About Transmission Arts

Wave Farm's Transmission Arts activities support artistic projects that engage the electromagnetic spectrum, transmitted on the airwaves and through public presentation. The Wave Farm Artist Residency Program supports visiting artists from around the globe; Property Installations activate Wave Farm's 29-acres, on-site and online; the Study Center library features a specialized research collection; and, the Transmission Arts Archive presents a living genealogy of artists’ experiments with broadcast media and the airwaves.


Wave Farm 20th Anniversary Poster
(Detail.) Created by Maximilian Goldfarb.

A sub-genre of the media arts, transmission art is defined as works where the electromagnetic spectrum is an intentional actor (either formally or conceptually) in the work. The electromagnetic spectrum is vast including seven primary types of waves: Radio Waves, Microwaves, Infrared Waves, Visible Light Rays, Ultraviolet Waves, X-rays, and Gamma Rays. Naturally occurring radio waves are emitted by lightning and astronomical objects. Radio-related projects, either conventional radio art works (audio made explicitly for radio broadcast) or do-it-yourself radio-based installation and performance where artists might build their own transmission and receiving devices are common manifestations of transmission art in action. Another common trajectory of the genre is making the ethereal tangible, for example works that demonstrate a physical delineation of space through sonic or visual representation: the architecture of transmission and reception.

Transmission art encompasses works in which the act of transmitting or receiving is not only significant, but the fulcrum for the artist’s intention. The genre is more loosely defined as a multiplicity of practices that engage aural and visual broadcast media, where in some instances works for traditional broadcast are created, and at other times artists harness preexisting broadcast signals as source material manipulated in live performance; installation; and public interactive networks and tools. Similarly interested in the synaesthetic possibilities of radio, much of contemporary transmission art is influenced by Hörspiel, translated literally as radio play, and simultaneously informed by new wireless technologies. These works often challenge conventional relationships of transmitter (or artist) and receiver (or audience) and celebrate a Brechtian utopia of interactive two-way media.

Wave Farm’s major publication, “Transmission Arts: Artists & Airwaves” (PAJ Publications: 2011), identifies a genealogy for the genre. The book cites 150 artists and works from 1921 to 2010, and has been incorporated into media art and intermedia studies curricula, as well as several recent international conferences specific to transmission art and radio as art. The book's earliest citation, Khlebnikov’s manifesto, “The Radio of the Future” (1921), prophesied an evolution of the medium where text, images, scents, and even flavors could be communicated through broadcast. In what is perhaps the first conception of transmission art, Khlebnikov envisioned a future where radio would emit ethereal art exhibitions.