Requiem for Radio: Amanda Dawn Christie
The breadth of artistry across nearly a decade plunges both audience and the Montreal-based artist into a flutter.
“Listen here,” she seems to beg of our curiosity via shortwave signals, drone tones, theremin twangs, even cow bones morphed into lo-fi transmitting loop antennas on a newly made cello.
Amanda Dawn Christie says numerous times she thought she was ‘done’ with this material. Instead, she explains, she stayed open to further artistry with the massive library of recordings at the shortwave radio transmission site on the border between New Brunswick and Nova Scotia in Eastern Canada.
Out of such focus has come five iterations of Requiem for Radio.
Earlid/Joan Schuman: It almost feels like this project is a ‘fidelity’ to the process and approach itself—like a mirror or an echo to the material. Is that something you’ve considered? I ask and realize that it might just be that you’re being open to characteristics related to shortwave, to the towers coming down, such that you could morph and evolve artistic strands into this multi-part work.
That’s a convoluted way of asking you what signals are we faithful to?
Amanda Dawn Christie: This idea of “fidelity” to the process is something that resonates with me. That is to say, fidelity to the process rather that to the initial idea or end result. A major part of my approach to art making involves being open, available and ready to go wherever my subject leads me, even if it leads me into uncomfortable and sometimes dangerous territory. I strive to listen closely to my subject and the process and to remain open to changing directions in my projects. I feel that it is very important to follow instinct and compulsions when they arise, even if they don’t make sense at the time. To pursue wherever the subject leads me, and to ask questions later.
From 2009 to 2018, my subject was the RCI (Radio Canada International) shortwave transmission site. My projects began with a radio sink (a radio receiver made entirely from copper plumbing); then it became a film; while making the film I was drawn to put contact microphones on the radio towers; then I had the urge to build a laundry line over a sink hole near the towers and photograph it; then I had the urge to climb the towers, so I got my certification, the permissions, and borrowed a harness and climbed towers; then I had ideas for instruments related to the site; before I knew it I was learning to clean animal bones to make bows from them. This is an incomplete history of the projects, but it gives an idea of the places that my subject lead me to—places that I did not initially intend to go.
Interactive performance for human bodies, electrons, and radio waves, 2017
Joan: This litany of the five sections makes me think that each slightly different performance or installation is a kind of fidelity.
Amanda: In terms of the creation of multi-part works, I often tend to work with several parallel projects going on at the same time. It is a form of research. Looking at the same subject from different perspectives at the same time. Exploring it from all angles. Trying different approaches to see if I can discover different aspects.
So back to your question: what signals are we faithful to? I hope that we can be faithful to the signals from our own bodies and mind. That in the midst of the rush of daily life and project deadlines, that we can tune into our own bodies enough to be aware of those impulses and compulsions; to be aware of synchronicities and resonances; to be aware of what our subject and our work is transmitting to our own bodies, and how our bodies feel compelled to respond. If we are not tuned in to our own bodies, then we risk making work that is stale and predictable, treating the subject in the same ways that it has always been treated in the past.
Joan: Are there ghosts in the radio towers?
Amanda: No, I don’t think there are ghosts literally in the radio towers. But I am interested in the poetic metaphor that there are ghosts “of” the radio towers. That is to say, memories or traces of them.
The connection between my work and notions of the paranormal was an unintentional one. When I titled my film, Spectres of Shortwave, I was riffing off of Derrida’s book Spectres of Marx. It was only after the film was completed that a friend said to me, “Oh, so you are interested in the paranormal and the spiritualists!” I was shocked, because that had never been my intent. But the more I looked into this connection, the more intriguing the parallel became. Apparently, people interested in the paranormal, search for ghosts in AM radio waves. The theory being, that when the body dies, since matter and energy are never destroyed, the energy must go somewhere. So some people believe that the energy goes into the electromagnetic spectrum in the form of AM radio waves. I do not necessarily believe this, but I find the notion to be somewhat intriguing and poetic.
There is also the historical connection with the spiritualists of the late nineteenth century, when electromagnetism was first being discovered, who believed that radio waves would be the gate to the spiritual world. Again, I don’t believe this, but I find it to be very poetic and intriguing as an idea.
Amanda: I think that a curiosity about transmission can make us more aware of the space around us: both the visible and the invisible space. There is this whole other invisible world in the electromagnetic spectrum all around us all the time, and it is filled with both natural landscapes and constructed architectures. Radio waves fill the space around us and are passing through our bodies all the time. A curiosity about what is happening in this highly complex and regulated invisible world can bring us awareness of large scale political infrastructures, commercial communications networks, military surveillance systems and more. We often don’t think about it, but the invisible realm of the electromagnetic spectrum is highly politicized. At the same time, a curiosity about the electromagnetic spectrum can also put our perception of our own physical body into perspective as we realize that there is more to the world, and to our body than just the visible tangible physical matter that we normally think of; electricity and energy are every bit as important to our body as physical matter. This relates to transmission as well.
Joan: What are we listening to in the barely audible?
Amanda: When we listen to the barely audible, we wind up hearing all of the other sounds around it. We have to tune them out though, in order to hear what we are listening for.
I am quite interested in the idea of the unintentional witness. The idea that sometimes, we hear things not meant for our ears; so whether it is barely audible, or loud and clear, sometimes we receive transmissions meant for someone else. In those instances, we are taken out of our every day world, and reminded of the complexity of the world beyond our world, and the things that we don’t think of on a daily basis. I am interested also in intercepted transmissions, and relayed transmissions, and what is lost in the medium, the static, and the flutter. I am interested in the way that the noise of the universe can become mixed with the signals that we are trying to send and receive. I have heard it said that one percent of static and snow in transmission is residual radiation from the big bang. I like this idea that when static mixes with our transmissions we become unintentional witnesses to the beginning of the universe. I am quite interested in this beauty of static and interference, and the texture that it brings to our messages and communications.
Performance images of Full Quiet Flutter by Annie Frane Noël, May 2017. Explore the extensive body of Requiem for Radio and its five intersecting components at Amanda Dawn Christie.