Over the weekend the public art exhibition Radio Break opened in Los Angeles. Curated by 9 University of Southern California (USC) graduate students, the performances in this exhibit all utilize low power radio transmissions.
Last weekend performances and transmissions took place in downtown and East L.A. and this weekend they will occur in Hollywood and West Hollywood. In addition to scheduled weekend performances, there will also be ongoing broadcasts at several galleries through April 27 as well as a listening station for all of the projects at ForYourArt from April 22 to April 27.
Performances embrace a variety of radio and transmission-related themes and source material, ranging from radio drama to voice mail to homicide incident reports to radio communications during the September 11, 2001 attacks (“Full Audio Transcripts“). Viewers will be able to “tune” in to audio from the exhibits using portable radios.
Curated by Gladys-Katherina Hernando, Zachary Kaplan, Sarah Loyer, Ilana Milch, Evelena Ruether, Megan Sallabedra, Jackie Von Treskow, Adrienne White, and Emily Wilkerson, the exhibit is a project of the USC Roski School of Fine Arts MA Art and Curatorial Practices in the Public Sphere Program, class of 2012. I spoke with Adrienne White and several of her co-curators about how this project came into being and to learn more about how they are utilizing low power radio to broadcast each performance.
Jennifer Waits: What was the inspiration behind the use of low power radio transmissions for this exhibit?
Adrienne White: My co-curators and I were hoping to reach a different kind of audience with Radio Break, so we looked beyond an exhibition of visual works in a space whose audience is predetermined—an art gallery or museum. One source of inspiration behind our use of low power radio was Los Angeles itself.
Even though television and now the Internet have outmoded radio as the dominant electronic mass media forms, many Angelenos continue to interact with radio on a daily basis. Their interaction with radio, however, is of a highly segmented, drive-time listener type. The artists and organizers behind Radio Break are interested in moving art outside, into public space and into a medium which is widely available, invites imaginative engagement, and has an in-depth cultural history of its own.
We specifically chose low power broadcasting as a means of exploring the very limits (FCC-imposed and otherwise) of this potentially democratic medium.
Waits: How will the low power radio transmissions be accomplished?
White: The transmissions [will occur]… at multiple sites throughout the city of Los Angeles (a way-finding map can be picked up at any of our locations, or found at radio-break.com). We invite our audience to bring their own radios, and we also have a limited supply of mini FM radios available. Frequencies vary according to site but will be posted each day in the immediate area, as well as on our Facebook page and Twitter feed.
Waits: Are any of the artists involved with radio?
White: While some of the artists in Radio Break are working with radio for the first time, Brandon LaBelle, Brendan Threadgill, and Lincoln Tobier have all used radio in their practice—usually low power, community radio. With Radio L’dA (2002), Lincoln Tobier set up a low power station in Aubervilliers, northeast of Paris, and invited local residents to produce half hour radio programs.
Waits: Can you give me some more details about Voice Mail Radio (which took place on April 15)?
Emily Wilkerson: Beginning the project with Pedro Reyes, he was most interested in tapping into the medium’s history as a register of information, and creating a project that highlighted the archival nature of radio…VMR signals a continued interest in the public’s intrigue regarding others’ private lives.
Reyes’ work often relies on a community’s engagement to complete the work, and this project proved to be no different. Originally, the project began in a nostalgic effort to gather old voice message tapes, but shifted to an interactive approach in which individuals could submit messages for the project. Many of the messages were saved by individuals who were excited to do something with these (often personal) pieces of history and the present –it has been really interesting to see and hear them accumulate, consider why they were saved and what they mean to the person for whom they were left.
Waits: Tell me a bit about the “radio play” being presented by 2 Headed Dog on April 21.
Ilana Milch: 2 Headed Dog is a Los Angeles based comedy troupe featuring Dave “Gruber” Allen, Mark Fite, and Jim Turner. All originally from the Midwest, these actor/writer/comedians migrated to the coast and have created a long roster of offbeat characters and original comedy for over 20 years. Working in the theatrical lineage of Ionesco and Andy Kaufman, their absurdist comedy unravels from familiar situations and quickly devolves into nonsense and confusion.
Clowntown City Limits is a bombastic, darkly humorous play about two out-of-work clowns and their devoted butler Adolph. Big Bugs is a dastardly whiskey-sloshing HoboClown and Corky is the Rodeo Clown gored so brutally by bulls in his long career that he speaks only in honks and squawks. Set in a surreal world reminiscent of the work of Samuel Beckett, Clowntown City Limits details the desperate measures these characters take in order to get a gig at a child’s birthday party. The cannibalizing story – dog-eat-dog if you will – is especially significant and symbolic against the backdrop of the recession economy that has engulfed Los Angeles and the rest of the United States.
The show is accompanied by live, original music, arranged and performed by Andy Paley and his superb players. 2 Headed Dog will record a performance of Clowntown at The Brookledge Follies, a theater in the private Hancock Park residence of the Larsen Family – of the Magic Castle lineage. The piece will be broadcast on Saturday, April 21st outside of LACE (6522 Hollywood Blvd).
Waits: Are you collaborating with your own campus radio station during this festival?
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