Transmissions sound art residency exchange

Transmissions sound art residency exchange was organized by Syros Sound Meetings & Syros Institute in a first-time collaboration with North Norwegian Arts Centre (NNKS), with the support of Onassis Stegi and Ultima Festival. The exchange fostered collaborative encounters between Norwegian and Greek sound artists and researchers, with an emphasis on remote or geographically isolated landscapes and their audible and inaudible past.

Anna Papaeti, a Greece-based researcher/practitioner focusing on the relationship between sound and trauma, especially in situations of detention, was invited to collaborate with Maia Urstad, a Norway-based artist working at the intersection of audio and visual arts with a special interest in archival practices and obsolete technologies. The two artists were invited to spend a week together in Greece (June 2021) and a further week together in Norway (September 2021), accompanied by Greek intermedia duo acte vide, who provided the theme & conceptual background for the residency exchange, and took on the role of artist-respondents for both field visits..

While many centuries and miles apart, the liminal landscapes and dark histories associated with both locations resonate strangely alongside each other. Gyaros served as a place of exile already since Roman times, but more recently during the Greek civil war and Greek military junta in the 20th century. The ruins of a 1947 prison, built by the exiled prisoners themselves, still stand on the island harbor. Prisoners included pregnant women, and reports of torture and inhuman living conditions abounded, resulting in the prison’s suspension several times until its permanent closure in 1974. The island has since been used for Greek military exercises, but more recently, given the absence of human inhabitants, has become part of a large WWF campaign for wildlife conservation.

Interestingly, just as Gyaros was colloquially known among its prisoners as ‘devil’s island,’ ‘isle of death’ or ‘hell on earth,’ the area nearby Vardø in Norway was dubbed the ‘gates of hell,’ due to its harsh climate and geographical location placed in the far northeast. However, close to current Vardø city on Varangerhalvøya is the Domen mountain where most notably some of the latest witch trials in European history took place, with dozens of women burned to death during 1621–1663. The events are famously commemorated in Steilneset memorial. The city of Vardø is facing the Barents Sea, therefore perfectly located as a hub of an all year-round coastal access for an important and sustainable fishing industry which is fought for and made visible nationally by the people’s movement Kystopprøret (Coastal uprising). As Russia is a close neighbor to Vardø there has been controversy concerning the visible radar systems, most recently upgraded in 2020. The city center houses the Globus II and III, both originally developed and installed in California as a missile-detecting intelligence system, while also observing outer space.

Just as these sites or locations stand testament to the violence of othering and the horrors of past injustice, their present is caught in limbo between monumentality and silence, openness and secrecy. How can we listen out for the silenced voices that have been confined to the edges of human activity? How can the present animate the partial records of a deliberately obscured past, be they archival data or remnants of past technologies? What kind of mediations might allow for the darkest point of no return to be revisited and transformed into a place of consolation and repair?

Transmission Notes (a field report by acte vide)

Transmission Notes #1: Syros / Gyaros, 14-21 June 2021

Transmission Notes #2: Vardø, 5–12 September 2021

Transmissions Program Description

The residency is co-organized by Syros Sound Meetings (Greece) & North Norwegian Arts Centre (Norway) and is part of the Transmissions project, supported by the EEA Grants program and the Norwegian Financial Mechanisms 2014–2021. Transmissions is coordinated by ONASSIS STEGI (Greece) in partnership with Ultima Oslo Contemporary Music Festival (Norway).