Critics’ Picks

Kara Uzelman, Field Tent and Antenna, 2010, nylon sails, aluminium poles, wood, twine, bolts, dimensions variable. Installation view.

Toronto

Kara Uzelman

Mercer Union
1286 Bloor Street West
October 29–December 4, 2010

Kara Uzelman’s exploration of telecommunications history and acoustic landscapes in this exhibition-cum-residency fittingly takes its title from an arcane communiqué. “If you receive this, you will soon bask in glory” is a translation of the first message relayed from Lille to Paris by Claude Chappe’s semaphore telegraph in 1791. At the time, Chappe’s network of pulley-operated blades atop towers across France was a telecommunications innovation, but by the mid–nineteenth century, it had been rendered obsolete by the arrival of the telegraph. Like Chappe, Uzelman resists latter-day technology in favor of a DIY approach. In the works on view, the artist demonstrates an idiosyncratic material language by salvaging and reassembling twentieth-century refuse into functional, talismanic objects coded as part of a rigorous pseudoscience.

In the middle of the gallery, a tent made of recycled sailcloth offers a provisional workspace for Uzelman’s real-time excavations of aural detritus. A receiver built from handmade components—such as beer bottle solenoids, mason jar batteries filled with bleach, and scraps of pipe lashed together to make an antenna—picks up and broadcasts natural radio waves and electronic interference as an eerie score of clicks and squeaks. Nearby is a papercrete stele and Chappe’s superfluous message spelled out in his runic alphabet; both are compelling anachronistic markers. Throughout the show, Uzelman reconsiders history as a fluid source to borrow from, but her interceptions sift through the clutter and give value to everyday debris.