“Active Interference” by Emily Wilkerson
Sound, instead of being a series of inadequate clues from an unlit world, becomes a medium that opens onto and generates a world and, as a part of this world-generation, enjoys interaction and conjunction with the other senses.
—Clive Cazeaux, 2005 (1)
Los Angeles is home to more than twelve million people, each one carrying a distinct way of perceiving his or her surroundings. On a daily basis, individuals are exposed to a variety of sights and sounds that act as signals (such as a phone ringing, a friend, an advertisement, or green light), prompting a multitude of reactions (stopping, smiling, remembering, or moving). The individual perceptions formed from these signals and reactions compose the topography of the city. Working from a field that prioritizes the visual, Radio Break first and foremost responds to the tendency to show art in a gallery to a predetermined audience as an exhibition platform—the dispersed nature of the radio wave was the foundational impetus for this exhibition. Moving art into public space via the radio wave, this exhibition questions the fixed ideas of the display and reception of artworks, challenging the artists participating, the curatorial team, and the receivers. Reaching into infinite space, mysteriously moving in and out of audible reach, and allowing for the participant to form his or her own visualization and reaction, the radio wave’s intangible nature and relationship to space questions both perception and reception.
More than just listen, Radio Break invites, or more so requires, its audience to intervene. Encountering any one of the twelve artworks in this exhibition as a listener, one meets the works in a full experience with the body. As the radio waves travel around and through the body, a participant might even stop the transmission or alter the experience of it for others. Simultaneously, there is a component of reception that is a purely subjective experience, with works triggering specific actions, emotions, and memories in each participant, simultaneously allowing the imagination to wander.
The body’s interaction with a medium as a means of making art is a strategy that was extensively explored throughout the twentieth-century avant-garde, with artists employing their own bodies as well as others in their work. At times, this intersection of the body and medium has created an experience for the artist primarily and the audience secondarily. For example, we can turn to works by Kazuo Shiraga, a member of the Japanese avant-garde group Gutai Bijutsu Kyôkai, in which the artist would use his feet, hands, nails, or entire body in place of a paintbrush or tool. This physical interaction has also been transformed into processes developed by the artist for the audience member to activate the work through his, her, or their presence—consider works organized by artists such as Suzanne Lacy that are developed through direct participation of community members. In many ways, both of these types of interactions counter the traditional artwork-viewer relationship as well as the traditional process of creating artworks. Interfering with long-standing boundaries of the artist’s and artwork’s role within the studio or gallery and the work’s association with the audience, viewer, or participant, this experimentation created space in the realm of fine art for radio art and noise art, as well as spaces and moments to experience sound, noise, radio, and narrative. Radio Break is not the first exhibition focused on sound or the specific medium of radio; rather, the projects presented during this exhibition are tied to the complex history of sound works, one that includes their relationship to the art sphere, their similarities and differences with visual art, and their position vis a vis the receiver.
Writer and theorist Clive Cazeaux argued that sound, distinct from the purely visual, allows one to tune into the surrounding world by provoking the interaction of multiple senses; sound allows one to create one’s own mental vision and to consider the signals it ignites within our individual perceptions of the world. The reaction that a particular sound may trigger for one individual—a memory, visual image, or emotion—may be completely different for another. Sounds allow us to understand our surroundings, remember situations, or call on us to act. Phenomenologically speaking, some of the Radio Break broadcasts will affect individuals directly, allowing memories to surface, while for others they will create new experiences. Each work addresses the conscious and unconscious of perceivers, who physically encounter the sound waves in order to receive the work. In the words of the Gutai—of which many members used the body to cultivate a spiritual and sensual interaction between the artist, the viewer, and the artwork—this exhibition “brings [the material] to life,” calling “forth a tremendous scream in the material itself.” (2)
Radio Break invites participants to interfere with the radio waves, the artworks, and their surroundings, challenging the boundaries of art reception, the art sphere, the everyday, and the imagination.
The projects in Radio Break create spaces for reflection and experience, allowing for different ways of perceiving and receiving the surrounding world. While the New York subway sounds of Alyce Santoro’s Between Stations allows participants to contemplate city sounds while situated inside a major Los Angeles transportation hub (amid echoing announcements of trains departing for Houston, Lake Charles, New Orleans, Chicago), Vanessa Place’s Full Audio Transcripts employs audio tapes from September 11, 2001, prompting a reexamination of the emotions many experienced on that day. Other works in Radio Break comment on or contain elements of everyday life—from the voices of those present in Los Angeles and beyond (as in Brandon LaBelle’s The Echo Project, Pedro Reyes’s VMR: Voice Mail Radio, Arnoldo Vargas’s Triggermomentry and the Cartography of Sound, and Lincoln Tobier’s The Orchestra Pit Theory by Roger Ailes), to stories from and reports on individuals in the city (such as Elana Mann’s People’s Microphony Camerata, Brendan Threadgill’s Incident Reports 2007–2012 (MacArthur Park Homicides), and 2 Headed Dog’s Clowntown City Limits), and musical preludes or vocal commentary concocted from inspiration from the city (such as Lucy Raven’s Con Air 2, David Schafer’s Cage Mix: Static Age, and Richard T. Walker’s between distance and a mountain). The exhibition occupies an existing medium, bringing to surface sounds, memories, and narratives that were often already present for new examination. Through continuous, intermittent, and live broadcasts, the varying structure of Radio Break as an exhibition offers multiple ways for individuals to interfere and experience these artworks and the medium.
1 Clive Cazeaux,“Phenomenology and Radio Drama,” British Journal of Aesthetics 45, no. 2 (April 2005): 173.
2 The Gutai group ignited their works of art—utilizing sound, performance, and painting, among other outlets of creation—through interaction, often creating a multisensory experience for both the artist and the participant or audience. See Jiro Yoshihara, “Gutai Manifesto,” in Art in Theory, 1900–2000: An Anthology of Changing Ideas, ed. Charles Harrison and Paul Wood (Malden, Mass.: Blackwell Publishing, 2003), 700–01.