An exploration on the perception of space from a new perspective, Radio Umwelt began with the discovery of a previously unperceivable sonic space. Using an ordinary radio device, the discovery led to an interest in the electromagnetic spectrum, an inhabitable landscape consisting of radio waves with certain climatic conditions and regulations of power, control, and ownership. Radio Umwelt aims to question the limitations of human perception of this space and how it differs from other species' perceptions. In this conversation, we talk about radio landscape, intraspecies entanglement and the materiality of the radio space from a non-anthropocentric perspective.
KOOZ Your thesis makes use of the theories of Jacob von Uexküll and Karen Barad. How do these theories relate to your ideas about the mutual perception of species and the role of technology in this process?
SANDER BLOMSMA Jakob von Uexküll’s Umwelt theory is an important steppingstone in my work because it conceptualises the mutual bodywork of the perception of species. With the studying of the senses of various organisms, Uexküll argues that every species is a subject that lives, exists, perceives, and acts in its own environment, its “Umwelt”, of which it is its own centre, like a bubble. This means that the human experience of reality is and has been highly constrained by its biological perception, offering a limited sense range in its own Umwelt. All species perceive differently because of their own limitations. However, when moving deeper into a non-anthropocentric thinking with the idea of a mutual ground of perception, the Umwelt theory limits itself by acknowledging the presupposed boundaries of one’s environment as a bubble. That is, it doesn’t provide or allow for a framework for these worldly bubbles to intersect and thus to acknowledge any multi-species entanglement.
The human experience of reality is and has been highly constrained by its biological perception, offering a limited sense range in its own Umwelt.
Therefore, in engaging with mutuality and entanglement, the Umwelt theory has to be complexified. Here, feminist theorist Karan Barad steps in with her post-human theorisation of “agential realism” and “intra-action”. She argues that everything in this world is entangled, open-ended, and always unfolding. In that process, agential realism has the ability to make the world seem both expansive and compact, as all things have the potential to be connected or separated through the process of “phenomena” and “intra-action”. According to Barad, the former are “ontological” relations, reconfiguring rearticulations and entanglements that exist without entities before a certain boundary or “cut” is made. The latter, intra-action, is the act of materialisation of those components through which the ability to materialise emerges. That is, entities do not exist in parallel world bubbles but everything, all matter, is always already intra-acting.
The project argues that radio waves enable the human perception to intra-act between various human and non-human agents.
However, can we theoretically and technically question and debate the range and the limitations of human’s perception through radio space? By posing this potent question on the mutual perception of species and the possible role of technology in this process, the project argues that radio waves enable the human perception to intra-act between various human and non-human agents, while, following Barad, demonstrates that technological apparatuses, and the radio space itself, should be considered as intra-acting.
By presupposing that humans can’t get into another species’ Umwelt or physically sense intra-action between species, the project suggests that technology can be a site for humans to engage with other species by materialising all matter into radio space, offering a possibility to actively create and acknowledge an ever-changing mutual ground to think about multi-species perception.
Technology can be a site for humans to engage with other species by materialising all matter into radio space.
KOOZ Radio waves are both a natural occurrence and an artificial human creation. How do you see them as a tool for intraspecies communication and how this could potentially challenge anthropocentric perceptions of the world?
SB When talking about the perception of radio as a space, both natural and artificial, and the possibility to use it as an interspecies communication tool, I always have to think of a quote from avant-garde composer John Cage, who said:
“All that radio is, is making available to your ears what was already in the air and available to your ears, but you weren’t listening to it. In other words, all it is, is making audible something which you’re already in. You are bathed in radio waves.” (1966)
From a physicist point of view, I use radio waves because everything—whether alive or inanimate, human, or non-human—reacts and vibrates to these waves. By breaking this down into an anatomical matter, one will realise that radio waves are everywhere at all times. This means that as a material body inhabits radio space, it creates waves too. In other words, radio waves are spatial in a way that their movement is three-dimensional and dependent on the material space around it. This entity gives radio the state of being in constant flux because it is affected by different material agents and spatial configurations, which in turn get affected by these waves. Radio waves are all about bodily traces and reverberations that can be tied back to the physical realities of matter in ambient space.
I use radio waves because everything—whether alive or inanimate, human, or non-human—reacts and vibrates to these waves.
However, why do we humans perceive and use radio only as an anthropocentric tool in which we only transmit and receive radio waves in our artificial layer of human communication? That is, can we question the technical workings and the materiality of the radio space around us? It is known that both natural and artificial radio signals contain and carry information/data in one form or another.To receive that information, we need to have antennas to transmit and receive this information and (de)modulate it to something perceivable to us. However, why do radio transmitters and receivers consist of metres long steel towers or pocket-sized phone antennas only? Could a reconfiguring of antenna design and the material body of skin, hair cells and natural tissue from species to species make an interesting concept too?
Let us challenge our anthropocentric perception by starting to listen to these waves.
My project is a concept that challenges anthropocentric perception by focussing on the unperceivable signals that are made through radio and the spaces and bodies that radio waves intra-actively influence and occupy. By engaging with the materialisation of both radio space and all species involved, the concept opens up new subjective notions of embodied communication through intraspecies entanglement. This could open up the possibility to inhabit radio space differently through new embodied radio configurations of perception. Returning to Cage again, let us challenge our anthropocentric perception by starting to listen to these waves.
KOOZ You touch on the political aspect of the radio space and its commercialisation and militarisation. Can you discuss how your proposed subversion of this space can address these issues and promote a more equitable and inclusive perception of the world?
SB By acknowledging the idea that humans and non-humans are all equal contributors of the radio space as intra-active material bodies, we have to ask: can current radio structures, designed for human communication only, continue to claim and colonise such an entangled space because of a limited anthropocentric perception?
My work goes against this anthropocentric perspective by promoting a subversive view that tries to manoeuvre itself differently on a political and ontological level by exposing and critiquing existing radio structures. Félix Guattari, French psychoanalyst, and radio-artist Tetsuo Kogawa have previously worked together on reclaiming the radio space. Herein, there’s a clear need to break down the radio landscape from the centralised power structure—a vertical macro-system—through which technology is conceived, allowing for a more horizontal and equitable network of perception.
There’s a clear need to break down the radio landscape from the centralised power structure through which technology is conceived.
Currently, radio signalling uses “broad-casting” in order to establish the vertical power equation of “one transmitter - many receivers”, as the term “broad” suggests. However, the idea of a horizontal form of communication moves towards a network without hierarchical relations or dualisms between transmitting and receiving bodies. Furthermore, in breaking down radio’s verticality, Guattari and Kogawa make a theoretical connection towards the “molecular” scale, from which change in a small space could resonate to a larger space. Accordingly, in terms of the radio space, the micro-scale here can be the opportunity for qualitative distinction: while the global in radio is the domain of domination and uniformity, the material body is the domain of the diverse and multiple.
This perspective allows us to recognize that all material bodies are contributing together on the same level of the radio space, making them all “be(come)” equally radio.
KOOZ How do the maps and animation you created for the exhibition support your thesis and contribute to the exploration of the potential of radio waves and radio space? What is the role of drawing and graphic representation in helping visualise the concept of the non-anthropocentric world that you propose?
SB When we talk about non-anthropocentric worlds and non-humans, we have to acknowledge the fact that “representation” in arts and philosophy is intrinsically linked to and influenced by a form of judgement, both of the subject and the artist-observer. Judgment, in its turn, can be tied to the nature-culture dichotomy, forms of violence towards non-humans, and hierarchies of power and ownership. Through the perception of the artist, a particular reading of the world is rendered, mediated and represented as a version of “reality” onto the visitor.
By exploring the radio landscape within the framework of “representation” and “performativity”, the maps are inherently showing how to engage a non-anthropocentric intra-species aesthetic.
A good example of such a reading is the map of the “Frequency allocation of the Radio Spectrum”. Here, the radio space, represented by humans as a spectrum with predetermined boundaries defined by the unit of frequency (Hertz), shows how humans use and thus perceive this space as an invisible “real estate”, allocated and owned by the highest bidder down to the last frequency range. Not surprisingly, this is only one version of how one could define or perceive this landscape. As mentioned earlier, radio space has been a natural occurrence long before human existence even started adding artificial waves for human communication. Through evolution, many organisms and non-humans like bees and birds use natural radio fields to navigate space and stay alive. To start including, in visualisations, the perception of non-human occupants of the radio landscape is a good way to start any discussion on non-anthropocentric aesthetics.
The second map tries to implement this idea by showing the radio landscape as a raw receptive space without boundaries or separation between species or occurrences. It only shows the radio landscape and its inhabitants as entangled through their ongoing mattering. It is made by translating the sonic recordings of all antennas from the film into a received and encoded signal by using weather satellite software. Since the signal isn’t ‘‘known’’ by the software as a weather image, it still gives a translation of human and non-human bodies intra-acting with each other via reception and transmission in that radio space and its waves.
By exploring the radio landscape within the framework of “representation” and “performativity”, the maps are inherently showing how to engage a non-anthropocentric intra-species aesthetic with which new perceptions of reality and matter can be found.
KOOZ Your project is “a multidisciplinary research and juxtaposition of various sources and fields (architecture, philosophy, quantum-physics and biology)”. What is for you the agency of the architect in addressing contemporary issues that go beyond the built environment?
SB If architecture hopes to respond to contemporary issues like the colonisation of radio space, it should not consider itself as a separate discipline from other ongoing processes and urges but should rather entangle with the possibilities and cautions that lie in multi-disciplinary research and design.
I think the boundaries of the built and unbuilt environment blur drastically when one focuses on the architecture of radio space.
I think the boundaries of the built and unbuilt environment blur drastically when one focuses on the architecture of radio space, especially when looking at the significant and unbeatable commercial uprise of immaterial wireless (tele)communication structures, which shape our current (and future) socio-cultural and political systems and most importantly our relationship with the material landscape. One has to realise that all animate and inanimate bodies are all contributors in radio space as intra-active agents and that space contributes intra-actively to all those bodies too. So, by understanding radio’s architecture not only as a politically and commercially controlled space, but rather as a dynamic intra-active web of agents determining boundaries, meanings, and marks on bodies, architects cannot overlook the potential and urgency to (re)consider and (re)design such unbuilt environments. The role of the architect should shift to a multi-disciplinary basis where politics, philosophy, quantum-physics and biology play a more important role.
Sander Blomsma is a multidisciplinary creative, driven by the polyphonic dialogue between research and the design of a critical future. While working across the levels of industrial design and interior architecture, I want to re-articulate life and technology in objects and installations that improve environments and spaces, spark the imagination and establish a positive scenario for the time to come. Using technology as medium and negotiator, I am passionate about bringing people, space and life on to the same frequency, uniting audiences with experiences that inspire a reconnection to the planet. In raising fundamental questions about what life, nature and reality is and will become, I want to make projects that require a critical approach and multidisciplinary collaboration.