Do you remember radio? It’s that thing that comes on in your car before you start playing Spotify, and that’s filled with local pluming advertisements and over-energetic DJs. You’re probably familiar with the concepts of AM and FM radio — or at least that one plays disconcerting talk shows and the other plays the same Top 10 billboard hits on repeat. But, once upon a time, shortwave radio was another popular type of transmission. Amanda Dawn Christie’s unique art is a look into just how strange shortwave radio can be.
Shortwave radio is unique because it can cover absolutely massive distances. While you lose FM radio reception a few miles outside of your city, shortwave radio transmissions can reach all the way around the world. Christie lived near a shortwave radio transmission station in Sackville, New Brunswick, Canada, and had heard about the odd properties of shortwave radio from her neighbors. Some, for example, would hear radio coming from their sink or refrigerator.
Christie came to the conclusion that those household appliances were picking up shortwave transmissions thanks to the rusty bolt effect, which can turn corroded metal into a radio diode. She decided to harness that effect to create art, first in the form of a sink and plumbing installation called The Marshland Radio Plumbing Project. Then, she made a 2016 film called Spectres of Shortwavethat documented the unusual sounds of shortwave radio. Finally, that led to her musical performance art show called Requiem for Radio: Pulse Decay, in which she plays a theremin that reacts to radio masts on stage. Christie’s work demonstrates the unique properties of radio, and how they can be wrangled to create art.