The power and telecom grid of this country is an amazing construct – ostensibly the biggest man-made machine in the world. Sometimes it acts as a gigantic antenna, attracting geomagnetic sun pulses that can trigger massive power outages. Sometimes it tries too hard and blows up – lack of power in one region causing surges in another. Sometimes it falls down, subject to calamity and sabotage. Sometimes it just stands there and looks good, buzzing.
Power/Exchange is an unconventional survey of the infrastructure and architecture of transmission.
In particular, the transmission of electric power and the transmission of human thought a.k.a. the telecommunications industry.
Architecturally, Power/Exchange is a 55’ high, steel radio transceiving tower, physically resembling an early RKO-style tower. It receives 10 specific bands that comment upon regional culture, accessible through a user-operated notched dial in the self-contained OPERATIONS KIOSK, which stands adjacent to the tower.
These bands are:
1. AC power transmission
2. Citizen’s Band
3. NOAA weather
4. Local Police & EMS
5. Union Pacific Railroad
6. Burger King Drive Thru Window
7. Flyover & Airport Traffic
8. Tones and Morse
9. Local Casinos
10. Atomic Clock
The tower is designed to transmit signals onto Citizen’s Band. As CB is a two-way system, visitors can communicate with other CB users by speaking into a microphone embedded into the kiosk while pressing the TRANSMIT button. In addition, every time a user turns on the kiosk POWER, a pre-recorded loop is broadcast on to low wattage FM. The loop functions as a sort of PSA, and relays the following information via a computer-generated voice: “Frequency allocation is a federal construct. Corporate conglomeration of media leads to a conglomeration of ideas. Advocate for a diversification of voices. Low power to the people. Transmit. Receive. Listen. Reply. People’s Radio Wendover. Free airwave access.” The recording also includes morse code, scanner and shortwave samples. It lasts 60 seconds before repeating. It will continue looping for 10 minutes at which point the kiosk power automatically switches off until the user presses POWER again, or until the next user visits the tower.
The tower site is the town of Wendover, which straddles the Utah/Nevada state line along Interstate 80, surrounded by industrial waste sites and military installations, including the now idle historic Wendover Air Force Base, home of the Enola Gay hangar, where the infamous plane was loaded.
As a booklet, Power/Exchange is divided into two opposing halves. It includes a series of medium format photographs, drawings and maps documenting towers and support buildings within a 50-mile radius of Wendover, as well as essays regarding the history, science and logistics of transmission drawn from accumulated research. The booklet is ‘dispensed’ free of charge at the tower site. It is also available at the local Wendover public library, at the West Wendover Visitor Information Center, at the truckers’ lounge, and outside of two local grocery stores. Large full color prints of the booklet photos, signs and maps will eventually be exhibited at CLUI’s Wendover Exhibit Hall. Power/Exchange’s ideal audience is the accidental, where pre-existent infrastructures of dissemination are usurped.
The project was inspired by the innocuous yet ubiquitous nature of towers. They are immobile, yet in the service of transportation, their sole reason for existence servitude to the ephemeral forces they propel along cables or through the air. Power/Exchange points to atmospheric, interned and suspended arteries, pulsing with passing electrons, those tiny particles that characterize this epoch of collapsing space and exploding information. It is a surreptitious monument to the invisible swarm of transmissions flooding the atmosphere and the elegant systems by which they become manifest.
The project is designed to call attention to the increasingly politicized, recently deregulated radio spectrum and power industry. In this contentious environment of shrinking electromagnetic real estate, Power/Exchange demonstrates a basic belief in the need for free public communication channels, a faith in human relations, and conviction that public knowledge yields public power.
Video Interview with On The Edge of the Internal Fringe, 2007