Zita Joyce: Ethermapping

  • ©2006, Zita Joyce, Ethermapping






Creation Year:


Artist Statement:

    Ethermapping explores the electromagnetic dimensions of the landscape – the flow of radio waves forming the ‘radio atmosphere’ within which we live. As human and economic life concentrates in cities, so do radio waves, intensifying in areas of economic activity.

    Ethermapping reveals the pervasiveness and ownership of intangible resources, suggesting the paths and patterns of the invisible radio landscape. It does this with an interactive flash map, and a site for people to contribute stories of the own experiences in interacting with radio waves, and their understandings of the relationship between radio waves and their own environment.

    Ethermapping illustrates the density of the radio atmosphere, representing the frequencies of registered radio transmissions and the physical points from which they originate. Transmitters are the visible manifestations of radio waves, extending into invisible electromagnetic dimensions. Ethermapping illustrates interactions between these visible and invisible aspects of radio waves.

    The project is based in New Zealand, where licenses to use most radio frequencies have been sold at auction since 1989 – the first frequencies in the world to be treated as economic resources in this way. Access to radio communications here is largely economically determined, particularly for powerful commercial broadcast and cellular phone frequencies.

    Ethermapping is an interaction based representation of registered radio transmissions in Auckland, New Zealand. The focus of ethermapping is a map of the city, on which users can select transmission points in order to see the frequencies transmitted from them, their approximate coverage areas, and the ownership and technical detail of the transmissions. There are 1800 transmitters in Auckland, with over 6000 transmissions emitted from them. This kind of interaction is the only means by which all of this information can be represented to a user. The map is navigable by transmission points, and by the uses represented by different owners.

    The Auckland ethermap will be connected to a wide-band scanner, so that it will be possible to listen to frequencies in Auckland, from San Jose, creating a kind of tangible radio connection between these two Pacific Rim cities.

    The map is city focused, because radio transmissions tend to be city focused. It is not conceived as a gallery installation, although it has already been displayed as such. Instead it is to be an open access tool by which the residents of a city (in this case Auckland) can learn about a dimension of their city that they live within, but are unable to sense themselves. In New Zealand this information is publicly available, but in an obscure and very technical database, so the mapping project transposes the transmission data into a more tangible and accessible form.

    Access to radio frequencies provides a means of interacting with a city – its broadcast and phone networks, communications between transportation providers, and its major telecommunications links with the world beyond its border. Ethermapping reveals opportunities and dimensions of broader interactions with the city.