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Tuning, Hopkinson Mossman


Wellington, New Zealand

Tuning, 2018
brass, plated aluminium, Perspex, electronics, radio transmitter, coaxial cable
3410mm x 8300mm

For Tuning, a large brass discone antenna that occupies the entire Hopkinson Mossman gallery space. Usually mounted vertically, a discone antenna has a wide frequency range that makes it attractive in commercial, military and amateur radio applications, and permits it to broadcast undesirable emissions from faulty or improperly filtered transmitters. In Tuning, Mitchell’s antenna is connected to a transmitter, generating an electromagnetic field across FM bandwidth. The audio-transmission is a ‘spurious emission’ (a term for any radio frequency not deliberately created or transmitted); a sound that is camouflaged in the broadcast spectrum amongst background noise, and presents as static or white noise.

The transmissions emanating from the antenna are temporal sequences, they can be ‘read’ or captured in sonic form, but they are invisible to the eye. In Tuning, the artwork stretches well beyond the physical, entering the broadcast space as a transmitted radio signal, spreading itself invisibly into the world. When tuned into it potentially introduces an infinite number of transmissions from beyond the gallery walls, disestablishing the boundaries that artworks traditionally maintain. The space between object, gallery, and viewing body is here imagined as something active and constantly in flux.

Writing in 1962 George Kubler made the poetic suggestion that astronomers and historians are both concerned with appearances noted in the present, but occurring in the past (light takes millions of years to reach astronomers on earth, historians deal with narratives and objects from the past). He suggests both astronomers and historians collect ancient ‘signals’ from ‘objects and starlight alike’. When a star dies and its light goes out the gravitational effect of the missing star is still perceptible, taken further, one could say that when an artwork is gone (destroyed, or perhaps sold) one can still detect its perturbations upon other bodies in the field of influence.

Tuning works in this legacy to build a complex analogy for the processes already at play in the perception of an artwork, in particular the reliance on the expectation, imagination, and belief of the viewer. Mitchell stretches our imaginations to simultaneously conceive of the work as both an existing object (encountered conventionally in the gallery space), as well as being a metaphorical transmitter of a ‘signal’ that hides amongst the background white noise.

See also Simon Gennard's accompanying text here

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