07.- 26. 06. 2021; Ljubljana,
centre for urban culture
curated by Peter Rauch
On 17 February 2005, four MIT researchers published the results of a short investigation. They had performed a series of measurements to prove or refute the expediency of an unusual practice of some of their colleagues, who walked around with aluminium foil on their head due to a general conviction that they are thus shielding their head from the potential entry of invasive waves. A key aspect of these waves was, according to the owners of such apparel, the hidden intent of covert agencies to read their thoughts. The aluminium foil supposedly blocked these waves, thereby protecting the authors of the thoughts from potential intrusion. But where there are authors, there is also the transgression of their works. The reverse is also true; where there is a transgression of works, there are authors. Our thoughts are too often indecent, horrible, oh dear, they haunt even ourselves. If possible, we quickly renounce authorship in such cases. On the other hand, we carefully keep certain thoughts to ourselves as a matter of intimate pride, keeping them as safe as possible. We are not prepared to share such content, least of all with surveillance agencies, which is why some of us resort to active shielding from unwanted eavesdropping. As they are not convinced of the effectiveness of passive concealment, they rather wrap their mental content in foil. At the minimum, the aluminium cone on the head thereby characterizes two clear poles — the internal and the external. On the inside, there is something that is classified as an intimate freedom, while on the outside, repressive regulation defines the line between the internal and the external by endangering internal privacy. Such an arrangement shows the fundamental phantasm of security and threat, known and unknown, alluring and repulsive. The aluminium foil thus protects the edible contents from the decay caused by external influences, just as with a sandwich from a backpack.
The group of researchers, featuring Ali Rahimi (Electrical Engineering & Computer Science, MIT), Ben Recht, Jason Taylor and Noah Vawter (all MIT Media Lab) carried out a series wave transmission measurements in the frequency range between 10 kHz and 3 GHz through a double-layered aluminium headdress. To this end, they used the three most common shapes of protective headgear — classic, fez and centurion. They placed receptors on the four lobes of the skull: frontal, occipital and parietal – in other words, on the front, the back and the sides. The measurements were surprising: in all three versions of the foil helmet, they recorded a 30 dB increase at 2.6 GHz and a 20 dB increase at 1.2 and 1.5 GHz, regardless of the location of the measurement on the skull. Waves in other frequency ranges did not change significantly. The researchers drew the conclusion that not only does the headgear not shield from waves, it has the opposite effect, precisely in the ranges of governmentally regulated communications systems and mobile telephony systems owned by multinational corporations. In the conclusion, the authors of the report add that the discussed fashion accessory has perhaps been launched by the very agencies it was supposed to shield from, which is a good example of the interpretative twist undertaken by paranoid people when confronted with empirical counterproof. With this warning, the researchers encourage current wearers to increase their efforts and improve the aluminium headgear design to prevent the waves from entering from below.
Does the selection of photographs and objects on display have anything in common with all of this? Nothing and, at the same time, everything. The foil in Pandel’s hands might not wrap an edible core, repel harmful influences, presuppose large surveillance institutions, be very useful or do anything particularly clever… ok, it lies on the sofa, watching television, but that is about it. Through the entire spectrum of the author’s handling of it, it maintains the same posture – wrapping the border between expected function and unexpected visibility, the line between wrapping a Toblerone and just being somewhere, being and nothing. In this way, the foil scrunches up into the form of an unpleasant relationship between functioning without drawing any attention, and drawing attention, but only when it is not in function. At the moment it appears in the exhibition, the foil clearly poses questions, just like any readymade from the local E.Leclerc store. As matter, it communicates, enables, passes on something; Pandel says it is a medium. As a material, it conceals, misdirects, camouflages, repels, pretends there is something behind it, something edible. It wraps a thought so that it is on the inside, like the protective headgear on the head of a conspirator. At the same time, like the empirical proof of misconception, it turns the hat inside out; Pandel’s foil rebounds the thought to my side, mirrors it, scrunches it up and wraps it into a ball. Ah, it is not the foil that is thinking; I should be thinking, the foil is just watching television.
— Peter Rauch