On spectres?

The understanding of what is called art is always connected to its socio-cultural, political and temporal context. Media art has been developing different forms and branches in the last decades, where some might follow a more traditional path — still understanding art as the object that is the result of an artistic procedure and is finished in a final form. And there are more experimental forms that are grounded in the communication structures and in a procesuality, without which the artistic concept does not exist.

Understanding a work as artistic work needs a common ground of agreement on appearance, methods of production and presentation. It has to be “readable”, interpretable, contextualizable in one's own set of knowledges, and in one's experiences with art. This is a constantly changing and fluctuating situation, that is mostly dependent on individual histories, and especially challenges new projects and therefore artists working in new field and in new combinations of themes and technologies.

In her project "spectres?", the artist Audrey Samson chooses to combine a well known, established technology that has made its way to Western Society households and further already quite a while ago. The Radio. It is so much daily life connected that its presence and its usage on first sight don't challenge any perception — in the sense that "we all" know how to use it. "We" know, one has to switch it on, and it should produce some audible material. If it doesn't, "we" know that we have to turn the tuning wheel to find a signal. Well, that is even too technically thought — but even if "we" do not have the knowledge technical, we know that this is how it works. So, the interaction with the machinery present happens on a very intuitive basis. That makes it very smooth to approach the installation. The fact that the radio transmitters are actually in the same space, is still not relevant to the visitor, as the basic principle of the radio has not been changed.

Only, when one starts listening to what the voices on the radio are talking about, a shift towards something unfamiliar with radio, the first public broadcasting medium, happens. They are very personal stories. They speak, each of them, uninterrupted. And one can hear/feel that the words they are pronouncing, are not part of a script. There is no "directed by...", it is them, each of them individually, telling a story.

There, we have the first stronger break with normativity, used in average radio. There is another space opening up. On the basis of a formal understanding of how radio is perceived (and produced).

Listening to the stories of the individuals, we have the second strong break, the topic. Each of them speaks about the loss of a close person. This is a very intimate space. And by combining this private space, that "we" all know, as we share the experience of loss, with the radio space, that we also all know, there is a third, there are other spaces opening. They emerge as combinations of these two spaces, and potentially there also open up "others", which again are individual, as each of the listeners creates his/her own variation.

"spectres?" achieves to create this situation of potentiality by combining these different spaces in a condensed and compressed way, as installation, by a smart and focused usage on technology. The voices of the individuals at the same time remain individuals and are not instrumentalized into any common message about death, but keep their voice. The fragility of the stories remains with the story tellers, and yet, many diverse questions can develop out of this piece, about the role of death, the presence/disappearance of public mourning, the agreements about what is publicized in broadcasting media, how accessible are these media to one's own production. The fact that in most countries, the ownership alone of a transmitter is illegal, stages a certain political attitude of control. Still, the usage of radio transmission in this project is essential.

So, "spectres?" is on many levels a political and poetical media art piece.

Reni Hofmüller
- founding member and artistic director of ESC im LABOR
April 20th, 2009