"Radiokunst“ als Utopie

Text Rosa Windt for STWST [[https://versorgerin.stwst.org/artikel/06-2022/radiokunst-als-utopie|Versorgerin Juni 2022]]

Thinking has different speeds. Everyday, fast, negotiating, meandering, grueling, sleep-depriving, mindless and functional, but sometimes also one - for example on long car rides - in which thinking loops, adds up with memories, the unknown and the landscape to something leisurely and, as it were, productive. One of numerous forms of “radio art” can become part of this state, usually late at night and unexpectedly, when broadcasters can put their mass media-adapted programming on hold. But even initialized and in places other than the car, the hearing of something, of radio almost always inscribes itself as a co-existing memory with seeing, feeling, or space. In this respect, the reception of radio art can be described as extremely individual, probably even unique, and thus also depicts a fundamentally ambivalent relationship of sending and receiving. In this respect, shortly after the introduction of radio broadcasting in the 1920s, the first experimental formats emerged that examined the medium beyond its function as a transmitter of information. As a counter-design to an elitist view of art reserved for the upper classes, modernism ascribed a significant role to the recipients, and quite a few artistic concepts declared an activation of authorship to be the focus of their examination.

Bertold Brecht's radio experiment “The Flight of the Lindberghs,” broadcast in 1929, for example, constructed a fictional report of the experience from various perspectives and with changing voices on the occasion of Charles Lindbergh's first solo crossing of the Atlantic by airplane, which transferred the major media event into the private sphere by means of radio transmission and allowed all those listening in to take on the pilot's perspective themselves. In detailed descriptions of nature, authorship not only played an active and sympathetic role, but on a meta-level was simultaneously addressed to a technical and economic upswing, making radio not only the bearer of events but also of critical and artistic perspectives. Among the pioneers of radio art and an explicit investigation of the medium in the late 1920s were Marcel Duchamp, Luigi Russolo, and Filippo Tommaso Marinetti. And in the following decades, Orson Wells or even Antonin Artaud succeed in establishing the radio play as an experimental artistic format and making it accessible to a larger audience. In the 1950s, Fluxus artists such as John Cage used radio as a musical device, experimenting with aspects of sound waves and sound bodies.

From the 1960s onwards, radio art emerged as an intermedial art form in Europe, especially in Germany and Austria, and artists referred to its technical, medial as well as symbolic diversity in very different ways. The medium itself, its social and political function as a mass medium, as well as its potential as a transmitter of electromagnetic waves are examined and used: Concepts developed explicitly for radio usually reflect on the medium in its proper sense and use language and music apart from conventional narratives, while (cross-national) radio art projects focus on networking and exchange, and broadcasts are often linked to festivals and exhibitions. “Expanded Radio” and Sound Art as forms of radio art, on the other hand, often criticize radio as a mass medium and develop alternative models of communication based, for example, on additive and acoustic aspects. Due to their often immaterial or dematerialized and difficult-to-access form, there were hardly any possibilities for researching, documenting, or archiving radio art until the 1960s. It was not until an initiative of the Weserburg in Bremen that a large-scale collection and media library was established, which should make it possible to present and document radio art in its entire context, history and development.

With digital developments such as the Internet and Internet radio, the perception of radio and radio art has also changed increasingly in recent years. Whereas previously the idea of real-time transmission and the associated authenticity were often in the foreground, current formats such as podcasts and streaming platforms already present themselves much more as documentations and negate a live character out of themselves. Nevertheless, even in digitized form and stored on large servers, the medium remains fluid and elusive, and continues to arouse in recipients a desire for recordings and their own versions. In the course of the worldwide Corona pandemic, a kind of rediscovery of radio and listening to content could also be noticed; for example, the multimedia artist Laurie Anderson developed a series of broadcasts that, in exchange with various people and also as a counter-design to social media, allowed her to reflect on diverse topics and to counteract entertaining viewing, for example in social networks, with listening as a decelerated and more contemplative form of communication. Already in 2017, the sound artist and DJ Nicoals Jaar conceived a network of 111 fictitious radio stations with “The Network” and also experimented with net art and borrowings from Secondlife. As the framework of his albums released in parallel, the listening experience was determined by random options, following the example of everyday radio listening, and thus also reflected on a coding and decoding of traditional viewing and listening habits.

Far beyond such temporary concepts, the broadcast series “Kunstradio - Radiokunst” on Austrian radio, conceived in 1987 by Heidi Grundmann and currently by Elisabeth Zimmermann, explores the various manifestations of the medium and becomes an object of artistic reflection and a space for communication. In addition to a weekly program that mainly broadcasts works conceived especially for Kunstradio, the format has simultaneously become the platform for numerous symposia and exhibition concepts that examine the medium of radio under various media-political, technological, social and economic contexts for its utopian as well as, as it were, dystopian potential. The five-day gathering of international radio artists under the title “Radiotopia” on the MS Stubnitz places itself in a similar context and attempts to occupy space with electromagnetic waves. Borrowing from Joseph Beuys' “Social Sculpture”, the physical space is to be turned into a total work of art with the participation of all actors and acoustic as well as visual aspects. The MS Stubnitz, an established venue for radio and media art, will be understood both as an art space and as a cultural and acoustic space. As a former cargo ship of the GDR, it was founded with the fall of the Berlin Wall as a utopian and autonomous project. The project “Radiotopia” aims to re-emphasize the art space and the idea of a fluid form of art production and reception, and also to take a critical look at digital networks with a series of experimental approaches to the broadband radio spectrum.

The ship as a maritime community correlatively symbolizes an autonomous and self-contained concept that can also be read, for example, in the context of so-called floating cities: As a futuristic idea, the construction of property is transferred from land to water and understood as a flexible and dynamic construct with the help of rafts and floating platforms. The Elenore ship in Linz, which is sistered to the Stubnitz in terms of cultural orientation, has already experimented with such ideas in the past, creating new, floating exhibition spaces in public space with “Floating Exposition,” for example. At the beginning of its use as a cultural ship, the Stubnitz also moved programmatically in the European space for events in order to encounter a music and cultural scene with regard to its local originality and to participate temporarily in impulses.

In this respect, radio art and especially the event “Radiotopia” as a joint project carried and organized by the MS Stubnitz and the MS Eleonore, reflects on processual and collective as well as social and political aspects. Radio as a symbol for a diverging relationship between culture and mass medium is understood in a non-commercial context and especially with regard to its utopian potential for movement, space and a revolutionary form of thinking oriented towards the future.