Cosmic Static

Fayen d'Evie and Jen Bervin, with Bryan Phillips and Andy Slater

Eavesdropping, Ian Potter Museum of Art, Melbourne, 24 July - 20 Oct 2018

Cosmic Static is the first iteration of an ongoing, cumulative work Poem to a Dustcloud that Jen Bervin and Fayen d’Evie have been researching with a shifting constellation of scientific and artistic collaborators, in connection with Bervin’s participation in the Search for Extra-Terrestrial Intelligence (SETI) artist-in-residence programme. While on residency at SETI’s Allen Telescope Array (ATA) in Hat Creek, California, Bervin and d’Evie became intrigued by the detection of building blocks for life in interstellar dustclouds, and proposed to co-author a poem directed towards the diffuse intelligence of an interstellar dustcloud. Poem to a Dustcloud realizes this ambition through inversion: the work activates the dustcloud of moving bodies of the audience, implicated via the kinaesthetics of listening as they wander amidst simultaneous projected narratives.

Developed with sound artists Bryan Phillips and Andy Slater, Cosmic Static features narrative fragments from the history of extraterrestrial listening, and a sculptural element, a repurposed copper telescope feed from SETI’s ATA. Stories include the exploits of Karl Jansky, who detected mysterious star noise in 1931, and amateur radio operator Grote Reber, who built the first parabolic antenna. in his Chicago backyard in 1937, to tune into radio emissions from outer space. For a decade, Reber, the founder of modern radio astronomy, maintained a lonely vigil listening for extraterrestrial signals. In 1954, he moved to Tasmania, Australia, in search of quieter skies. Cosmic Static includes field recordings from the Tasmanian landscapes where Reber constructed antenna farms, by stringing wires across sheep grazing lands, and from the Grote Reber Museum at the University of Hobart’s Mt Pleasant Radio Observatory. Also included are field recordings from SETI’s ATA, where a small operational staff maintains 42 small radio telescope dishes, searching for anomalous stellar and interstellar signals. Cosmic Static also explores the research of SETI astrophysicist Laurance Doyle, who studies the language complexity and signal transmissions of non-human species—from plant-insect communications, to monkey whistling and baby dolphin babbling—to develop methods of discerning intelligent extraterrestrial signals amidst the galactic noise.

The artists thank SETI, Liquid Architecture, Melbourne University Law School, the Ian Potter Museum of Art, and the Monash University Curatorial Programme for assistance in realising Cosmic Static.