Radius: A Sonic Lens

This was originally published on Sixty Inches From Center.

Art platforms that strive to break away from the traditional “white cube” frequently consist of a new kind of physical space transformed into a gallery-like setting. Using a radio broadcasting system, Radius transcends material space and creates an entirely new kind of art platform. Artists occupy the space for two weeks or one month like an on-air residency. Through their time on Radius, artists work with Director Jeff Kolar and Editor Meredith Kooi to schedule broadcasts that experiment with notions of sound.

This January marks Radius’s two-year anniversary. Since its conception, Radius has aired 34 episodes created by 71 individual artists and have released 144 broadcasts on their station 88.9-FM, which is roughly 25 hours of audio. They’ve had three special series, two FM re-broadcast networks (soon that will be three with an online station added to the mix), two exhibition installations, a booklet, a newsprint, and a live concert. In their two years Radius has been prolific to say the least.

Image from Episode 15 by Sarah Boothroyd

When I spoke to Jeff Kolar about Radius and the impact of using radio as an art platform he aptly emphasized the project’s unique public-awareness component. Radio is not only the entertainment unit of the past, but it is also a warning system used when there is a moment of public distress—an escaped prisoner or a tornado hurdling forward about to strike. You know the sound, the loud, twangy pitch that signals a warning. It’s chilling. With that in mind, consider Radius’s very first episode; Michael Woody presented a 09:16 minute long piece called Number Stations 1 and 2. (Number stations are described here but are more or less the radio space between the AM and FM dials.) On the Radius website Woody’s work is described as “a reflection of secrecy, control, and power.” Woody works in variety of art forms that include painting, photography, video, and sound. In Number Stations 1 and 2 there is a static background sprinkled with low double-beeps, and a man’s skewed voice is aired explaining what to do in the case of a bear attack. Alarming phrases are directed at the listener, such as, “Your face is exposed, you’re going to lose half of your face, it’s called degloving” and  “Spread your legs so that you don’t get rolled over by the bear.” It is a matter-of-fact discussion of mauling prevention. Imagine hearing that on the radio. The short description is replayed multiple times in a loop that only alters slightly.

Image from Episode 16 by Gregory Chatonsky

Some of the sound pieces on Radius have a more melodious tone. Episode 16, My Hard Drive is Experiencing Some Strange Noises by Paris native Gregory Chatonsky, is one of the more musical pieces on Radius.  According to the website, Chatonsky’s work “speaks to the relationship between technologies and affectivity, flows that define our time to create new forms of fiction.” At first it sounds like a far-off orchestra tuning its instruments for a performance. In the background there is a fast flap-like rhythm—the pulse of helicopter wings comes to mind. The layer of sound that guides this work calls to mind a bundle of electric sounds in a jar being gently shaken. This work sets a very specific tone. In this instance, the sounds repeat over and over again in a loop, but at first the recurrence is not noticeable.  It is not tiringly repetitive. Instead, the mellow pace and the subtle layers are allowed to unfold, to be gently pealed away and understood.

With its submission requirements, Radius offers a unique opportunity for its various types of artists and, simultaneously, a variety of entry points into the work for the audience. Along with the sound work, each artist that contributes work to Radius must offer a visual component and a written component. The visual component is an opportunity for non-visual artists to present their work in a new format. During our conversation, Kolar said that it is very interesting to watch the non-visual artists break the traditional rules of design that a trained visual artist might follow.

Image from Episode 25 by Nicolaj Kirisits and Klaus Filip et al.
Image from Episode 25 by Nicolaj Kirisits and Klaus Filip et al.

Though based in Chicago, Radius inadvertently became an international art platform. The small community of sound artists network and share artwork on blogs such as Disquiet, free103point9, Modisti, Networked Performance, Networked Music Review, Le Perce-oreilles, and Cultural Flow. Only a handful of the artists that have contributed to Radius are from Chicago. Episode 25, Cultural Morphing, was created by a group of twelve artists for a project in which the artists traveled by train from Vienna, Austria to Shanghai, China. At various points along the journey each artist stopped in a town and recorded sounds. The broadcast for Radius is the score from when the artists reconvened at a dinner in China and shared their sounds. The artwork is an image of the table at the meal. To mark transition through this work a voice, a type of Mrs. Garmin”,  interjects in each scene with what sounds like the name of a city. Sometimes the voice is clearly discernable, though not necessarily in English, and other times the voice is layered under other sounds. Between the Mrs. Garmin markers there are sounds of everyday life in the various stops between Vienna and Shanghai. Bells, horns, chopping, rhythms, traffic, muffled voices, chaos, and calm; none of the sounds seem like they are from a private space, yet they are an intimate invasion into public life, detecting and amplifying the sounds that we do not usually hear because our focus is elsewhere as we walk down a street. What kind of lens does this work provides for viewing culture? While listening it is difficult to distinguish between the plethora of lenses—artist’s lens, culture lens, city lens—they become so indistinguishable that they are muddled together. Not in an uninteresting way, but in a way that blurs the cultures into one heap of sounds and experiences.

Image from Episode 04 by Art of Failure

Throughout a good portion of this listening experience I stared at my computer screen—the place where I released this experience onto my ears with a click of a button. The moving component, the visualization of the sound wave, became an optical guide, map-like, for my listening experience. Consider the contours of the artists’ path compared to the contours of the sound each artist provides for the score. Radius uses the visualization of the sound wave as another entry point into the piece. In one way, it can be seen as a mapping device—making something non-visual visual.

Radius is usually based out of Chicago’s Pilsen neighborhood, with a roughly eight-block broadcasting radius, but the transmitter can be solar powered and therefore used anywhere. Last fall Radius participated in Home: Public or Private at 6018 North on the other side of Chicago. Out of the small smattering of works I experienced to write this piece, Episode 31, Joseph Kramer’s piece Porous Notion: Index Fragments and Interpretations, was the most challenging. The concept is fascinating and melds with the mission of the exhibition in which it was presented. That being said, stripped down to just the sound, not considering the concept, title, or imagery, the 30-minute piece demands a specific kind of focus and understanding. Through the duration of the piece incredibly minor variation become exciting and leave some listeners befuddled by their reaction. Navigating the nuances of Kramer’s sounds one becomes desperate for something to follow, to guide the listening experience. The work is incredibly subtle and nuanced. When I heard the piece at 6018 North I thought something was wrong with the transmitter, but it was, in fact, playing properly.

Image from Episode 13 by Mutant Beatniks

When you visit Radius’s website you will notice that the entire site has been designed in black and white. This was not only an aesthetic choice but also a conscious parallel to the radio format. Kolar explained to me that the FM spectrum, in which Radius is broadcasted, is a mono signal opposed to stereo. A stereo file would be played from two channels, the left and right, to mimic the stereo field, but Radius’s FM broadcast cannot reproduce stereo audio signals so the sound is in mono format. The visual equivalent to that is taking away color–hence the black and white.

Though Radius offers a variety of entry points into each piece, Kolar emphasizes the importance of hearing the work in the way it is originally intended—in the eight-block radius on the radio. This month there are five broadcasts of Episode 35, Hugo Paquete’s Radial Transference. Click here to view details about that and Radius’s upcoming broadcasts and events.

All images are courtesy of Radius.

Red Gate Reunion Series 2012: Jon Hewitt

Jon Hewitt, wanker at BUS Projects, 2012

With charm and wit Jon Hewitt creates artwork that constantly challenges the very thing it is. No matter the medium, making art is a performance (see  images from Jon’s performance i am a serious artist here). He approaches the subject matter with dry comedy that is concise and is a clear catalyst that allows people to think about larger questions.

Jon Hewitt, all the artists in a book about art, 2009

To examine the social constructions and expectations surrounding artists and their work, Jon draws from other artists of previous generations. In his performance,  i am a serious artist, Jon visually references artist Keith Arnatt’s work. For the image pictured above Jon leafed through a conceptual art book and wrote down artists’ names and Jon’s gut reaction to the name be it complimentary or blasphemous. In feel the confidence, edition of 1,731,752,234, the piece some of you may recognize from my living room, the top of a blad head (presumably Jon’s) is repeated in a grid 42 times and below each repetition is the first initial and last name of bald artists such as p. picasso, m. duchamp, j. hewitt, and a. warhol. Jon places himself among the masters. In Art History there is a pattern of borrowing and/or rejecting. Each movement intentionally of inadvertently  looks at what those before did and either learns from it and pushes the ideas further or completely rejects it. Jon enters the conversation from a different angle using the artists and the social culture surrounding them as material to create his work.

Jon Hewitt at BUS Projects in 2012

As with Adrienne Romine and Britt Salt, I asked Jon the magic question. In response, Jon composed a short, eloquent essay. I now leave you with his words:

“what would i do in my creative practice if money or time was not an issue…

my first reaction is i would make big stuff. massive stuff. for no other reason than bigger is better, isn’t it?! and isn’t that what people do, get recognised, get some money, make bigger stuff, anish kapoor, antony gormley, damien hirst

kapoor n gormley work much more in the public realm, the commissions get larger, the space’s bigger, hence the work bigger. hirst is more grotesque, which i sometimes like.

i’ve always wanted to make a giant cigarette lighter. again no reason. just cos big is better. its funnier. more ridculous, absurd. i like that.

secondly, i would drink more. i would go to more parties, i’d buy nice clothes, i’d get hair replacement treatment, i’d drink fancy cocktails in bars where i can’t pronounce the name of the drink, the bar, bartender or the music they’re playing. and i’d think i was awesome.

in all honesty, i think i would panic. i have no concept of not worrying about time and especially money. maybe its that concern, opposition, frustration that drives me on, keeps me trying new things, being willing to make a fool of myself, make the art i want to.

given all the time and money in the world i would not be surprised if i made dull, mediocre, pointless art that was owned and showed by dull, mediocre, pointless people.

life is easy. if lacking time and money is going to make me work harder, then good. if its going make me angry, frustrated and stunted. brilliant. i need to create myself an opposition. having no time n money is all we have left. bring on no money and no time!

having said that. bollocks. thats all bollocks. wank. i’d love some money. and some time. i could buy good paints, proper equipment, a bigger studio. i wouldn’t have to work full-time in a job i hate. it would be bliss. and i’d grab the chance so hard with two  hands, i’d probably have less time and money than i do now cos i spent it all on art making!”

-Jon Hewitt

Jon, thank you for your fresh honesty and humor. Other than asking you to add a trip to Chicago somewhere between the fancy cocktails and nice paint, I couldn’t agree more.

I appreciate Jon’s dissection of his reaction the the question. In a sense, his essay is reminiscent of a 12-step program or the stages of mourning. They aren’t mirrors of one another but the end result of acceptance is the same. That being said, I think Jon will do anything but simply accept.

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Visit Jon Hewitt’s Website!

Also find his work with Britt Salt on the Trans-Siberian Art Centre.

If you’d like to read other Red Gate Reunion Series posts click here!

Red Gate Reunion Series 2012: Britt Salt

During residency, each day as I passed through the foyer I shared with Britt Salt and Jon Hewitt, I watched Britt’s installation, Neither-Nor, Nearly Not-quite, grow from a few strips of black tape seemingly tossed onto the grubby studio wall into an enormous all consuming work of art. The work filled less than one-quarter of the large warehouse-style studio space’s walls and floor but the hypnotic quality of the rigid and inharmonious patches of black and white stripes did not allow anyone to pass without being drawn in.

Britt Salt, Neither-Nor, Nearly Not-quite, 2011, BG3 Beijing

Work that is methodic in construction becomes meditative in experience (Gyun Hur and Wolfgang Laib come to mind). Encountering the work one feels their eyes loosing focus, becoming swallowed in an optical illusion. White wall and the gray floor, covered with the same black stripes, become an incongruous reflection. The stripes transformed the gray floor into a seeming pool of smooth, shiny, water, reflecting the elegant dissonance above.

I tell you tales of the past only to guide you into the present. When I contacted Britt for the Reunion Series she immediately sent me photos of some projects from the last year. Partially due to nostalgia, I was most enticed by Britt’s installation Puzzlethèque in the group exhibition Symphonic Encounters at Linden Center for Contemporary Arts near Melbourne, Australia. Puzzlethèque shows Britt’s ability to morph between spaces and embrace the surroundings with her distinct aesthetic.

Britt Salt, Puzzlethèque, 2012, Linden Center for Contemporary Arts

Consider the two spaces I’m highlighting: BG3 is a warehouse-like live-in artist studio, a bit suburban with a rustic twist, on the other hand, Linden Center for Contemporary Arts is a pristine art center with modern architecture and clean lines. At Linden, Britt’s stripes crawl up the walls and onto the vaulted ceiling.

Britt’s three-dimensional shapes inserted into a cacophony of stripes reflect the environments in which they exist. At BG3 a tumbleweed-like mesh bundle rolled around grounded to the floor, light and easily moveable. At Linden, Britt installed large, perfectly symmetrical, stripped balls, suspended from the ceiling, refusing to touch down, creating an obstacle for passersby.

Detail of Puzzlethèque

Inline with my interview with Adrienne Romine, I asked Britt what she would do if she had unlimited funds for her art practice, “The prospect of no financial or time constraints seems like a blissful proposal. Though I can’t imagine if it would impact on my practice. I think I’d still be making the same work I am now to be honest. Perhaps I’d be travelling a lot more than I am now. Lots of ‘Self-directed Residencies’. Heading to Morocco, South of Spain, South America, Greenland in search of interesting spaces and architecture. It would be an amazing experience that could definitely influence my practice.”

“I don’t think more time and money would result in me having a better, more fulfilled practice. Only in the sense that I think I develop ideas at quite a slow and bubbling rate, and when you need to make a work, you just have to make it, you find a way, become resourceful.”

She continues, “Needless to say, I like a challenge, and I love the feeling of relaxed contentment when the stresses and deadlines of creating something dissipate once its finished!”

Britt hits a point that is important to many art practices; creativity does not come from unlimited resources. Creativity comes from a ravenous need to make and resourcefulness (for example, Jackson Pollock’s use of house paint). Britt summarizes this sentiment beautifully,

“When I have money, I need to spend it, double it, use it.
When I have no money, all that’s left to do is work.
My practice fits in the later!”

Thank you, Britt!

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To view Britt Salt’s other projects and artwork visit: Britt’s Website

On their way to Red Gate Gallery Residency, Britt and Jon Hewitt, (who is up next in the Reunion Series) curated the Tran-Siberian Art Centre. A fantastic project you should visit.

Red Gate Reunion Series 2012: Adrienne Romine

I met Adrienne Romine at the Beijing Capital International Airport. We arrived on the same flight from the States. From the airport onward we were next to inseparable for our month in Beijing. Based on my experience last June, in a few words I would describe Adrienne’s paintings as realistic renditions of the everyday twisted into a subtly surreal landscape (click here to view these paintings). Adrienne arrived in Beijing with a pile of 20+ sheets of pre-gessoed paper, ready to rock our one month in residency (which she did).

Adrienne Romine, Untitled, Acrylic, 24 x 36 in.

One year later, when I emailed Adrienne about the Reunion Series, she responded quickly and shared that her work had changed course. Adrienne, my talented painter friend, is shifting gears and moving into furniture making. After residency Adrienne became part of the Anthropologie display team. There she started to work with wood on a regular basis and realized how much she enjoys it.

Adrienne’s made her first furniture piece while pursuing her BFA at University of Central Florida. The Staircase/Bookshelf was in the 2011 Readymade 100 contest and made it to the top 25. Adrienne calls it “a wonderful thing born out of necessity.” Recently, at Anthropologie, Adrienne built an entire bed and headboard with a side table.

Adrienne Romine, Entry in 2011 Readymade 100

Adrienne describes the process of making a work from wood as, “something that is frustrating and also really exciting [because the] wood is in constant motion, it’s constantly expanding and contracting.” When considering a design, the design can be as meticulous as possible but, “…[wood] is completely organic and is going to change on you. It’s that little margin of nature that can throw off your whole project. It’s an added challenge…that understanding comes with time.”

Adrienne has a woodshop at home waiting for her in her brother’s backyard. The tools she purchased the fill the shop she found serendipitously on Craigslist. Their previous owner recently passed away on his  65th wedding anniversary. Over the last 30 years he made toys for toys for Toys For Tots. His widow advertised the tools and had many interested people but she wanted the tools to stay together and go to a special home. She liked Adrienne’s story and decided to sell the equipment to her. When Adrienne went to pick-up the equiptment the woman gave Adrienne the last toy her husband made before he passed away. Adrienne’s first project in her new wood shop is to make something for the woman.

“I find myself drawn to great dinner tables. I just love tables. I love envisioning eight people around just sharing a meal.” –Adrienne Romine

At the end of our conversation I asked Adrienne what her “money doesn’t matter” dream is right now. She immediately said, “I would have a shop with central AC.” After she had a few more moments to think Adrienne spoke of having the equipment (such as a truck), time and money to work with more exotic material such as zebra wood and  reclaimed materials like bowling ally floors  (similar to the collective District Millworks). She would also get an MFA at RISD for Furniture Design. I have no doubt all of those things will happen and most likely sooner than she thinks!

Some furniture that inspires Adrienne: District Millworks and Design Milk, and Wharton Esherick, a fellow painter gone furniture/sculptor.

Red Gate Reunion Series 2012: Crystal Ruth Bell

Last June I spent in Beijing, China as artist and scholar in residence at Red Gate Gallery Artist Residency. Over the next few weeks I will host a reunion series to give you a taste of what some of my colleagues have been doing over the last year. I thought it would be fitting so begin the series with the lovely former Red Gate Gallery Artist Residency Director, Crystal Ruth Bell. 

Crystal Ruth Bell, Cupcake ExchangeImage from Crystal’s Blog. 

Crystal Ruth Bell oozes with creativity and positive energy. I could do an entire blog series on her various endeavors in the creative world–I highly recommend you visit her website. Since finishing her time at Red Gate, Crystal is back in the States but her hands are still deep in the artworld in China. One of her most recent project is organizing the soon to be launched China Artist Residency Network. For this segment of the Reunion Series I ask Crystal a few questions about the network.

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Kate Korroch: What inspired China Artist Residency Network?  How long have you been working on it? Who else is working on this project? Is it getting any outside funding? 

Crystal Ruth Bell: China Artist Residency Network is a response to unmet needs that came up during my conversations with artists and other program managers in China. The project has been in conversation for some time now and really gathered some momentum last year when the Australian embassy in Beijing granted us funding for the website to be coded and built out. Since then a board of experienced industry professionals has gathered around the project and we are applying for 501c3 status in the USA as a platform for further fundraising and grant applications.

KK: Are there any models you are basing this one on in other countries or regions of the world? 

CRB: There are a handful of excellent residency networks like ResArtis and the Alliance of Artists Communities, but this will be the first that will focus soley on the specific challenges that China faces. Unlike some of the other networks ChinaRes will not be member exclusive so that any artist or residency program can participate and be listed without the pressure of financial contribution. Because of social media limitations on the mainland the website will offer networking opportunities for artists interested in connecting with other visiting or expat artists to foster community and collaboration.

KK: What stemmed your interest in China in the first place? Why China?

CRB: I was really interested by some of the contemporary art coming out China and the idea that the country was bridging their creative practice from a rich long history but over the barren period of the Cultural Revolution. I actually moved to Beijing with only a little Chinese, and short stint at a Chinese contemporary art gallery in NYC and no experience in the country and fell in love with the chaos and opportunity that the city fosters. The rest I figured out as a went along.

KK: The website design is fantastic, did you do it? When will it officially launch?

CRB: Thanks for the compliment! Yes, I volunteered the design of the site and it was coded by Drupal master and Beijing native Andy Hu. Its currently in Beta testing as we tweak changes. In the mean time we are looking towards a research trip in autumn to cement partnerships and gather content towards an end-of-year launch.

KK: Is it predominately for foreigners or Chinese?

CRB: The resources are open to anyone but will be most advantageous for visiting artists since they tend to need the most support finding the right program, networking, and sourcing materials. The hope is that these resources will alleviate some of the pressure on the individual local programs, especially the smaller ones, to provide all of this information themselves on a small staff and small budget.

KK: Roughly how many residencies will  be in the network? What are the requirements? 

CRB: The program is open to whatever programs would like to list on the site. The hope is that even closed network programs would participate so the site can also act as a “mapping” project about the state of the residency practice in China, and will be the only site with a complete listing of all the programs. I am aware of over 50 programs functioning right now in the country.

KK: Switching gears a bit, can you tell me a bit about your art practice and your experience at the residency in Nebraska?

CRB: I had the opportunity to spend October on a farm in Nebraska with a program called Art Farm. The program is run by a soft spoken older gentleman with an alarmingly robust vocabulary named Ed Dadey. Ed has a nack for picking interesting artists to stay as work/create residents on the giant prairie expanse populated by old car parts, wood, sculptures and buildings he’s collected over the years. We spent our work contributions doing anything from roofing to stapling plastic to our $300 Victorian house that was moved there on the back of a semi trailer. [Images of Art Farm.]

I came to the program both as an artist and an arts administrator and used a large chuck of my time developing strategies for ChinaRes but also had the opportunity to collaborate with a video-performance group from Brooklyn. I helped shoot an episode for their web series Other People and collaborated with playwright and actress Delaney Britt Brewer in a Pop-up Dumpling Diner which we ran from a gazebo in the middle of the prairie.

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Until the official launch, the best way to stay up to date on China Artist Residency Network is their Facebook Page. Click here to join! 

Crystal, thank you so much for being the inaugural participant of the Reunion Series! Your work is truly inspiring, I look forward to hearing more about ChinaRes and your other fantastic projects!