Les Transformibles (V). Ian Crutchley. Group exhibition review. Musicworks Magazine. Latitude 53. Edmonton.
Double Tranchant. Voir, #12. Catherine Genest. Québec. February. 48-50.
Silence, Time and Dead Air, Ellen Moffat. PAVED Arts. Saskatoon.
A Conversation with Steve Bates Regarding Dead Air. Josina Robb. Ace Art. Winnipeg.
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.
Steve Bates: On Memory’s Machines
By Pablo Rodriguez
The exhibition “For me the noise of time is not sad” presented two new sound- and video-based works by Steve Bates produced during a special residency co-hosted by Productions et Réalisations Indépendantes de Montréal and Dazibao. Though perceptually and structurally different, these pieces jointly stressed the theme of memory. They also continued Bates’ exploration of social forms—especially forms of communication—and how they shape our sensuous and conscious transactions with the landscape.
Bates’ hub-like projection and sound piece (also titled For me the noise of time is not sad) may be described as a digital and expanded slideshow. Three video projectors and two speakers placed low to the ground in the middle of the gallery carried the action. Sometimes there was only silence and the empty dark outlines cast by the idling projectors; but then, a speaker would emit a slowed-down recording of a camera shutter: Tr-clung! … Trr. Richly textured and highly detailed, these sounds were not “clicks” but abrupt, mechanical, spring-loaded rattlings. When quickly followed by a projection, they seemed to trigger the appearance of the image. The pictures were colourful snapshots of manicured natural scenes, mountain peaks and horizons; there were no portraits. These scenes flashed up so briefly (sometimes for a mere fraction of a second) and so randomly (they might appear on any of the three walls allotted) that they frustrated narrative expectations. They consistently caught you looking at the wrong spot—live training in listening’s pleasures and the frailties of sight.
Nearby, the poetic single-channel video Roadmovie documented Bates’ foray into the conventions of narrative cinema. Juxtaposing the artist’s thoughts on radio and territory with the story of a son’s drive across the continent to visit a grandfather suffering from Alzheimer’s, it encouraged free passage between the domains of memory and history. Fixed shots taken through the windshield of a car as it travelled down a night road evoked, in a minor key, the tremendous historical tax levied by single-point perspective on cultural imaginaries of the nation and the landscape. At the same time, intermittent cuts to a patchwork of greys and to curves on a road, experienced along with the surrounding darkness and the warm, crackling sound of radio frequencies, appealed to the limits of such visions. But like the nearby samplings of camera shutters, and like the stray field monitor discreetly screening an image of a satellite behind the viewer, these wayward signals appeared neither sad nor empty. Rather, they testified to something like the thought of alternative possibilities.
Steve Bates: On the Sound of Time
Amid the many distractions of an information-saturated, ultra-plugged-in modern world, where even the most routine tasks can border on sensory overload, a quiet moment of reflection may seem rare, and even slightly disorienting. Montreal artist Steve Bates taps into this awkward balance between the speed of everyday life and our ability to absorb its often-chaotic signals in “For me the noise of time is not sad,” currently on view at Maison de la culture Notre-Dame-de-Grâce. Produced in conjunction with artist-run centres Dazibao and PRIM (Productions et Réalisations Indépendentes de Montréal), the exhibition features a pair of sound-and-video works designed to isolate the fundamentals of listening, looking and remembering.
For the show’s title work, a set of three projections fills the darkened gallery with a sequence of random snapshots taken from a cross-continental journey by car to the home of a grandfather suffering from Alzheimer’s disease. Timed to flash intermittently at 1/8 to 1/16 of a second (roughly the time taken to record them) these images offer no more than a narrative glimpse. That fleeting visual impact is countered by the accompanying click of an analog camera shutter that has been slowed down and distorted—a measure of what Bates, in a related text, calls the “sound of time.” As the photographic instant and its afterimage fade in tandem with the echoing shutter sound, the rapid-fire mechanics of memory are revealed, leaving viewers to quietly contemplate the lasting connections between what they’ve seen and what they’ve heard. That questioning of how memory is formed and fashioned continues in the exhibition’s second work, Roadmovie, which weaves an elaborate narrative grounded by eerily ambiguous footage of an empty country road at night.