FemSat: Propositions for Feminism in Radiophonic Space
,
by Radio Amatrices
volume 6
Originally published in Espace art actuel, “Féminisme spatial / Space Feminism.” Montreal, Quebec. Issue 130 (Winter 2022). Print.
Detail from Afroditi Psarra & Audrey Briot, Listening Space (2019–2021). Knitted textile & video performance, 170 cm x 220 cm. Courtesy of the artists.

144 MHz – 2-METER BAND

Radiophonic space is open to anyone with the skills and legal rights to listen and transmit. Yet, radio—specifically Amateur Radio—has often been the domain of privileged white, male-identified people. There is a complex relationship between governmental, legal control and tacit, ad-hoc governance by radio amateurs themselves.

Do It Yourself (DIY), Do It With Others (DIWO), Do It Together (DIT), electronic circuitry and hacking methodologies have made radiophonic spaces accessible to us and other communities regardless of “legal access” gained through Amateur Radio licenses. Free streaming services have democratized access to tools for sharing personal expression and ideas on the radio spectrum, and have helped develop networks of commons, but tech giants still control the majority of content that is broadcast. Though in its essence radiophonic space is egalitarian, enabling pirate actions and access, the invisible space of the airwaves has been fragmented and auctioned to powerful actors. This leaves only Amateur Radio frequencies open to citizen experimenters, yet these frequencies are strictly governed through national communications policies (FCC; OfCom) and are guided by the norms of Amateur Radio clubs. Despite significant progress made in feminism and inclusivity, Amateur Radio organizations also reproduce anachronistic languages describing how femmes and femme-oriented people are identified in it as YLs, which stands for “Young Ladies” in Amateur Radio parlance.

Radio Amatrices imagines reclaiming radiophonic and orbital space as a space of the “commons” through remote and hands-on collaborations, cooperations, workshops, performances, body and machine hacking, ideations, and speculative fabulations. As an operative tool, Radio Amatrices proposes a feminist amateur satellite (FemSat).

1691 MHz – ELECTRO-L3

FemSat is an amateur satellite operated by an international network of feminist, radiophonic artists and practitioners. FemSat initiates, activates, and employs decentralized networks. In a time of commercial control of the internet and radio spectrums, and increasingly complex communications infrastructures legible only to those with elite and specialized knowledge, FemSat engages and enables other, decentralized forms of technological sharing on a planetary and potentially interplanetary scale.

437.345 MHz – SMOG-1POCKETQUBE

FemSat reframes space to ground communication. For Radio Amatrices, a satellite is not only an object orbiting around Earth, it is also performed on the ground. FemSat centers the development of new, wearable technologies for receiving amateur satellite signals, and building a diverse community of practice around the prototyping and design of these technologies. For Radio Amatrices the construction of novel wearable prototypes using soft circuits and digital fabrication techniques is a collective act. One that can manifest through the collaborative making of fractal antennas made of conductive fabrics and yarns, VNAs (Vector Network Analyzers) and embodied experiments. One that can be performed through wearable dipole antennas that use the form of the body to follow the trajectory of satellites.

137.1 MHz – NOAA-19

FemSat invites the production of antennas designed for bodies. Given that amateur satellites often transmit in the VHF and UHF bands, antennas linked to FemSat will be of a size amenable to the human body. Connections between Earth and space would be forged through the movement of the body in order to track FemSat as it orbits overhead.

236.998 MHz – LES-1 ( LINCOLN EXPERIMENTAL SATELLITE-1 )

To cultivate cyborg-queer-xeno encounters in radiophonic space, FemSat will link to a series of workshops with women, non-binary persons, and young people highlighting different cyborg-queer-xeno-postcolonial relationships that can be constructed through a close attention to the cultural codings of antennas, transmission, sensing, reception, rockets, orbiting, space, and futures.

136.662 MHz – TRANSIT-5B5

In a radio spectrum that has historically been characterised by competition over “useful” frequencies and strict policing of broadcast information, FemSat helps us to experiment with transmitting otherwise. We propose that how data is transmitted from FemSat is just as important as what the data is. In short, we want to open up the potential for alternative forms of encoding that are constructed using different standards than those of efficiency.

Radio Amatrices is not only invested in the production of new space technologies, however. We are actively reimagining the relationships between our bodies, technologies, data modes, and the extraterrestrial and cosmic phenomena that permeate them.

1.4 GHz – FAST RADIO BURSTS

Space is intersectional. In other words, space is not neutral, nor is it solely reproducible to the adventures of white, anglo-european men. It is a realm of multiple identities, histories, geographies and disciplines. Because you never go to space alone, future activities in space need to rectify the distinct lack of representation in astronauts in the classic terms of identity, take into account the vast histories of cosmic travel evinced by Indigenous peoples, and ultimately manifest a distinctly collaborative and multi-species endeavor that eschews control and colonization and rather searches for non-hierarchical ways of being that learn from the mistakes made here on Earth.

1,420,405,751.7682 Hz – HYRDROGEN LINE

Extraterrestrial communication is a form of aesthesis and thus should be a space for artistic expression. Instead of being used for purely efficient machine trans-mission of data, or for misguided attempts to “speak for” Earth, extraterrestrial transmissions deserve to be explored as an artistic medium. To do this will allow for a coupling of transmission with sensation and the body.

111 Hz – AURORAE BOREALIS /
1-30 KHZ – WHISTLERS, SPRITES

Coupling transmission with sensation calls for interfaces and tools for sensing the micro and macro scale. Thus, this involves experimenting with the design and fabrication of ELF/VLF detectors such as ELF Schumann resonance receivers, induction antennas, H-Field loop antennas, and their relationships with the lithosphere below ground. For Radio Amatrices, this means sensing the electromagnetism of the Earth, the gravitational pull of the Moon, Whistlers, Aurorae Borealis, Sprites (electromagnetic storms) – energetic phenomena of planetary and interplanetary space.

279.5 GHz – COSMIC RADIATION

Through community actions, wearable cosmic radiation detectors can create a network of telescopes covering the Earth. These detectors can allow us to connect our bodies with energetic bursts from Supernova explosions. These detectors can be seen as personal telescopes gathering data on the ground, and in the air (through air travel).

0.001 Hz – 100 EHz

Our bodies are permeated with the cosmic, from the basics of our chemistry to the speeding of neutrinos through us to the saturation of ourselves by electromagnetic radiation. Through some of the techniques proposed here, we will begin to learn what our bodies are capable of as we experiment with the aesthetic and political possibilities of radiophonic spaces, move beyond the boundaries of the present-day notion of the human, and fully embrace the potentials of becoming cyborg-queer-xeno-postcolonial.

Radio Amatrices would like to invite more people to embrace these provocations, acknowledging that radio as a technology and a means of communication offers a space of becoming. We look forward to seeing more Feminisms of the Aethers, enabling these encounters through the airwaves, interplanetary space, dark matters, and the dark energy that surrounds us.

Radio Amatrices, Feminism in Radiophonic Space (or FemSat on the Airwaves) (September 2021). Collage with archival performance material. Courtesy of the artists.
Stephanie Simek, Untitled, 2021. Record sleeve, gallium, calcium carbonate. 13 in. x 12 in. x 2 in. Courtesy of the artist. Photograph: Jueqian Fang.