience and above all through active embedding in public urban spaces and participatory design.

Each individual intervention will address questions relating to tangible socio-political issues, infrastructures and/or our own physical embedding. The focus will be on the following key themes, among others:

    The advent of smart cities entails more and more sensors, devices and antennas transmitting and recording our information, thus enabling an increasingly comprehensive and rapid form of digital interaction, while also shaping this interaction itself. How do these new technologies impact how we move in our cities? Who controls our data and what does »technological democracy« even mean?
    In an era in which our understanding of the communication mechanisms and systems used by plants and animals is steadily growing, our aim here is to get to the bottom of the issue of natural electromagnetic signals and frequencies. What methods can be employed to access man-made electromagnetic signals and frequencies but go beyond the anthropocentric worldview? What kinds of »natural radio« can tell us more about forms of human and non-human interactions in the electromagnetic sphere?
    Which particular strategies and approaches are relevant for designers, artists and average citizens in light of the materiality and sustainability of digital wireless technologies? When it comes to the use of smart digital technologies, can we become meaningful and positive actors in the fight against climate change? And if so, how exactly do we achieve this?
    With the sheer amount of signals and data streams surrounding and permeating our bodies in mind, we will address the question of what exactly it would look like to have a physical-sensory understanding and experience of these signals, which are otherwise imperceptible to us. The idea is to use experimental-speculative and DIY approaches to conceive, test and discuss potential iterations of the embodiment of electromagnetically transmitted information.
    In an attempt to understand how network systems function in terms of the transmission of messages from point A to point B, as well as to be able to understand how antennas, wave guides and transmission lines form part of the environment, we will examine the concept of networked landscapes – in both a literal and figurative sense – and establish and explore their constitutive characteristics. Is it possible for technologies to adapt to particular environments instead of the other way around? And if so, how?



From 23 to 25 September 2022, immediately following the interventions series, a conference under the title Forests of Antennas, Oceans of Waves. An exploration of art and theory in electromagnetic urban environments will take place at Museum of Communication Berlin. Leading international experts and scholars will gather for the first time in Berlin for a strictly theory-based examination of the themes explored in the overall event series. It will kick off on 23 September with a keynote address by Jennifer Gabrys open to the general public. This will be followed by a one-day conference on 24 September, also open to the public. On 25 September, there will be a one-day workshop exploring various theses and scenarios relating to 5G and urban environments. This workshop is designed for speakers and invited guests (please contact us if you’re interested in attending) and is intended to generate a collection of findings, theses and scenarios. The language of the conference will be English.



A final exhibition taking place at the Liebig12 project space marked the end of the Forests of Antennas, Oceans of Waves event series, focusing on works by the artists Susanna Hertrich and Jonathon Keats. In their respective work and research, the two artists deal with the phenomena of electromagnetic radiation through speculative, research-based artistic approaches and formal languages that play with the aesthetics and discourses of science as well as mythology. The works on display thus once again opened up new perspectives on the topic and our electromagnetic »Umwelt«.

The exhibition was accompanied by an evening discussion with the artists about their artistic practice and the works shown in the exhibition.

As part of the artistic closing program of the event series, a concert evening with the artists Marta Zapparoli and Martin Howse was presented at the Panke Culture Club in Berlin-Wedding. Both artists had developed new works for this evening and the theme of the project series.



Shintaro Miyazaki
(Humboldt-Universität zu Berlin)

Birgit Schneider
(Universität Potsdam)

Daniela Silvestrin
(Independent Curator, Berlin)

Christoph Papendorf

Doreen Löwe

Dicey Studios