From mobile phones to WiFi, the ability to communicate wirelessly is something we take for granted today. But these new technologies are all descendants of the crystal radio. Revolutionising battlefield communications in WW1, the crystal radio was the first truly wireless tech, turning electromagnetic phenomena in the air directly into electricity. 100 years on artist Julian Oliver recreates the experience for us with a modern twist…
Oliver’s exhibition searches the internet for the latest developments in warfare and transmits them through a newly created crystal radio set. The radio has unique audio textures which let us hear the transmissions just as the men in the trenches first would have – this is “the future battlefield heard through its past”.
Discussing his work, Oliver explored how the crystal radio was born out of a time of scientific openness, when various technologies confidently presented themselves outwardly; as social, extroverted objects. This is a machine which has its inner functionality exposed so we can see its workings – a stark contrast to the opacity of modern day communications technology such as the iPhone, whose workings are hidden from us.
His hope is to encourage people to be able to understand tech as simply as we can understand why a flower blooms or how a bike works; that a creation like the crystal radio needs to be seen in its technological honesty.
This line of thought brought to mind the recent Oscar winning documentary Citizenfour, in which NSA whistle-blower Edward Snowden exposes the frightening extent our communications are monitored without our knowledge, taking the idea of technology as now opaque to us to a whole new level.
As you look upon the crystal radio, which flourished in war yet was honest and open in its workings, an exhibition like this is now startlingly relevant in the new war we seemingly face over communications privacy.
The Crystal Line exhibition will be in The Cube Gallery until the end of March
Make your own crystal radio set at our Workshop on Sat 14th March