Forests of Antennas, Oceans of Waves
was a series of events taking place in Berlin from May to October 2022, consisting of seven urban artistic interventions (each accompanied by a mobile exhibition), a conference and site-specific sound installation at the Museum für Kommunikation Berlin, a concert evening at the Panke Culture Club, and a concluding exhibition at the Liebig12 project and gallery space.
»In the world of electromagnetic cosmology (and industry), understanding the electromagnetic field is the only way to understand ourselves and our environment.«
As part of the first intervention, the artist duo Bureau d’études invited a small group of participants to join them for a two hours walk and exploration, aiming to trace the various data streams and radio signals in which we are embedded and exposed to in a central and densely populated metropolitan neighbourhood such as Berlin-Neukölln. With the advent of the smart city, more and more sensors, devices and antennas are transmitting and capturing our information. They enable ever more comprehensive and faster digital interaction, but also shape it. How do new technological developments affect what data and wave currents we are exposed to and how we move around the city?
As an alternative to historical walks and sightseeing tours, the techno-political walk challenged participants to measure, discuss and document the traces left by the data and electromagnetic signals surrounding us on high-speed routes: Antennas of different mobile phone generations were identified, and different intensities of measured values were compared and radiation thresholds discussed while following a route defined by the artists around Tempelhofer Feld and Hermannplatz. Questions related to possible health hazards of mobile phone radiation and about which threshold values are set by which authorities were also discussed. How should we assess the fact that different thresholds and limits apply in different countries – even within Europe? What research is there on possible adverse health effects? What interests, if any, are hidden behind such research, and how can the individual layperson form a qualified opinion here at all? During and after the event, diffuse uncertainties, fears and anxieties among the participants came to the surface regarding the possible harmfulness of 5G and other mobile technologies. The event made evident how difficult it can be to conduct a debate based on qualified data and information in order to counter conspiracy-mythical approaches.
Bureau d’Études is a conceptual artists group working primarily with the medium of the map. They map the relations of power, ownership and interest in politics, economics and the social sphere on global and local levels, thus creating an awareness of how seemingly unrelated things are in reality connected when viewed from a larger perspective. The maps help to unravel complex systems and to recognise our own position within them. Once you know where you are, you can steer your own course, suggest alternatives and use the map to find new paths for yourself or your community. bureaudetudes.org
Photos: Anke Phoebe Peters (1–4) / Daniela Silvestrin (5)
»Radio Otherwise brings listening together in a constellation with ecologies and cybernetics, in an attempt to carefully and critically move beyond the human/nature dichotomy, to deal with messy boundary-crossings in order to recognize situated relationalities with/in place.«
The intervention by the artist group Radio Otherwise focused on the waterways of Berlin as a public space, looking at the infrastructures of the river in relation to both water and electromagnetic waves:
Set up as a temporary studio for a live broadcast on the boat of the Unkraut Kollektiv, the artists moved slowly downstream along the Spree, starting from the south-eastern periphery towards the centre of Berlin. Over the course of four hours, the artists explored the origins, quality and changes of various electromagnetic signals from natural and man-made sources – radio waves, radio and data signals, as well as signals received via hydrophones – along the developed or forested river banks. These signals and radio waves, composed of constantly changing sources, were translated live by the artists into soundscapes, accompanied by comments, reflections, quotes and conversations. The floating studio thus created a complex system that both sends and receives: a system of interdependence of a multitude of live electromagnetic signals received on the water that coincided with ambient sounds of the transient studio space.
Listeners could follow and immerse themselves in these sounds and impressions of the journey on the radio webstream as well as on 88.4 FM in Berlin and 90.7 FM in Potsdam. Local reception in the immediate vicinity of the boat was also possible through a broadcast via Micro-FM.
The highlight of the event was a live performance beginning at 9:13 p.m. with sunset, the threshold between day and night and a time when radio signals naturally propagate over longer distances. The boat reached Stralauer Spitze between Treptower Park and Rummelsbucht for the start of the live performance, which could now no longer be received via web streaming and radio, but only locally via micro-FM reception. The audience, equipped with radio sets, could watch the artists on the boat pass by several times from the shore of Stralauer Spitze, while locally listening to a half-hour live sound performance on the frequency 88.4FM.
In the multi-part event, Radio Otherwise created a radiophonic transitional space for the encounter and interaction of signals, bodies, ecologies and knowledge, circling the thresholds of transmissions and architectures beyond the purely anthropogenic.
Sound sample of the live broadcast via web radio and micro FM radio
Radio Otherwise is an ongoing artistic research project motivated by the many knots which art, knowledge- making/sharing and communication encounter.Thinking and doing radio otherwise means focussing beyond purely anthropogenic transmissions, recognising relationality within the spectrum of more-than-human radio ecologies. Together with a wide network of radio enthusiasts, Kate Donovan, Monai de Paula Antunes and Niko de Paula Lefort explore the plurality of experiences involved in radio-making in connection to ecological thinking. radiootherwise.net
Photos: Chrsitoph Papendorf (1–4) / Anke Phoebe Peters (5–9) / Daniela Silvestrin (10)
»All that radio is, […] is making audible something you are already in. You are bathed in radio waves – TV, broadcast, probably telepathic messages, from other minds… And this radio simply makes audible something that you thought was inaudible.«
The telecommunication technologies we live with, such as radios, Wifi and mobile phones, communicate with tiny electrical waves that are imperceptible to us. These Hertzian waves create tiny oscillating currents in antennas. When these oscillations are amplified, they become perceptible.
For the intervention »Of Work and Waves«, the artist duo Kobakant invited a group of experienced artists and craftspeople – all skilled crocheters – to the Schillermarkt on Herrfurthplatz. In a performative action, they worked together continuously for over four hours to crochet an ornamental antenna out of copper wire. This handmade antenna sculpture, which slowly grew over time, was connected to loudspeakers via amplifiers so that the waves and signals it received were made audible during the production process and translated into a soundscape. Visitors to the intervention and interested passers-by were invited to exchange places with the artists, to work on the antenna sculpture and to experience how interaction with the antenna influenced the soundscape. In this way, the artistic intervention succeeded in poetically and subtly making perceptible the signal worlds that surround us everywhere; at the same time, the production of a fabric that interacts with radio waves pointed to questions of the impossibility and necessity of shielding oneself from them.
KOBAKANT (Mika Satomi, Hannah Perner-Wilson)
Mika Satomi and Hannah Perner Wilson have been collaborating since 2006, and in 2008 formed the collective KOBAKANT. Together, through their work, they explore the use of textile crafts and electronics as a medium for commenting on technological aspects of today’s »high- tech« society. KOBAKANT believes in the spirit of humoring technology, often presenting their work as a twisted criticism of the stereotypes surrounding textile craftsmanship and electrical engineering. KOBAKANT believes that technology exists to be hacked, handmade and modified by everyone to better fit our personal needs and desires. kobakant.at
Photos: Maria Silvano (2, 3, 5–9) / Daniela Silvestrin (1, 4, 10 )
»I have asked you to imagine these electric and magnetic fields. What do you do? Do you know how? How do I imagine the electric and magnetic field? What do I actually see? What are the demands of the scientific imagination? Is it any different from trying to imagine that the room is full of invisible angels?«
Richard Feynman, The Feynman Lectures on Physics
For their 2-day intervention, Sarah Grant and Danja Vasiliev conceived a performative action with the aim to develop an idea of electromagnetic signals together with the participants. Starting point was the question of what it would be like to be and embody such a signal. The two artists embarked on an experimental quest – doomed to failure from the start – in the spirit of the quoted physicist Richard Feynman, who explained to his students how difficult or even impossible it is to get an idea of the nature and movement of an electromagnetic signal that even comes close to reality. In an action reminiscent of Fluxus performances, the participants were given a card with a series of instructions to move as embodied signals on performative walks through Görlitzer Park, for example by bouncing off walls or being absorbed by surfaces. The aim was to explore together with the artists how radiation is reflected and absorbed by obstacles on its way, what influence for instance narrow passages have on the signal bandwidth and how natural obstacles such as water, trees and other pedestrians could affect the signal propagation.
In two consecutive days and differently designed interventions, the participants first immersed themselves in the basic physical differences of various antenna shapes and radio signals using the example of WiFi and 5G signals, after which they became signal formations that moved through Görlitzer Park and adjoining streets in a performative action
Sarah Grant is an American artist and professor of new media based in Berlin at the Weise7 studio. Her teaching and art practice engages with the electromagnetic spectrum and computer networks as artistic material, social habitat, and political landscape. Since 2015, she has organized the Radical Networks conference in New York and Berlin, a community event and arts festival for critical investigations and creative experiments in chootka.com
Danja Vasiliev is a media artist, Critical Engineer and educator born in Saint-Petersburg, currently living and working in Berlin. Vasiliev studies Systems and Networks through anti-disciplinary experimentation with hardware, firmware and software. Using computational platforms he engages in examination and exploitation of System and Network paradigms in both the physical and digital realms. In October 2011, together with his colleagues Julian Oliver and Gordan Savičić, Vasiliev coauthored The Critical Engineering Manifesto. k0a1a.net
Photos: Anke Phoebe Peters (1–4, 6–10, 12) / Daniela Silvestrin (5, 11, 13)
»Design Fiction treads a fine line between archetypal reality and speculation, but when reality changes daily, where are we to start? Archetypes take time to solidify and embed themselves in culture. As practitioners of exploratory futures, we feel we have a responsibility to examine this relationship, and to explore our collective recalibration.«
The Near Future Laboratory
Antennas and other mobile telecommunication infrastructures have become a new, synthetic form of nature for us: Surveillance cameras, routers, traffic sensors, cell towers, WiFi antennas, cables (such as copper wire or fibre optics), data centres, server farms. Urban environments in particular are full of such devices and the myriad services these devices rely on – from repair shops for everyday appliances, maintenance crews replacing underground cables, to increasingly obsolete public phone boxes and booths, or even parking meters. It is unclear whether our environments are more aligned with technical or capitalist requirements, or with the needs of how people want to live in cities.
In a workshop led by Nicolas Nova, participants were invited to use design fiction methods to create a tangible and vivid prototype of these synthetic landscapes outlining possible (and more habitable) near futures. Design Fiction is a technique developed by The Near Future Laboratory to help explore, understand and ultimately prepare for the future. In times of massive change, this method is becoming increasingly important, but also increasingly complex. The aim of design fiction practices is therefore to present slightly distorted versions of normality in order to provoke debate and discussion.
Starting with an introduction to the development and methodology of design fiction, participants discussed various devices, technologies and digital infrastructures that surround us in urban environments – many of which have become increasingly invisible over time in our everyday urban landscapes, only to be overtaken by other technologies and devices, leaving behind obsolete objects and relics. Following the introductory discussion, the workshop participants went in search of such features, devices and objects in the cityscape in the surrounding streets in Berlin-Wedding. Their mission was to investigate the potential of the digital infrastructure of the urban environment for the design of products, services and interactions on the basis of these observations and street interviews. The final goal was to design street posters that, in fictionalised future scenarios, would suggest new, concrete ways of using our digital infrastructures to make urban environments more habitable, accessible, sustainable, or social.
Nicolas Nova is an anthropologist, design researcher, and writer. With a multidisciplinary background in social sciences, information technologies, design, and natural sciences, he divides his time between running international field-work projects, documenting new signals in the world, and making sense of them to inform design or strategy. Co-founder of a design fiction agency called The Near Future Laboratory, he is also Professor at the Geneva University of Arts and Design (HEAD–Genève). nicolasnova.net
Photos: Anke Phoebe Peters (1–7, 9) / Daniela Silvestrin (8, 10–13)
INTERVENTION & WORKSHOP
»As evolved beings produced by a biosphere, we’re not capable of perceiving reality unassisted. There can only be our technical instrumentalities. Our weak, decaying, flawed, falsifiable, even pitiable instrumentalities. But that’s how we learn what’s natural and real – through the unnatural.«
Our notions of nature and technology are inherently intermingled and separated only in our cultural articulations. Antennas are objects that increasingly re-naturalise electromagnetism: Designed to facilitate communication between people, they use the ability of metals to resonate with radio waves. They absorb both man-made and natural emissions and are found in urban and rural landscapes to provide global interconnectivity. One way to understand the »naturalisation« of antennas is to think of them as cultural objects. Telecommunication devices and antennas are often hidden in everyday objects; conversely, telecommunications are iconised in decorative objects (e. g. a Christmas bauble in the shape of a mobile phone).
Taking this premise as a starting point, the intervention presented by Selena Savic and Gordan Savičić was a temporary engagement with the special exhibition »Curious Communication: Unusual Objects and Stories from the Collection« at the Museum für Kommunikation, as well as the beginning of their new project »Antenna Fieldguide«. During the Long Night of the Museums, the two artists invited visitors to take part in performative guided walks through the exhibition with antenna objects they had specially created. The guided tours developed by the artists expanded the references of the exhibition through narratives around the various types and forms of antennas as elementary infrastructure of our contemporary communication and thus as everyday, hidden objects that are frequently encountered in urban and rural landscapes and yet are foreign to the eye. The following day, in a subsequent public writing workshop, results were collected that were included into the »Antenna Fieldguide« – a new project by the two artists that assumes that nature and technology are only separated from each other in the imagination, but are actually mixed. The Fieldguide collects artistic representations of synthetic nature – antennas as an everyday feature in the landscape, as ordinary but invisible objects mounted high up on building roofs and tall masts. The sprawl of such antenna objects thus naturalises them as everyday infrastructure that sometimes even mimics nature.
Selena Savic is a researcher and trained architect. Her research interests revolve around the mixture of computational processes with the built environment, exploring ways to communicate communication processes. After her PhD at EPFL and a postdoc at ATTP, TU Vienna, she joined the IXDM where she is currently Head of the Make/Sense PhD programme. She researches and writes about computational modeling, feminist hacking, and posthuman networks in the context of design and architecture. fhnw.ch/de/personen/selena-savic • kucjica.org
Gordan Savičić is an artist, designer and critical engineer whose work investigates the relationship between people, networks and interfaces. He has a background in media art & visual communication and is active within the fields of academic research, teaching and new media. Born in Vienna, he currently lives and works in Lausanne, Switzerland. yugo.at
Photos: Anke Phoebe Peters (1, 2, 4–6) / Daniela Silvestrin (3, 7–9)
»In Your Aerial« is a work in two parts by artist Teresa Dillon in which she explores contemporary and historical acts of care, repair, maintenance and inheritance of internet infrastructure. The title of the work »In Your Aerial« comes from the name given to the act of reinterpreting the heritage and legacy of a community internet infrastructure. Specifically, it is about the legacy of Bristol Wireless, a community internet service founded in the city of Bristol in 2002. Bristol Wireless is a volunteer-run internet cooperative that provides affordable wireless network connectivity and open-source technology services to businesses and communities not originally served by mainstream internet providers. In 2018 and 2019, the group began exploring how to continue its legacy and work in Bristol. This led to the development of »In Your Aerial« – an artist-led experiment to adopt and maintain a rooftop network infrastructure and associated antennas and masts, covering approximately 15km² in central Bristol. The title thus references the histories behind this action, which intersect with indie and tactical media strategies, surrealist and flux-inspired interventions, local histories of early internet provision, and activism.
Part 1 of the work was presented as a performative intervention located in the area between Alte Münze and Jannowitzbrücke. The intervention was based on a witnessed act of repair and installation of telecommunication infrastructures. This act of repair was told through the lens of Berlin’s current and ongoing internet upgrade, where existing copper infrastructures are being replaced with the promise of faster fibre optic cables. With the city’s Gigabit Strategy, launched in 2022, providers such as Tele Columbus, Deutsche Telekom, Vattenfall and Eurofiber are using the city’s infrastructure, from pipes to circular ducts, to upgrade the system. But what happens when these cables need repair? How is their care and maintenance managed and whose responsibility is it? Teresa Dillon explored these questions of care through performance, storytelling and collective group encounters. In the context of a broader ethics of care, she drew attention to what we want to privilege, attend to and maintain in the matrix of our digital urban spaces.
Part 2 of »In Your Aerial« was presented in the form of an academic talk at the conference that followed in the programme of artistic interventions.
An artist and researcher, Teresa’s work explores relationships between humans, other species, technology, cities and our environments. This currently manifests through two artistic-led research programmes, Repair Acts (2018–) and Urban Hosts (2013–). Repair Acts fosters ideas about restorative cultures and practices by connecting past stories of care, maintenance and healing, with what we do today and how we envision the future. With Urban Hosts practicing conversational and hospitality formats as a means to provoke ideas of encountering and »the alternative« within city spaces. As a Humboldt Fellow (UdK and TU, Berlin, 2014–16) her work documented artistic approaches to making the electromagnetic spectrum in cities audible and since the early 2000s, her work has been exhibited at various festivals and venues. Experienced in producing software and hardware projects, Teresa has also written on subjects such as open source processes, music, technology and design, sonic materiality’s and folklores, multispecies relations, surveillance, governance and the smart city, repair economies and artisan repair professions. Invited to co-curate transmediale (2016) and HACK-THE-CITY (2012) for the former, Science Gallery, Dublin, since 2016 holds the post of Professor of City Futures at the School of Art and Design, UWE, Bristol. polarproduce.org • repairacts.net • urbanhosts.org
Photos: Maria Silvano (1–6) / Daniela Silvestrin (7, 8)
CONFERENCE & SOUNDINSTALLATION
»The circuited city of the future (…) will be an information megalopolis. What remains of the configuration of former cities will be very much like World’s Fairs – places in which to show off new technology, not places of work or residence.«
The conference »Forests of Antennas, Oceans of Waves. An Exploration of Art and Theory in Electromagnetic Urban Environments« took place on 23 and 24 September at the Museum für Kommunikation in Berlin. The public conference was followed by an internal thesis and scenario workshop.
The scientific and artistic examination of the topic of 5G and electromagnetic urban environments from social, aesthetic and cultural points of view – i.e. beyond the usual medical-technical framework – is still in its infancy. In this respect, the conference was an urgently needed prelude to a political-aesthetic debate on the topic, which has so far been occupied primarily by telecommunications companies and urban development actors under the buzzwords »networking«, »digitalisation« and »automation«.
The keynote address by media scientist Jennifer Gabrys from the University of Cambridge was entitled »The Future is Phygital: 5G in Smart Cities and Smart Forests«. Gabrys used the term »phygitality« to combine the physical and the digital to capture the automated environments that use networked sensors and computer systems to observe, measure and control processes in cities and nature to make a planet in crisis controllable. She questioned the ideas that are proclaimed as »smartness« with these networks, for example when 5G is presented as seamless technology, in order to fathom what a habitable world could look like that has understood that smartness as such is not the solution.
The following day deepened the questions raised in the keynote with the panel »City as Ressource? The Socio-political Dimensions of Smart City«. The contributors focused on socio-political aspects associated with the keyword »Smart City«, because there can be no Smart City without stable 5G. Gabriele Schliwa addressed the urban imaginaries and dreams that cities and telecommunications companies are currently attaching to the expansion of 5G networks in the form of an »urban nerve network for smart cities«, while at the same time transforming public space into a massively privatised space for business. The figure of the dream, thought with the interpretation of dreams, Gilles Deleuze and Bernard Siegler, allowed Schliwa to speculate on the extent to which dreamed futures and aspirations are hallucinations, especially when imagined infrastructural futures become the drivers of real building plans for new smart cities. In doing so, she concluded that dreams are influenced by fantasies and that »the urban imaginary is reduced to a comfort blanket«.
In her lecture »In Your Aerial, part 2«, the artist and activist Teresa Dillon used concrete case studies from Great Britain to further explore the »hidden paratexts that write and structure environments« (Thrift, 2004) that are realised with the »cyborg dream«. Using the city of Bristol as an example, she set local networks, which are operated collectively and self-organised by neighbourhoods, against the market-based networking projects. She posed the question of what violence emanates from so-called »support structures«, because the idea of »support« always goes hand in hand with an encroaching intimacy. The lively discussion showed how fruitful it is to think about 5G with storytelling, (day)dreaming and imagining, because in this way underlying metanarratives become clear that drive our societies with great force, whereby the question is who is actually dreaming whose dream. »If you are caught in the dream of the other, you are f*****«, Gabriele Schliwa quoted Gilles Deleuze.
The second panel entitled »Uncanny Radiation? Towards an Aesthetics of Electromagnetic Fields« was devoted to the techno-aesthetic and cultural dimensions of radio networks. The focus was on the broad, very heterogeneous spectrum of social perceptions of networked infrastructures and antennas in public space. In her contribution »Sense-making in Aether Space«, the artist Susanna Hertrich led the audience through her works, in which she deals in depth with notions of the spiritual that have been attached to the aether as a portal to other worlds since the 19th century. While the idea of a spiritualist medium is inseparable from the history of radio’s development, today we usually dismiss it as irrational and pseudoscientific. The sensory organ of the elephant fish served Hertrich as a model for thinking of Hertzian space as a sensory experience. Unlike humans, this species of fish possesses an antenna-like organ with which it can perceive radiation. In his contribution »Debating Cell Antenna Exposures: Another Genealogy of Sensitive Mediations«, Rahul Mukherjee used his field study in India as an opportunity to question how, especially in rich residential areas in Delhi, the increasing proliferation of cell towers is accompanied by fears and protests. Using case studies and newspaper articles, he worked out how experts and counter-experts appear to either link concerns about health risks such as cancer with 5G or argue against it, and what role controversial measurements play in this. In the second part of his talk, he discussed the Indian physicist J. C. Bose, who had already explored the electrical conductivity of plants in the early 20th century, in order to tie Whitehead’s concepts of reality and process and the idea of »world sensing« to it.
The last panel, »Radiation and Techno-ecological Spheres«, consisted of a lecture and a film screening. Ignacio Farías and Nona Schulte-Römer presented in their talk »Backgrounding 5G networks: The challenge of governing the risks of electromagnetic radiation« their current ethnographic study on the risk communication of radiation in Germany. Based on widespread concerns about the health effects of 5G and protests against antennas in some places, they examine how government institutions such as the Office for Radiation Protection address these concerns. They elaborated three dilemmas in risk communication that illustrate that there cannot be one-size-fits-all communication, such as through informed statistics alone. The third dilemma, for example, is about people’s subjective suffering, which they attribute to radiation. »Individual suffering cannot be accounted for in statistical risk assessments at the population level«. But: »If I acknowledge this suffering and respond to it, I undermine my ›no-risk‹ message.« As a solution, Farías and Schulte-Römer suggested following the model of diplomatic experiments.
At the end of the conference, the documentary film »Ubiquity« by Bregtje van der Haak (2018) was shown. In the style of a slow ethnography, it follows several people who claim to suffer from radiation sensitivity and seek places far away from infrastructures where there is no radiation. The concluding discussion showed how much the contributions and their terminology helped to make it possible to discuss fears of radiation in a nuanced way as a mixture of personal fears, studies that are difficult to understand, marketing of public spaces and increasing mechanisation.
In the following day’s thesis and scenario workshop, the speakers continued to discuss the topics of the conference together and used creative writing methods to derive insights, exaggerations, theses and scenarios about what the smart city and the digitalisation of the city could be beyond the already existing visions and master plans. The results were small texts as well as a list of ideas on how we could talk differently about increasing connectivity through the expansion of networks. The results can be seen here.
Video of the keynote talk by Jennifer Gabrys «The Future is Phygital: 5G in Smart Cities and Smart Forests«, given at the opening of the conference
Teresa Dillon is an artist and researcher exploring relationships between humans, other species, technology, cities and our environments. Since 2016 she holds the post of Professor of City Futures at the School of Art and Design, UWE, Bristol. She currently works on Repair Acts (2018–) and ideas about restorative practices by connecting past stories of care, maintenance and healing, with what we do today and how we envision the future. With Urban Hosts (2013–) she researches on conversational and hospitality formats as a means to provoke ideas of encountering and ‘the alternative’ within city spaces. As a Humboldt Fellow (UdK and TU, Berlin, 2014–16) her work documented artistic approaches to making the electromagnetic spectrum in cities audible and since the early 2000s, her work has been exhibited at various festivals and venues.
Ignacio Farías is professor of urban anthropology at the Institute of European Ethnology at the Humboldt Universität zu Berlin. He holds a BA in Sociology from UC Chile, a MA in Anthropology from Universidad de Barcelona and a PhD in European Ethnology from HU Berlin. He works at the crossroads of social and cultural anthropology, science and technology studies and urban studies. His research focuses on infrastructural and environmental transformations of European and Latin American cities and the political and democratic challenges these transformations entail. His current work explores the urban politics of airborne disruptions, involving heat, noise and radio waves, as well as current experiments in civic-led common-good oriented urban development projects.
Nona Schulte-Römer is scholar in social studies and a science journalist. Currently she is a postdoc at the Institute of European Ethnology at the Humboldt-Universität zu Berlin. Her particular research interests include the un/visibility of urban infrastructures and two current sociotechnical transitions: The transformation to sustainable lighting and the transformation to sustainable chemistry.
Jennifer Gabrys is Chair in Media, Culture and Environment in the Department of Sociology at the University of Cambridge. She leads the Planetary Praxis research group and is Principal Investigator on the ERC-funded project, Smart Forests: Transforming Environments into Social-Political Technologies. Her newest book, Citizens of Worlds: Open-Air Toolkits for Environmental Struggle, is forthcoming from University of Minnesota Press in November 2022 and is available on Manifold as an open-access publishing experiment. She co-edits the »Planetarities« short-monograph series published through Goldsmiths Press. Her work can be found at planetarypraxis.org and jennifergabrys.net.
Susanna Hertrich works as an artist, designer and educator. She has a record of artistic research in collaboration with Meta Perception Group at the University of Tokyo, Design Research Lab at the UdK in Berlin, TASML Tsinghua University Art & Science Laboratory in Beijing, and Critical Media Lab at the HGK FHNW in Basel. Her work is exhibited internationally, including 23. Triennale, Milan; HEK, Basel; HKW, Berlin; Boston Center for the Arts; Vienna Biennial/MAK; Vitra Design Museum; V&A Dundee; CAFA art museum, Beijing, and Transmediale. Next to her artistic practice, she leads the MA in Experimental Design at the HGK FHNW.
Rahul Mukherjee is the Dick Wolf Associate Professor of Television and New Media Studies at University of Pennsylvania. His first book Radiant Infrastructures: Media, Environment, and Cultures of Uncertainty (Duke University Press, 2020) explores the ecological dimensions of media and energy infrastructures like cell towers and nuclear reactors. He is working on a second book Unlimited: Aspirational Politics and Mobile Media Distribution (under contract with MIT Press). Rahul is part of the advisory board at the journal Media+Environment and the Center for Advanced Research in Global Communication., and formerly served as the Director of the Penn Cinema and Media Studies Program.
Gabriele Schliwa is an interdisciplinary researcher with a PhD in human geography from the University of Manchester, UK. Her decision to enter academia was initially driven by a desire to connect theory and practice in the creation of more sustainable urban infrastructural systems. Collaborating with local initiatives and EU-funded projects alike, Gabriele contributed to the fields of energy, mobility as well as information and communication technologies. With lived experiences at the core of inquiry, her recent work concerned the political implications of using tools from the digital innovation and design industries for the co-production of »smart« cities from a societal perspective.
»…to argue the potential for acoustic knowing , of sounding as a condition of and for knowing, of sonic presence and awareness as potent shaping forces in how people make sense of experiences. Acoustemology means an exploration of sonic sensibilities, specifically of ways in which sound is central to making sense, to knowing, to experiential truth. This seems particularly relevant to understanding the interplay of sound and felt balance in the sense and sensuality of emplacement, of making place.«
The sound installation »BIAS« was a commissioned work developed by the artist Mario de Vega especially for this project and the location of the Museum für Kommunikation. The work was based on audio material that the artist had recorded over a period of several days at the Museum für Kommunikation; for the sound installation this material was modulated by real-time measurements of electromagnetic activities and signals occurring in the museum from mobile phones, walkie-talkies, WLAN, Bluetooth and other sources, and translated into a constantly changing score that reacted to the communication activities in the museum. The resulting soundscape was played out from the museum’s balconies into the atrium and galleries using a multi-channel sound system, and ran for exactly 24 hours.
»BIAS« was conceived as a site-specific installation with the aim of connecting the character and social dynamics of the museum, the interaction between staff and visitors, and the relationship to concepts and technologies discussed in the programme »Forests of Antennas, Oceans of Waves«.
Sound sample/excerpt from the 24-hour sound installation »BIAS« by Mario de Vega
Mario de Vega is a professor at the Kunsthochschule Kassel and has been working in the fields of sound and visual art since the late 1990s. He explores the ambiguous relationships between energies, systems and spaces. In his concerts and sound performances, he often translates electromagnetic signals into audible sounds. mariodevega.info
Photos: Maria Silvano (1–3, 5, 6, 10) / Anke Phoebe Peters (4, 7, 9) / Daniela Silvestrin (8)
EXHIBITION & ARTIST TALK
»The old idea that media are environments can be flipped: environments are also media. Water, fire, sky, earth, and ether are elements … that sustain existence.«
John Durham Peter
Light and radio waves can be disorientating for birds and insects such as butterflies, especially within cities. Some other species, such as the elephant trunk fish, also have sensory organs that can sense electric and electromagnetic fields, enabling them to electro-locate. Based on the animal world on the one hand and mythologies of electromagnetic phenomena on the other, the final exhibition was dedicated to the artistic examination of human and non-human sensory perception of electromagnetic radiation. The presented works by Susanna Hertrich and Jonathon Keats used speculative approaches and thought experiments as a starting point for explorations of sensory relationships to human-made electromagnetic environments. The exhibition invited visitors to think about the possibilities and limits of bodily and sensory perception, and also what non-anthropogenic technological environments might look like:
The exhibition displayed a selection of plans and models developed by Jonathon Keats for representative innovations that take into account the fact that the flight paths of birds and insects (such as butterflies) have evolved over eons and are tuned to their biological needs. However, their flyway maps are rapidly becoming less important as ecosystems are altered by human-induced climate change; studies of species from mallards to cranes have shown that long-established breeding sites are increasingly inadequate. Equally devastating, radio signals and light pollution are increasingly disorienting birds and impairing their innate ability to orientate themselves. To ensure that birds and butterflies are in the right place at the right time and do not get lost, Jonathon Keats is developing speculative technologies to guide migratory birds and insects as they fly through the electromagnetic jungle of a big city like Berlin.
The works shown by Susanna Hertrich were created as part of her artistic exploration of the possibilities and limits of human sensory perception in relation to electromagnetic signals. Outside the light frequencies visible to the human eye, the worlds of signals beyond this part of the spectrum remain hidden to our sensory apparatus. In order to better understand the existence of these areas of the spectrum that are not perceptible to us and how they function, the term “aether” had long been used as an aid: In the natural sciences, it was theorised as a hypothetical substance and carrier medium for the propagation of electromagnetic waves, while on a philosophical and spiritual level it was understood as a »fifth element« – a massless, unchanging, eternal celestial substance that complements the four earthly elements. The aether thus represented a kind of mediating concept between technology, science and spirituality and the historical relationships between these concepts, all of which dealt in different ways with the limited possibilities of human sensory perception of electromagnetism. Inspired by the ideas of cybernetic systems theory, the works shown by Susanna Hertrich dealt in various ways with the limits of human sensory perception through the mythology of the ether and the aesthetics of antennae as gateways to higher spheres.
During an evening in the presence of both artists, they presented their works and approaches and entered into conversation with the audience.
Video documentation of the artist talk with Susanna Hertrich and Jonathon Keats as part of the exhibition »Un/apparent sensory perception«
Susanna Hertrich’s transmedia practice draws from our relationship to technology in an increasingly technologised sphere. It is the artist’s surreal imagining of a novel functionality of objects that operates as a link between reality and fiction. She exhibits internationally at Triennale Milano; HEK, Basel; HKW, Berlin; Boston Center for the Arts; Vienna Biennial; Vitra Design Museum; CAFA, Beijing; and many more. Her work has been funded by the Swiss National Science Foundation, Goethe Institute, Atelier Mondial, Berlin Senate and others. susannahertrich.com
Jonathon Keats is an artist, writer and experimental philosopher whose participatory thought experiments adapt methods from the sciences and the humanities to explore societal conditions and planetary futures. He is a research associate at the University of Arizona’s Desert Laboratory on Tumamoc Hill, a visiting scholar at San Jose State University’s CADRE Laboratory for New Media, a research fellow at the Highland Institute, a consulting philosopher at Earth Law Center, and an artist-in-residence at the SETI Institute, Flux Projects, UC San Francisco, and Hyundai.
Photos: Anke Phoebe Peters (1, 3, 4, 6, 8–11, 14–18) / Daniela Silvestrin (2, 5, 7, 12, 13)
»As optics are truly different from visual aesthetics, so are acoustics truly different from auditory aesthetics: a technical model for calculating selected, idealized physical effects must not be confused with a comprehensive understanding of sonic experiences and corporeal effects in humanoid aliens in a given material environment.«
As part of a concert evening at the Panke Culture club in Wedding, the artists Marta Zapparoli and Martin Howse each presented a new sound performance:
Marta Zapparoli’s practice is based on several years of research and recordings of natural radio phenomena; for the concert evening she presented the work »Interdimensional Generated Space«, a sound-light composition based on recent recordings of northern lights phenomena, which the artist had recorded herself using specially designed antennas. The performance combined these homemade recordings with crystal radio (the earliest type of radio in the form of simple radio receivers, named after the crystal detector as their most important component), lights, detectors and motors to simulate a technological audio-visual version of the Northern Lights in space. The research-intensive piece thus represented an attempt to achieve a unique sonic dialogue between the »natural« and »technological« worlds, a reflection on nature mimicked by technology in an anthropogenic age.
Martin Howse’s performance presented »The Final Session «, a performance for custom-built electronics, particles and burning matter, temperature/light sensors and lasers, centred on the decoding of earth and air signals through unpolished electrochemistry and manipulation of earth-bound electrons, air and light. »The Final Session« described a series of actions and incantations for contemporary divination, for nocturnal visions and for the incubation of dreams. Inspired by vapours, by smoke and fumes from industrial chimneys and rotting snakes, burning forests, pure piercing sounds and colours, the artist’s performance decoded earth and air signals through unadulterated electrochemistry and manipulation of earthbound electrons, air and light.
Sound sample/excerpt from the live performance »Interdimensional Generated Space« by Marta Zapparoli
Marta Zapparoli is an Italian sound artist, improviser, performer, and independent researcher based in Berlin. In recent years her work focussed on the intersection of the visible and the invisible aspects of physics, seeking to activate all the poetic and conceptual levels. She captures unique recordings of electromagnetic radiation coming from outer space, Natural Radio (VLF) and electro-smog, and radio wave communication from the technological world. The relation-connection- dialogue between nature and our technological world is a central theme in her work. Her main instruments are a variety of antennas, radio receivers, detectors, tape recorders, and band machines. Since 2003 she has been active in live performances, site- specific work, and improvisation. Among other projects she is a member of Splitter Orchester in Berlin. martazapparoli.klingt.org
Martin Howse is occupied with an investigation of the links between the earth (geophysical phenomena), software and the human psyche (psychogeophysics) through the construction of experimental situations (performance, laboratories, walks, and workshops), material art works and texts. From 1998 to 2005 Howse was director of ap, a software performance group working with electronic waste, pioneering an early approach to digital glitch. From 2007 to 2009 he hosted a regular workshop, micro-residency and salon series in Berlin. Howse has worked and collaborated on acclaimed projects and practices such as The Crystal World, Psychogeophysics, Earthboot, Sketches towards an Earth Computer and Dissolutions. He is the creator of the esoteric ERD modular synthesizer series, and founder of the Tiny Mining extractive community.
Photos: Anke Phoebe Peters (1–3, 5, 6, 8, 9 ) / Daniela Silvestrin (4, 7)
Accompanying the artistic interventions in public space, a mobile exhibition in the open hold of a Sprinter van served as a meeting point for the participants of the interventions as well as a starting point for conversations about the project and its contents with interested passers-by. The mobile exhibition consisted of several informative walls with pictures and short texts, quotes and literature references on the topic clusters »Mobile phone antennas & 5G«, »Electromagnetism«, »Concerns & protests: symptoms and phenomena of the infrastructural embedding of mobile phone communication« and »Artistic strategies: attempts to physically perceive electromagnetic radiation«.
In addition to pictures and information about the project and the series of events, the mobile exhibition also offered a small library with thematically compiled literature as well as various antenna and radiation protection objects.
Photos: Maria Silvano