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Art Installation Uses Numbers Stations to Interrogate ‘Misuse of Data that Reduces Black Bodies to Numbers’

Ever since I first tuned in a staticky sequence of numbers in Spanish on the shortwave radio I got for Christmas as a kid, I’ve been fascinated by numbers stations which are thought to broadcast coded messages to spies and other clandestine agents. An upcoming art exhibition uses the structure of numbers stations to interrogate how numbers and statistics are employed in aggressive policing tactics.

Artists Mendi + Keith Obadike are creating a new performance and installation of sound and objects called Numbers Stations [Furtive Movements] at the Ryan Lee Gallery in New York City. The work “employs the radical misuse of the data that reduces Black bodies to numbers.”

According to a press release,

The exhibition is preceded by a 30-minute performance conducted at the gallery on the eve of the opening. Using a radio transmitter and tone generators, the artists will read a series of numbers culled from the self-reported Stop-and-Frisk data of 123 New York Police Department precincts. The numbers exist as the material, the subject, and the score of the work: the artists’ voices and fragmented music tones are processed, broadcast, and played back in real-time during the performance and later as a recording for the duration of the exhibition.

The performance happens September 9 at 5 PM, and the exhibition opening is September 10, 6 – 8 PM. The artists invite collaboration online using the hashtag #numbersstation.

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