Ecstasy & the Machine Stripped Bare
May 30 - July 26, 2014
Reception Saturday, May 31, 7PM
Curated by Mark Lanctôt and Jonathan Middleton
Ecstasy & the Machine Stripped Bare projects a theory of negative desire into the prescient “secret communication system” patent by film star Hedy Lamarr and avant-guarde composer George Antheil in 1942. From a spectrum of ten years of research into military technology, I have culled a suite of objects and artwork focusing on the cryptic gap between sender and receiver. At the core of the exhibition runs a 16mm film installation called Zeno’s Phantasies whose imagery was created using a custom algorithm that analyzed the difference between the ontic and the ontological in archival footage by tracing the missing moments when the camera’s shutter was closed and the world escaped capture. Along with footage of US military testing of nuclear explosions and the Lumière Brother’s Arrival of a Mail Train is a time and motion study of Glenn Gould playing Bach’s Goldberg Variations. While Lamarr and Antheil’s patent was partly based on player piano technology, the patent’s key invention was synchronizing a fugue state between electromagnetic master and drone by developing what is called today frequency hopping and used in most secure wireless communication. The work AC/DC stems from my fieldwork while embedded at the remote Arctic Military Signals Intelligence Station ALERT, where I observed two clocks running in tandem—one plugged into Alternating Current and one running off of Direct Current, carefully articulating a subtle difference in temporality based on power. Also on display are “empty” artifacts from the expedition to ALERT (the northernmost settlement on earth) and Thule, a US Air Force Base in Greenland, including an empty bowling score sheet from the station, an original IBM punch card from a Cold War surveillance computer from the 1960s and a bomb threat report card found in my barracks used to identify the voice of a caller in the event of a terrorist attack. The final object, Hedy Lamarr’s autobiography Ecstasy & Me, returns to Lamarr as the central protagonist in the exhibition who articulates a contemporary paradox of public exhibitionism versus the desire for secrecy: on the one hand she is credited with the first on-camera orgasm in the 1933 film Ekstase, and on the other hand she is the inventor a communications theory to encrypt military communication. Under the threat of total surveillance, desire is no longer for a transcendent mystical place but the increasing elusiveness of private space.
- Charles Stankievech
Charles Stankievech recently curated the exhibition CounterIntelligence for the Justina M. Barnicke Gallery, University of Toronto that explored the relationship between art and military intelligence over the past 400 years. The same project was presented as a lecture and book launch at the Crash Pad for the 8th Berlin Biennale. He lives in Berlin where he co-directs the press K.
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