Spy Numbers

(via Adam’s view)

The Palais de Tokyo‘s ongoing exhibition, Spy Numbers, takes as its starting point the mysterious and vaguely distressing Numbers Stations. These shortwave radio stations have been broadcasting for several decades, yet their precise function and origin are an enigma. Artificially generated voices are reading streams of numbers, words, letters, tunes or Morse code. Are they sending messages to secret agents? To governments? To weapon or drug traffickers?

0aenrenovatioij.jpgClockwise : Luca Francesconi, To Lower the Mountains, 2005. Ken Gonzales-Day, The Wonder Gaze (St. James Park), 2006-2009. Tony Smith, For V.T., 1969. Exhibition view. Photo: André Morin

Spy Numbers echoes GAKONA, the previous exhibit inspired by the work of Nikola Tesla, in its exploration of the electromagnetic spectrum and its margins. Extending beyond the phenomenon of number stations, the exhibition explores the themes of intrigue and conspiracy.

It’s a small exhibition. Just a dozen pieces. Some if them very good.

0asrklipetteer.jpgPascal Broccolichi, Sonotubes, 2006. Exhibition view. Photo: André Morin

Pascal Broccolichi used a program to capture the electromagnetic activity taking place inside and around the Palais de Tokyo. Sonotubes, an apparatus one would expect to see on the set of 2001: A Space Odyssey, broadcasts the reverberations of these flows of buried waves. Installed at the entrance of the exhibition, Sonotubes sets the tone of the exhibition. We are in for an unsettling and mystifying ride.

0aalynchinnngjk.jpgKen Gonzales-Day, The Wonder Gaze (St. James Park), 2006-2009. Courtesy of the artist & Steve Turner Contemporary, Los Angeles. © Ken Gonzales-Day

I saw the exhibition almost a month ago and the image that haunts my memory is the one of an invisible man. For the series Erased Lynching, Ken Gonzales-Day erased all traces of lynching from postcards and old photos. The lifeless bodies, the ropes have disappeared, leaving only the setting, the onlookers, the executioners. The images deliberately ignore the victims to highlight the true mechanisms of lynching: the crowd gathered to watch the show, the photographer who immortalizes these executions. Invisible, the victims are more omnipresent than ever.

As the artists writes: The Erased Lynching series sought to reveal that racially motivated lynching and vigilantism was a more widespread practice in the American West than was believed, and that in California, the majority of Lynchings were perpetrated against Latinos, Native Americans, and Asian Americans; and that more Latinos were lynched in California than were persons of any other race or ethnicity.

0aaspynumbnbhre.jpgDove Allouche and Evariste Richer, La Terrella, 2002. Exhibition view. Photo: André Morin

La Terrella by Dove Allouche & Evariste Richer follows the steps of Kristian Birkeland. Around 1895, the Norwegian scientist tried to simulate and understand the phenomenon of aurora borealis with a Terrella, a sphere in a vacuum tank to which he directed beams of cathode rays. Birkeland found they were transformed into rings of light at the magnetic poles of a sphere, Birkeland deduced that this was the origin of the aurora borealis.

0aaterrelllo.jpgKristian Birkeland and his terrella experiment (photo)

Allouche and Richer produced a replica of the Terrella, which had since been abandoned, with the help of laboratories and scientists, the two artists embarked on producing a replica. For the Paris exhibition the artists made it operate in accordance with the calendar of the aurora borealis in the year when Birkeland presented his invention to the public.

0aaapsysnreiuruh9.jpgMatt O’dell, Numbers Station Beacon / Community Broadcast Tower

The piece that alludes most directly to the numbers station is a 5 meter high Numbers Station Beacon / Community Broadcast Tower that broadcasts in the exhibition space recordings of enigmatic voices reading out numbers. The mystery surrounding the meaning of the information relayed engenders anxiety. Besides, the form of the sculpture evokes other towers: powerful lighting devices, big sound broadcasting systems, transmitting antennas, or indeed watch towers.

Spy Numbers opens until August 30th, 2009 at the Palais de Tokyo in Paris.
If you speak french: mon dieu, mon dieu! Tom Novembre! Is that really you?

Previously: Transmediale exhibition: Conspire!, A suspicious radio/printer for Mike Corley, GAKONA at the Palais de Tokyo.