Sound Seeds: Border-crossings and the Dispersal of Radio Waves, Seeds, and Sound Archives

Kate Donovan

Seed Totem (detail). Three panel linocut with collage and water colour, by Jenny Kitchener (2021). With permission of the artist.

The term broadcasting was initially used in agriculture to describe the method of scattering seeds widely by hand (Douglas 1987). This refers to a centralised mode of transmission: the classic broadcast dynamic of one-to-many. Ecological radio art, however, refers to more entangled and de-centralised processes of communication that are both situated and trans-scalar. This project takes inspiration from the emerging field of ecological radio art and its understanding of the transmission of radio waves as a kind of dispersal, an inherently entangled dispersal of natureculture.

Through collaboration with the Ethnological Museum in Berlin, the dispersal of seeds and sound archives across national borders will be considered, thinking of the border as a (temporal) geopolitical threshold across which objects, processes, entities and ideas both move and are moved.

Lines of inquiry include researching what contexts the sounds (and seeds) were taken from, and in particular what (human and more-than-human) dynamics were in place at the time of their sounding; how accessible the sound archives are today, whether they hold potential for further dispersal and what the ethics of this would entail; if and how the temporalities of seeds and sound archives have the potential to trouble notions of geopolitical borders; how seeds and sounds cross the border from being processual and relational, towards their objectification on inscription and addition to the archive and/or museum. How can we think of dispersal with/in the archive as processual, relational?

This project is part of the Research and Fellowship Program 4A Laboratory: Art Histories, Archaeologies, Anthropologies, Aesthetics, a cooperation between the Kunsthistorisches Institut in Florenz – Max-Planck-Institut and the Stiftung Preußischer Kulturbesitz.

Douglas, Susan J. Inventing American Broadcasting, 1899–1922. John Hopkins University Press, 1987.


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