Give Our Regards To the Atomsmashers
Transmission Arts: Artists & Airwaves
by Galen Joseph-Hunter, Penny Duff, and Maria Papadomanolaki, Editors
PAJ Publications, New York, 2011
200 pp., illus. 254 b/w. Trade, $19.55
Reviewed by John F. Barber
The Creative Media & Digital Culture
Washington State University Vancouver
Transmission arts encompasses performance, video art, theater, sound art, radio art, media installation, networked art, and acoustic ecology in a multiplicity of practices that engage aural and video broadcast media in an intermedia framework where the relationship(s) between artist and audience, transmitter and receiver, can be redefined, along with the telecommunications airwaves as the site for this practice.
Transmission, the wireless sending and receiving of electric signals via electromagnetic waves, is central to transmission arts where artists and practitioners seek a more expansive and demystified site for their creative practices derived through do-it-yourself, hands-on relationships with transmission technology, content sources, and public and artistic access to the transmission spectrum. As an art genre, transmission arts is grounded in the transmission-based projects of Futurism, Hörpiel and radio theater, post-war electronic music, Fluxus and Happenings, early video collective projects, and telecommunications arts. Current communications technology, networking, and activism drive contemporary development.
With such a broad palette, acquiring an overview of the persons and practices associated with transmission arts can be difficult. To address this problem Transmission Arts: Artists & Airwaves provides a genealogy of 150 artists and their artworks, from 1921 to present, documenting their ingenuity and creativity, as well as their discoveries in broadcast, pubic works, performance composition, sound, and text representing alternate worlds on the electromagnetic spectrum. The artists and works included in this volume are not exhaustive, but rather provide an accessible touchstone for understanding and appreciating this new art genre.
Transmission Arts is arranged into four sections by mode of presentation: performance and composition; installation; broadcast; and public works, networks, and tools. Biographical backgrounds are provided for each selected artist, as well as a discussion of their seminal work(s). A chronology of works and an extensive bibliography are also provided.
Several of the artists represented in each section are well known: William Basinski, John Cage, Matthew Burtner, Negativeland, Marshall McLuhan, Velimir Khlebnikov, Eduardo Kac, Tetsuo Kogawa, Orson Welles, Nam June Paik, and Pierre Schaeffer, for example. Others are less known, and therefore interesting and inspiring.
Together, these 150 transmission artists and their works form the foundation for a larger Transmission Art Archive under the guidance of free103point9, a nonprofit organization focused on cultivating and defining the transmission art genre. In addition to the more traditional linear works made for radio dissemination, 103point9 supports creative, multifaceted, and interdisciplinary works across the full radio spectrum in its broadest definition. The free103point9 Transmission Art Archive is accessible at www.transmissionarts.org where sound, video, and image files for many of the artists can be enjoyed.
From the earliest experiments with radio, to current-day web or mobile-based platforms, transmission art is enlivened by technology, not beholden. The artists and their work featured in Transmission Arts: Artists & Airwaves provide an excellent and accessible introduction.