Review of Re-Inventing Radio – Aspects of Radio as Art

On: September 15, 2009
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About Charlotte van Brakel
My name is Charlotte van Brakel. I'm a 23 year old student at the University of Amsterdam where I currently participate the master of New Media studies. Before that I studied 'Kunsten, cultuur en Media' at the 'Rijksuniversiteit Groningen'. It took me 5 years to get my bachelors degree because I attended a lot of extra activities next to my classes. I was among other things a member of the board of the cultural studentorganisation of the university in Groningen which is similar to CREA in Amsterdam and I also founded and organized the music festival 'Preipop' for three years.


The conference ‘100 years of radio’ in 2006 which was an collaboration between the Ludwig Botzmann Institute Media.Art.Research, Linz, Austria and Kunstradio became a key point of departure for the realization of the book where media theory, art history and the practice of international artists interlink. This book can thereby be seen as a catalogue.

There is no unified history of radio art. The main reason for this is that a common future of many technological discourses lack historical consciousness. This book explores a radio art “whose roots outside an institutionalized ars acoustica were somewhat obscured in the sixties and seventies by the modernist division of communications art into seperate and seperately discussed specific entities”.

The book contains 45 articles which are all related to radio art. Some of them are written of a historical point of view, some of them are quite technical and other articles are written by radio artists or describe radio art projects (like kunstradio). I enjoyed reading the book although I didn’t had enough time to read it throrougly. Because the goal of the book is to inform the readers about the phenomenom of radio art in various ways it is not easy to write a summary. Therefore I collected statements and sentences of the articles which I use to give you all a general idea of the topics discusses in the book and the phenomenom radio art itself.

There are different definitions described in the book about the content of the concept of re-invention. Three of them are mentioned below. These definitions give you a little more information about the topics that are used in radio art.

  • “To rethink, reconceptualise, and revive the radio medium as an archive, thinking and engaged medium.” (Gilfillan)

  • “Revisiting and reimagining trailing edge or ‘residual’ technologies such as terestial radio.” (Fritz)

  • “Deconstructing ‘casting’ in both broad- and narrowcasting by reminding us that radio is ‘not’ only a mediaform but also a phenomenom of radiation and resonance.” (Kogawa)

Radio is often only seen as a medium to transmit music and information to people. The goal of radio artists described by Iges is that they “try to interfere with the standardized and therefore nearly always too predictable broadcast schedule by endowing the content of their projects with greater capacity to alienate. The whole of radio art constitutes an interference in that medium.” (Iges)

Gilfillan reacts further on this matter by saying that “radio art not only interferes with the broadcast schedule, but also creates a temporary autonomous zone of performance and dialogue”. This is interesting because a lot of the authors in the book discuss the topics of censorship and politics in relation to communication by internet and radio:

Demonstrate the power of networked radio space in opening up lines of communication and collaboration between artists to circumvent traditional modes of radio broadcasting and bypass regulations seeking to limit access to networks within the global teleconnumications infrastructure. The freedom to move information within these networks, but not to move or create knowledge, maintains them solely for the economic structures of globalisation. The projects opens these channels as a temporary autonomous zone of performance and dialogue.” (Gilfillan)

Although the book is about radio art, the internet is a lot discussed topic. The internet is hereby often discussed in relation to the concept of communication and how this can be related to radio art itself and the creation of groups who make it. Nevertheless they have a lot critique on the use of the Internet and on the passive nature of humans. A lot of artists like to make interactive projects, but people don’t want to do anything but getting entertained:

Many artists realised that the Internet is not so much being used as the medium of exchange and communication as it is explored as a medium of distribution. The utopian idea of using the internet as a dynamic continious social environment hasn’t been realised.” (Couy)

I would claim that the (linked) comuter is not so much a machine that seves to establish dialogue with others as an apparatus that facilitates autistic monologues. The problem is that people don’t want to be active, they want to be entertained passively.” (Auer)

The last couple of articles of the book handle about the nature of radio and radiation. Artists try to reveal the underlying forces that make the transmission of radio possible. They describe natural phenomenoms such as the aurora and how they can make it into art. They also try to make people listen to the interference that is all around us but nobody ever hears:

What the work of radio art reveals is the struggle to reveal what is already there.” (Milutis)

So it is clear that the book contains all sorts of different approaches to the phenomenom Radio Art. I especially liked to read about the projects described by the artists themselves because I found it at first hard to imagine how the ideas that are mentioned in the book would come to expression. Because I’m not really into the real experimental artforms I found it sometimes hard to understand why people would do certain things. A good example of this is the registration of the route that Bechtold followed during the opening hours of the Austrian Exhibition at the Demarco Gallery in Edingburgh in 1973. He communicated his location to a person with a map by using a walkietalkie. I understand that it is radio art because it involves a radio, but I find it very difficult to see this as an interesting project and that people could like this and I also don’t really understand why it is art. Nevertheless I liked the idea of using radio to make art and I found the different approaches to use this medium to do so very interesting. Before I read the book I didn’t knew anything about radio art so it was very interesting to explore all the characteristics of it. The book gives a clear and variated glance on the phenomenom radio art and I advise everyone to read it.

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