Radiation Day: In Conversation with Anna Friz
To flee from realities is only to arrive at them unprepared.
The northern Chilean desert summoned Anna Friz into its prodigious sweep last summer. Along with her collaborator based in Chile, videographer Rodrigo Ríos Zunino, they ventured into the landscape and returned to Radio Tsonami for three live radio mixes of audible materials gathered in the Altiplano and salt flats. These performances, explains Friz, were night time respirations emerging after days spent staring into the sun, skirting Chile’s biggest open-pit copper mine—the largest in the world.
Ruta del Desierto, Chile, 2017, Anna Friz
Friz forages through her field recordings and visual materials, witnessing old and new infrastructures entwined around defunct saltpeter and present-day copper mines, situated quite close to one another in the Atacama and Antofagasta regions. The locals call the tailings torta del ripio for their resemblance to layer cakes.
Traversing these monumental human-made landscapes, Friz traveled with stereo condenser mics, VLF receivers and contact mics; radio, hydrophone and wind protectors—knowing that some of this gear—as well as all our wireless devices—is built out of the very trace elements being extracted from the desert beneath her feet.
Friz offers ambient sounds and the long, diffuse photographs without definitive understanding of what is being heard or seen—to churn things up—and there’s a reminder of Lucy Lippard’s notion that gravel pits are cities turned upside down. Is it underwater insect sounds or crackly VLF signals? Both the visual and sonic horizon is vast, making for delirious and exhilarating chaos.
She didn’t go into the desert with the explicit intent of making a documentary about mineral extraction, but to investigate the meeting point between industries and wild land, a meeting of massive human and non-human forces. “I was interested not only in the proximity of the desert to the urban, but in the persistence of the human design and will to power, and of the expansion of the insatiable city and its habits of consumption out into areas of wildness.”
As Friz works with the audiovisual material and the impressions from her notes, she says she will eventually combine field documents with composed sounds. As for the sounds from Chile, more recently, the drones represent both the continuum and duration of the land and environment, as well as the persistent machinic interventions by humans.
We were in exploring and collecting modes just a week before the festival, so the performance utilized raw sounds with just a touch of custom electronics and sampling effects. It turns into a sustained drone, a kind of textured droniness.
“I could do a whole piece on wind!”
Outside of the Chilean metropolises, the desert opens into the PanAmerican Highway and then it’s just wind and semi-trucks.
Like Robert Smithson’s building his vast visual sculptures out of the landscape—‘ruins in reverse’—Friz and Ríos Zunino see their approach to listening and filming in the Chilean desert as ‘ruins of the future.’ These extractive processes are building up out of the loss. Friz was sobered by the industry’s long impact on workers exposed to minerals. Small shoes, of indigenous and malnourished workers, are like their own tailings, left to rot in the sun for 70 years.
The powerful infrastructure of this landscape is inescapable. At the micro level, Friz says you become attuned to the wind or to a little piece of foil or the VLF sounds picking up far-off thunder. Shocking were the tentacles of modern life creeping in, such as the pipelines and mining trucks—a reminder of the proximity of urban life.
Desert industry: view toward Mina Ministro Hales, near Calama, Chile, Rodrigo Ríos Zunino
Ruins of the Future
After Radio Tsonmai in Valparaíso, Friz was invited to perform with these sounds and Ríos Zunino’s video in a new work, Radiation Day, at Ars Electronica and the accompanying national broadcast on ORF Kunstradio in Austria for its 30th anniversary of ongoing radio artistry. In bringing the upside-down world of mysterious, off-kilter sounds, Friz shifts the context, inviting in confusion, obtuseness, and evident beauty in the inverted worlds of north and south, sonics and visuals, above- and below-ground experiences and material.
Friz draws these concepts forth in the long shadow of extractive production looming around our own use of media gadgetry as well as her own relationship to the materials at hand.
There’s a clash of hard and soft, and our listening bodies.
Burnt packs of cigarettes, 2017, Anna Friz
Listen to more stories and sounds out of the desert. Artist portrait by Earlid’s curator, Joan Schuman. All audio courtesy of Anna Friz and Rodrigo Ríos Zunino, recorded via stereo condenser mics, contact mics, hydrophone, radio and VLF receivers. Please listen in headphones.