Chicago Art Review

Interview: Brennan McGaffey by Steve Ruiz
November 25, 2009, 9:15 pm
Filed under: Chicago, Interviews

Brennan McGaffey quietly maintains one of the most interesting art practices in the city of Chicago, creating interactive, mysterious urban interjections with his Intermod Series. Enjoy the interview, a Chicago Art Review first.

Tell me a little about yourself and the history and goals of the Intermod Series. What other projects were involved?

Around 1999 I realized that a shift had occurred in the way I was working and in the way it was realized and presented. It no longer had any relationship to galleries or gallery spaces but was focused instead on methods of propagation outward with unknown results. At the time I was listening to a lot of shortwave radio and began to think that the best audience imaginable was the devoted shortwave enthusiast who spends their nights glued to their kit with headphones on and a pot of coffee, listening and drawing out faint signals.

Also, around that time the Conet Project was released, which is an intense 4-disc compilation of samples of the now well-known shortwave number stations and I remember listening to it all in one sitting. Someone had to be out there listening for these, ready to record them. These were the people I wanted to interact with. Hobbyists who really cared or the similarly obsessed. Even if it meant no one else would be interested.

The resulting activities I named the Intermod Series. Intermodulation occurs when two or more signals mix generating a new or modified signal. The Intermod Series engages through creative interference. Some examples include altering the electromagnetic field surrounding the electric-power grid, FM radio and boosted CB radio transmissions, and launching rockets in the city to alter the atmosphere. Developed to have the potential for interaction, the projects are free and distributed with 1-800 numbers, embroidered patches and stickers, radio monitoring frequencies, or online forums and journals.

Brennan Mcgaffey, Utility-intertied Signal Generation & Transfer

Brennan Mcgaffey, Utility-intertied Signal Generation & Transfer

Your next event involves your KC-135 Ground Tracking Network. Could you give me a brief description of what the project is and where it came from?

The KC-135 Ground Tracking Network is a skywatch program to recruit KC-135 Stratotanker airplane spotters. Earlier this week I sent out a Spotters’ Guide in the mail to carefully selected addresses. This guide was inspired by the Airplane Spotters’ Handbooks that were distributed to the public during the Second World War and is designed to give you an introduction to spotting and show you the specific characteristics of the KC-135 airplane. Once you receive this, and decide to participate, there is an online forum where you sign-up to become a member. This forum will generate a constantly updating database that can be studied online at anytime. As a spotter, this is where you go to to discuss your findings, ask questions, post photos, and so on. Members have unlimited access to the forum and are eligible to receive an embroidered patch. The Ground Tracking Network puts eyes to the sky, monitoring and recording when others won’t. You should join!

KC-135 Ground Tracking

KC-135 Spotters Guide

Last year you showed a scale model of the KC-135 at VONZWECK, and you’ve got another event coming up as part of the KC-135 project titled Fire & Judgment which also involves a fabricated model among other things. What can we expect to see at this next event?

The members will determine how the network progresses by their participation. That’s the most important part. But in addition, there will be a one-time purging event & gathering where the activated model will be presented ‘live’ with an indeterminate outcome. This will begin at midnight on December 2nd and end permanently at 1:00 a.m. If you’re considering becoming a member or are sympathetic, this might be something worth attending. But don’t come expecting an art show. Or an art space.

Brennan McGaffey, Fire & Judgment

Brennan McGaffey, Fire & Judgment

What do you mean by “activated”? You also used the words, purging, and indeterminate outcome – should we be worried?

What you saw at the VONZWECK space was a preview. On December 2nd, it will no longer be a preview. Personally, I’m a little worried having never participated in something like this but it should reflect how you approach the event. If you engage passively to observe, you should have nothing to worry about. If you come with a more focused awareness then you should already know the risks and prepare yourself accordingly.

Brennan McGaffey, Fire & Judgment

Brennan McGaffey, Fire & Judgment

More information on Brennan McGaffey, the Intermod Series, the KC-135 Ground Tracking Network, and Fire & Judgment can be found at the Intermod Series website. You can read more about his radio projects here and here.

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