Concertina by Steve Bates, barbed wire radio transmission.


Pirate radio stations know that if they cannot keep their gear on the move, their days are counted. Locating the source of radio transmissions is a technique developed during the First World War and still employed by law enforcement agencies policing the radio spectrum. In the jungles of Central America legend tells that rebel groups have discovered a tactic for evading localization by the army when communicating by radio. Taking advantage of the barbed wire laid out for miles over the landscape by the military to hinder their mobility, the rebels allegedly hook up radio transmitters to the wire and reclaim it as an antenna. This spreads the transmission source over a large territory, allowing the rebels to evade conventional localization techniques. Inspired by this guerrilla practice, Steve Bates harnesses the communication potential of barbed wire in an installation exhibited at the Musée d’art contemporain de Montréal. Two coils of military grade concertina wire lined up with razor sharp blades are extended on a low pedestal across the museum floor. This weaponized barrier threatening visitors takes its name from its spiral form, designed for rapid deployment, which expands and recoils like the bellows of an accordion. The barbed wire is connected to a low-power radio transmitter which is received by radios placed around the exhibition space. These diffuse a dreamlike ambience combining samples of a concertina accordion mixed together with the two main frequencies (50 and 60 hz) found in electrical power grids. The concertina is a diatonic button accordion. At the height of European colonialism it was amongst the first industrially produced musical instruments that introduced western tuning to many parts of the globe. The uncanny contrast between military and musical imagery inherent within the material employed has a disorienting effect that reflects the dialectic between power and empowerment and the ambivalence of geographical demarcations or standards in the age of disembodiment. Matteo Marangoni