Video triptych (2018)
If you’ve ever tried to build a radio transmitter, you’ll know that searching for the signal is a delicate matter. There is no shortage of YouTube videos to take you through the process, step-by-step, of making the transmitter, using a basic set of components. No prior electrical experience required, as long as you can get your hands on a soldering iron. The electronics shop down the road will happily sell you the components—or substitutes that do the same thing—listed beneath the video. You’ll need to set aside a full Saturday, and getting a feel for the soldering iron takes some practice, but with patience and multiple viewings of the video, you’ll get to the point when its time to connect the battery to the circuit and search for the signal. This, as they say, is the moment of truth. To find the signal requires turning a tiny screw on a component call a trim capacitor, which as the name suggests, varies the capacitance of the transmitter’s circuit (if you want to know what capacitance is or does, Google it, but knowing this is not essential to the success of the project). In the background, you’ll have a radio turned on, tuned to an empty frequency, usually in the lower regions of the FM spectrum, static spitting from the speaker. If your transmitter works, if all the components are connected in the correct sequence, and none have overheated or been destroyed by the soldering iron, there will be a moment, as you gently turn the screw of the trim capacitor, when the radio will splutter, and paradoxically, fall silent. It is this silence that marks the presence of the signal, usually accompanied by the illumination of small red light on the radio’s interface. In a graphic representation of the electromagnetic spectrum, zoomed into this moment, the signal reads as a clear symmetrical spike, towering above the horizon of static. But without access to the measuring tools, generally beyond the means of someone with a passing interest, the signal exists beyond our field of perception—the silence amidst the noise.
Vitality for the Wheel
The first film in the Transmissions triptych—Vitality for the Wheel—is a montage of archival footage, video impressions made in studio and documentation of the exhibit at the Werkspoor museum in Amsterdam. The Dutch engineering firm Werkspoor were responsible for the combustion engines that powered the ships that facilitated overseas trade in soft commodities. One such commodity, for which the Dutch are famous, is cacao, which was traded extensively with Indonesia in the early 20th century. A Droste Cocoa tin, an artefact of the Dutch chocolate brand's trade in cocoa, famous for its depiction of mis-en-abyme—the nurse holding a tray with a Droste Cocoa tin on it depicting the same nurse holding a tray with a Droste Cocoa and so on ad infinitum—is a central motif. The seemingly innocent figure of the nurse stands in direct contrast to the figure of the sick Indonesian woman. While drinking chocolate was used as a panacea for the sick, the video and its accompanying text —Sonnet 18 | Part 1 of Rainer Maria Rilke's Sonnets to Orpheus—exposes the systematic violence and hidden narratives contained in everyday objects.
The Ceremony of Nothing
The second film in the Transmissions triptych—The Ceremony of Nothing —takes the format of a non-narrative documentary shot on the morning of 24 March 2018, the day of the 95th Anniversary of the first radio contact established between the Netherlands and Indonesia. The video is shot in the home of radio amateur and former PTT microwave engineer, Jan Willem Udo, at no. 1 Radioweg, Radio Kootwijk. Udo's family home is within sight of Building A, the former transmitter building that handled all radio traffic between the Netherlands and overseas, primarily established to facilitate direct contact with Indonesia, the most important colony to the Dutch at the time. The video documents a series of failed attempts to establish radio contact between Jan Willem Udo and the Ministerial delegation in Indonesian, as prearranged in the days leading up to 24 March, to commemorate the anniversary. The video starts and ends with separate performances of the song Halo, Bandung
Notes for a Seashell
The third film in the Transmissions triptych—Notes for a Seashell—is a more direct engagement with the architecture of Radio Kootwijk, specifically Building A, the main transmitter building formerly used to control all radio traffic between the Netherlands and overseas. Preserved as a monument under the care of the Staatsbosbeheer, stripped of almost all evidence of its former function, the building stands as an empty shell, receiving visitors under controlled conditions. In response to this buildings presence, the video stages a recital of Francis Ponge's poem Notes for a Seashell inside Building A. The transmission of Ponge's poem in this context works to challenge the buildings scale, its history, and subsequently, its status as a monument.