Jonathan Alexander Kennedy
Structure Signalling (Logical Structure or Relating to Something That Happened)
9 June – July 3
Looking for Signal
Looking for Escobedo
Where is Elena?
A conversation with interrupted events
The language of interruptions
I lose signal four times every work day. The first time is when the Southern Line train goes through the tunnel before Parnell. The second time is when the train enters Britomart Train Station. Then reverse when I catch the train home. The signal loss is barely noticeable. It just suspends events in time. If I’m on a phone call, the line doesn’t cut but neither person can hear each other for a minute or so. If I click a link on my phone, the page takes a little longer to load.
The Encyclopaedia Britannica defines “signal” in a communication context as “an interruption in a field of constant energy transfer.” For example, “dots and dashes that open and close the electromagnetic field of a telegraph circuit,” the “tapping of a pencil in a silent room,” or “puffs of smoke rising from a mountaintop.” It describes the changes in a single environmental factor as “interruptions.” It is the interruptions that give meaning to the event that is being interrupted. It is a series of interrupted events that creates a language.
Signals is the name of the late Mexican artist Helen Escobedo’s sculpture installed at the Fred Ambler Lookout. In 1971, Escobedo was one of four international sculptors flown to Aotearoa to participate in an international symposium commemorating Auckland City’s centennial. In an interview for a National Film Unit production about the four sculptors, Escobedo said when she visited the lookout for the first time she “realised it was such a beautiful sight, there was no point in interfering with it — I had to, rather, enhance it. In other words, one had to see through this thing.”(1) Escobedo worked with steel beams and aluminum tubes fabricated in Aotearoa to create the four forms that look like cross-sections of scaffolding.
When Signals was first installed it may have appeared as interruptions or interventions on the periphery of the city. Each form defines the world that surrounds it. The nature that fills the garden, once a neutral backdrop to the lives of those who passed through it, becomes active and material, no longer “pristine and external to modern urban life.”(2) Together the four forms that make up Signals and the world in between create a language — the interpretation of which depends on the actions of the audience that views it.
Over time language can be lost. After half a century the sculpture has become so integrated into its surrounding environment, like the nature it was intended to reactivate, we may have learned to unsee it. Deeply immersed in our routines, the runner runs, the walker walks. Onwards and onwards. Repeat and repeat. Only a lone seagull understands. It perches on one of the rungs of the sculpture for a brief, contemplative break.
As the Southern Line train leaves Parnell and enters the tunnel, just down the hill from the sculpture my signal drops out. However, a signal lost will return again, it’s just a matter of time.
By Eloise Callister-Baker