Sense of Goethe

01.03.2023

For the last month or two I've been working towards an exhibition in the corridor space of the Goethe Insitute in Rotterdam. Unusually for me, it's been a fun process that I've enjoyed working on from day one. This project kind of began last year whilst I was on a residency at a lovely place called Sasso (I made a little website during that time that can be found here. I started there with the ambition to listen to satellites, a practice I had been interested in after reading about the work that Sophie Dyer and Sasha Engelmann do as Open-Weather. Their collaborative practice has this wonderful mixture of playful, poetic, scientific, collective and embodied research on how the world is imaged through a set of weather satellites, owned by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Adminisitration.

When I found that they had written detailed guides on how to set up your own satellite ground station, I wanted to give it a try. So I took my little Dipole antenna and SDR dongle with me on the train to Switzerland. After some expected technical issues, I attempted my first satellite listening. I sat in the garden of Sasso, which is perched about 300 metres up the side of a mountain above Lago Maggiore, and as the sun went down I tuned into the frequency of the satellite. For the first few minutes I heard only noise, but eventually a faint beeping began to emerge. I had to take my headphones off to check whether the sound was coming from the house, but sure enough it was coming from my laptop. I suddenly felt this sense of awe you get when you realise your own position in relation to something else at an incomprehensible scale. The satellite was over 500 miles above my head, and here I was sat in this garden picking up its signal.

the view from the sasso garden with my laptop and an antenna on a table
My first listening station

I didn't realise it at that moment, but later I learnt that the reason I couldn't hear the satellite for the first minutes was due to the mountainous landscape around me. My reception of the signal, and the subsequent image generated was directly influenced by my surrounding environment. Later I found that the signal could be influenced by the movement of my body and the other radio signals around me. All these elements, invisible in the view of the world from above were inscribed into the image it created through noise.

After the residency ended, I carried on practicing these satellite listening exercises in different places around Europe and even upgraded my antenna. I wasn't sure why I was doing the listenings but I felt somehow drawn to the act. What initially excited me was the D.I.Y, lo-fi method of interacting and interfacing with what could be considered a high-technology, but within that I found a different kind of understanding of my sense of place within the world.

An image captured from a NOAA-18 satellite with lots of noise
One of the first images I received.

The exhibition at the Goethe is one manifestation of this project. Over the last couple of months I've played with the translation of the images made by the satellite using screen printing (I've also considered weaving but thats for a another time). I'm currently thinking of the exhibition as a place to experiment more with others. Whilst it feels weird and a bit scary to present something at the opening which is basically just a sketch, I want it to feel a bit more like an experiment that people can also participate in. I'll be running satellite listening workshops throughout March and some of April where I invite other people to join me in listening to the satellite and afterwards we make a report on the experience.

If you want to join me in these satellite listening workshops then please send a message and I'll make the announcements 10 days in advance when I know what the satellites will be doing. The exhibiton opens on the 10th of March at 17:00 and will be open until the 20th of April.

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