Pyrite Radio – Text
20 June 2015

Pyrite Radio

May 20-June 6, 2015
Rubicon ARI
Level 1/309 Queensberry Street
North Melbourne VIC 3061

Hanging on the wall are scraps of dowel, lashed together into crosses, and strung with red wire like a spiders web. Below them, on a makeshift shelf, are strange contraptions made of scrap wood, cardboard tubes, tin foil, masking tape, gold enamelled wire wound around bottles, and some parts with labels that suggest you try turning them.

There are several devices of this kind. Some have antiquated headphones attached, or a tiny little earpiece seemingly made out of Bakelite, or an origami gramophone horn. There is no power plug, no battery connected, and yet, if you listen closely you can hear different radio broadcasts emanating from each makeshift device.

For this exhibition, Pyrite Radio, Simon O’Carrigan has built a selection of homemade ‘crystal set’ radios: an invention first considered at the turn of the century, and popularised through the 1930s and ‘40s. These radios used a crystal such as pyrite to convert radio waves into a very weak electronic pulse — just enough to make audible sound. They work only with analogue broadcasts, and then, only on the AM dial.

Alongside the makeshift radios are oil on linen renderings of archival photographs: just as eccentric as the tin foil and masking tape devices in the room. A woman in 19th century garb sits at a desk, her feet on jerry-rigged bicycle pedals, providing power to the radio she operates. A man sits for a portrait wearing a shoulder-mounted antenna connected to a crystal set conveniently mounted in a tobacco pipe, feeding sound into his headphones. “How do you tune it?” the article read. “I just turn my head” was his reply.

The works on show were made with no electronic knowledge or training, just a handful of research and a lot of late nights (reception is clearer at night, go figure). The result is an exhibition that looks like the apocalypse backup plan of a crazed survivalist, with a sprinkling of modern black magic woven in. Analogue radio broadcasts will soon be phased out, and with them, the ability to communicate without the pay-per-moment microtransactions of modern wireless life.

The audience is invited to tinker with the devices on show, and take home instructions to build their own.