The installation Transmission Study grew out of meditation on the studio space that I inhabited during my graduate study at the School of the Art Institute of Chicago. The studio, commonly referred to as “The Fish Bowl,” was located in the basement at the front entrance of the school. With a 30-foot ceiling and 180-degree bay window located at grade level, I experienced a sense of constant scrutiny from above, as students and visitors would frequently gaze down into my working space. I thought often of the stuffed fauna and the aquatic life behind glass at the nearby Field Museum and Shedd Aquarium. I chose the studio knowing this dynamic existed, and hoping that I’d be able to do something that engaged this feature of the space.
What I ended up doing was building a steel tower, equipped with red warning beacon lights, a bull-horn speaker, and a four-camera video surveillance system. It was important that the structure be rooted only to the floor of my studio, as a way of connecting my subterranean work area to the world above. The cameras, connected to a monitor, a projector, and a digital video recorder, gave me a panoramic view of the school entrance. The public could still look down, but now I was aware of when it was happening, and was able to gaze back at any time. The beacon lights blinked out the name of my wife using Morse code, and the speaker blared a cacophony of deep-space and terrestrial radio interference.
Viewer responses ranged broadly. To some it was just a curiosity; An object that is attractive precisely because, in the midst of its obvious order and complexity, its function remained ambiguous—an alien object. Some perceived it as a weapon, or threatening defense mechanism. More than one person communicated concern about whether I was recording their movement, and whether that was legal (I’d draw their attention to the school’s cameras just behind them). And still others perceived it as a communication device, and used it as such through spontaneous performance, or just waving to the cameras to get my attention below, like tapping on a fish bowl. Only this time, the fish was staring back.