an electric kite | eastern state penitentiary | philadelphia 2018
wood, plexiglass, electronic components, clear plastic radio, and book
audio transmission | 33 minutes
An Electric Kite uses transmission and sound to explore radio’s role in prisons. The installation was inspired by a radio transmitter built in secret by a prisoner at Wolfenbüttel Prison, Germany in the 1970s. The project demonstrates that radios are not merely passive devices. They are tools for communication and resistance and can be manipulated to transmit or pick up on secret communications. A headphone speaker can be turned into a microphone. With small adjustments, a handheld radio can be transformed into a small transmitter. In some institutions, prisoners have used hacked or improvised radios to listen in on guards or communicate with each other and the outside world. Conversely, prison solidarity activists have used illegal transmitters to broadcast directly to prisoners.
In some cases radio is the only immediate connection a prisoner might have with the outside world. Call-in shows on radio stations across the country allow loved ones to broadcast messages to prisoners inside who may be on lockdown or have limited communication. These messages, transmitted into the ether, speak to the trauma the carceral state leaves in its wake. Other radio programs allow prisoners and their advocates to speak out about the indignities and inhumanity of incarceration, as well as show the resilience of their spirit. Provisional Island’s installation presents clips of many of these shows, along with other recorded ephemera, to create through fragments a sense of radio's power to transcend this unnatural limitation on human freedom.
Interview about the project on Radio Survivor
Video about the project