Laurier gallery goes radio gaga

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(Graphic by Carley McGlynn)

The importance of Canadian media history is overlooked by many people. With only a handful of media scholars paying attention to this sub-genre of study, two enthusiasts developed a creative and engaging way of approaching Canada’s contribution to the development of the radio.

Marconi’s Ruins, an exhibit currently running on the Laurier campus at the Robert Langden Gallery, tries, as artist Robert Prenovault explains, to “situate it [the radio] historically and scientifically as well as technologically.”

The exhibit itself is part archival and part artistic. Photographs, models and window vinyls, bring together a visual narrative of Guglimelo Marconi’s (the father of the wireless) home and work in the early 20th Century.

“We’re trying to show how extensive the technology at the site was,” said Prenovault.

A topological table represents the visual history of the site at Glace Bay, Nova Scotia. Another table, showing a Marconi advertising campaign, holds remaining artefacts from the radio transmission station.

“The site today literally is a kind of ruin,” said media professor Michael Longford. “The ruin also suggests a kind of monument though.”

An academic and artistic approach to technological innovation, Longford notes that “everything [in the exhibit] was found on site. What’s left, is left.” The vinyl prints on windows showcase engineering logs and radio frequency diagrams, which add a layer of scientific validity to the exhibit.

Photographs on the walls show the physical disintegration of the technological structures and allude to the metaphorical disappearance of old technology as new technology advances. Longford and Prenovault, who both work in app design for Apple say, “we sort of hold it [wireless technology] in the palm of our hand today,” said Longford.

The archival photo of the Marconi house and initial radio wave checkpoint in Glace Bay, act as the orienting points of the exhibit. All other media present in the exhibit add context and detail through a multitude of angles and representations of the ruins.

On September 19, Laurier communication studies professor Paul Heyer delivered a public lecture to the Maureen Forrester Recital Hall discussing the relationship between the radio and the sinking of the Titanic. Orienting the audience to the art exhibit, the lecture addressed a thematic account of Marconi’s life through ‘lucky’ milestones that could have been detrimental to both his life and legacy.

Closing the lecture, Heyer recounted how tarnishing Marconi’s legacy, in the end, could have been more detrimental and would have changed our recollection of him as a father of the radio. Nearing his death, Marconi was known for his support of the Fascist Italian government just prior to its alliance with Nazi Germany.

Marconi’s Ruins brings the media history lesson to life by displaying “The contribution it made to the history of radio and Canada’s involvement in that early history,” said Longford.

This is the second iteration of this exhibit. It runs at the Robert Langden Art Gallery, outside the Maureen Forrester Recital Hall, until Oct. 27.

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