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Ikonic Pirates

December 6, 2011

I spent Saturday at the Ikon Gallery in Birmingham with artist Sarah Browne. It is a fantastic gallery with a great youth education programme (run by Kate Self) and Sarah is a fantastic artist. Sarah will be having a show at Ikon next year. She is calling it, ‘How to Use Fool’s Gold’.  Scarcity Radio is one of the pieces that will feature in this show.

I think Sarah coined the term Scarcity Radio to invoke many different things. I can not do justice to Sarah and to all that is involved in Scarcity Radio in this blog but will attempt to mention some of the ideas involved.

Sarah will be making a crystal radio using some fool’s gold. The crystal radio was discovered in 1901.  Crystal radios are passive receivers, made with very few simple parts. They don’t amplify the incoming receiver – hence they can only pick up signals within a limited range. You can look here for ideas on how to make crystal radio receivers. I look forward to seeing the fool’s gold crystal radio in action.  [I wonder whether fool’s are scarce these days … Ship of Fools: How Stupidity and Corruption Sank the Celtic Tiger by Fintan O’Toole springs to mind]

There are so many themes of interest in Sarah’s work. From a historic perspective she is interested in Pirate Radio. She showed a very interesting film, Born in Flames, on Saturday.  I took this photo during the screening of the film at The Lombard Method in Birmingham – also a great artistic space.  I borrowed a description of the film that I found on Amazon which states:

Set in America ten years after the Second American Revolution, Born In Flames is a comic fantasy of female rebellion. When Adelaide Norris, the founder of the Woman’s Army, is mysteriously killed, a seemingly impossible coalition of women- crossing all lines of race, class, and sexual preference- emerges to blow the System apart. In a series of thrilling and often humorous encounters between groups of women ranging from militant black lesbians to white punk feminist musicians, Born in Flames covers a wide range of radical feminist ideas.

The plot concerns two feminist groups in New York City, each voicing their concerns to the public by pirate radio. One group,  led by an outspoken white lesbian, Isabel (Adele Bertei), operates ‘Radio Regatta’.  The other group, led by  African-American, Honey (Honey), operates ‘Phoenix Radio’. When their stations are destroyed, the two groups end up cooperating using some kind of ‘mobile pirate radio station’  in the back of a van in order to avoid being caught. You could see their radio station as an early application of Dynamic Spectrum Access. The presenters of the radio show explain to listeners that they now have to dial up and down to seek out the radio show rather than tune in to one specific frequency. In other words listeners need to rendezvous with the pirate radio station. For me of course Scarcity Radio is about the lack of dynamism – we live in a world where spectrum has been managed into scarcity because of the static way in which we  assign it for use.  Yes I am obsessed with spectrum. And yes I am sure most people looking at the film are thinking about the political issues and the scarcity of opportunity for many … not the spectrum issues … sad I know!

Sarah is interested in all the connotations and meanings that Scarcity Radio conjures up.  Sarah is interested in scarcity in particular in the context of the  current economic climate and this film and more importantly her work encourages reflection on many of the issues we face today.


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