I’m obsessed with the idea of signals and emitters.
A signal can be so many things. The electronic devices we use every day, send and emit radiation signals between technological infrastructure and our eyes, ears and brains (mobile towers - phones, wifi - tablet etc). Radar, telephony, reversing sensors in your car, walkie talkies, UHF Radio, Digital AM/FM radio, your television… the list is endless.
Look around you when you are walking through the city, so many aerials, radar dishes, mobile phone towers, strange micro antennae, wifi points, communication technologies. We are bathed in electronic radiation signals all day, every day (unless you build a Faraday Cage), small particles are passing through gaps in your body all the time as information.
SETI (Search for Extra Terrestrial Intelligence) was a long term program run by the Ohio State University utilising the “Big Ear” radio telescope an is famous for recording the WOW signal that had all the hallmarks of a possible alien origin, although no one agrees on what it actually is.
Breakthrough listen, part of the Breakthrough Initiative is a large-scale SETI program initiated by silicon valley mega investors and tech billionaires to reinvigorate the search for alien signalling.
Looking at something is receiving a signal. A light particle (a thing/object) gets shot out from the sun millions of kms away, bounces of an object and then hits your eye. You have received a signal about that piece of cake you are eyeing off. Your brain also sends an electronic signal to your body that you are hungry and want that cake.
An idea is a signal. Information is created, interpreted and sent via speech, words, images, a sideways glance... An artwork is a signal, music is a signal, bird calls are signals.
Nature is a powerful signaller. birds, animals, insects, plants all are experts in using an incredible variety of techniques to signal each other. Sound, scent, radar, electricity, phosphor. It is thought that whales can signal to distances of over 16,000kms.
This is all an extremely basic and surface level rendering around the meaning of signals and signalling and but I wanted to point to an idea that is ever present when I am making work, when I am walking around thinking about making work. As most artists do, I look out for signals in every moment of my waking life, conscious or otherwise, walking along the street, or lying under a tree on a sunny day, reading, listening watching, it’s a reflex action that is always switched on. The one thing I enjoy most is that there is no obvious pattern to why a signal stands out and what it will mean in the long term to my work, often its a complete mystery. I will store it away and move on to the next. At some future moment it will make sense, sometimes in a quiet way, sometimes in a flash.
I also end up photographing signal towers everywhere I travel, for no real reason (that I know of yet), and I often think about making sculptures of signal towers. I’ve been doing this for over 10 years now as a sub-project that may never be used for artistic outcomes.
All images: Jon Butt