Signals from Another World  (i) & (ii)

Andy Webster (Artist), Darren Ray (Artist)

Research output: Practice-Based and Non-textual ResearchExhibition

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Signals from Another World (i)

'Signals From Another World' was a collaborative project with artist Darren Ray. The project took place between 19 July /13 August 2018 at the Roja Art Lab, Latvia.

“What are the forms of culture still capable of assumingthe shape of a chorus, an assembly? Which cultural forms might help buildcommunities in which a multitude of diversities might be expressed as acollective force, as a voice able to articulate its discourse, its desires, andgive shape to its politics, even if just for a specific period of time?” AndrisBrinkmanis

“When the present has given up on the future wemust listen for the relics of the future in the unactivated potentials of thepast.” Mark Fisher

“In the ruins of great buildings the idea of theplan speaks more impressively than in lesser buildings, however well preservedthey are.” Walter Benjamin


In the final scene of ‘A Silent Running’ (1972)a mournful Joan Baez track accompanies a long shot of the forest geo-dome as itis seen softly drifting into deep space, perhaps a metaphor for failed andfading utopian hopes, the seemingly inevitable slow cancellation of futuredesires. This sovereign vision of the forest geo-dome and its slow, inevitabledemise seems prescient as less than 5 years later the once acclaimed utopiangeo-domes at Drop City, Colorado had all but been abandoned by the Droppercommunity, the site quickly falling into ruin, utopian dreams literally andmetaphorically crumbling. Such imaginaries were perhaps representative of howwider visionary counter cultural desires, experimental utopias in America andpsychedelic consciousness of the time were perceived as ending. 

Official narratives promoted such stories asevidence that counter cultural ideals, rural hippie communes like Drop Citycould never be viable - that failed dreams, disenchantment and wide spreaddisillusionment were inevitable. As counter culture ideals receded, therelieved mainstream, and dominant narratives suggested that the communal liversshould now grow up, go back to work and behave like respectable, honestcitizens. There were, however, alternative but lesser known narratives whichreverse and challenge these attitudes. 

Intentionally shying away from public scrutiny,and otherwise completely ignored by the mainstream were an unnamed collectivewho had emerged from the ruins and debris of Drop City in the late 70’s. Verylittle is known about the collective as there is almost no record of theexistence of the group beyond anecdotal stories, local rumours, and a fewunverified relics and poor quality fogged images of group members and partiallyconstructed dwellings. However, the story is compelling and still represents acounter narrative to official reports, and a way of speculating with ideassuggested above by Brinkmanis, Fisher, and Benjamin.

What is known is the unnamed group came togetherfollowing the closure and abandonment of Drop City. They collected quantitiesof materials from the original site, salvaging timber, metal sheeting, andbasic tools and repurposed the materials to fabricate their own community ofshelters, establishing a transitory community based between Elkhart andUlysses, downstate Kansas. 

In contrast to Droppers and the utopian idealsthat had inspired the original members of Drop City this new group were fuelledby darker, more dystopian imaginaries. They rejected the peace and free lovenarratives associated with hippies as naïve and redundant, and were insteadproto punks, anarchists interested in sci-fi, afro-futurism, negation, anddarkness. They were no longer inspired by visionary utopian futures but bybleaker scenarios of impending collapse – their dwellings were designed astemporary escape pods which could float or roll in response to a pending but asyet unnamed catastrophe. 

Rather than forming a visible extrovertcommunity of dwelling places, the pods were scattered throughout the landscape,intentionally hidden from public view in ravines, crevices and wooded areas. Ifdiscovered by locals the pods would be disassembled and moved to a new locationensuring that the collective would be impermanent, portable, almost impossibleto locate and identify. The collective mainly built pods as shelters but alsoas pop up schools, in particular to educate the community in methods ofresilience, foraging, fire building, and water purifying - preparations forfuture scenarios. 

The collective met regularly to shareinformation, music, and to read stories and poetry together - they wereobsessed with storytelling, with reimagining the future through Sci-fi, afrofuturism, and electronica. They avoided the mainstream, the well-known path andwere inspired to share materials that were obscure, off-beat, typicallyignored. Even during bad weather and winter storms they continued thestorytelling by using CB radio to broadcast information and stories.Occasionally these broadcasts would be picked up by Truck drivers travellingbetween Kansas and Colorado, and the collectives weird and futuristic storiesbecame a talking point amongst Trucker communities, even being given their ownhandler ‘Signals from Another World’. The last reported broadcast was heard in1978 and no sighting of the group has occurred since. 


40 years later the story is little known, andexists today mainly as anecdote and rumour, as such almost erased from publicconsciousness. Ray & Webster proposed to use this partial, hidden story asthe starting point and catalyst for the project at Roja Art Lab, Latvia. 

Their intention was to practically explore thislittle known dystopian narrative by re-fabricating a full-scale escape podstructure, experimentally replicating structures from documentary photos andutilizing the building processes used at Drop City.  They basically repurposed a geodesic structureso that it became a pod, an escape vehicle of sorts.  Once built, they used the escape pod as a sitefrom which to broadcast stories, songs, readings, to generate newnarratives. 

Writers, musicians, and artists from Latvia,USA, UK, and Germany were invited to contribute materials for the broadcasts.  Initial thoughts about the content of thebroadcasts was that they would be recordings of song, spoken word, film andaudio, somehow relating to “unactivated potentials”, materials that have beenoverlooked, relics that have been forgotten and ignored. The aim was tobroadcast playlists of unofficial stories of and for the marginalised anddisappeared and to transmit these daily as “signals from another world”.

One inspiration for this was the story ofLatvian Writer, Theatre Director, Educator and Thinker, Asja Lacis whose work,ideas and influence were, through much of the 20th century, intentionallyignored, and in the case of her contribution to texts by Walter Benjaminerased. The ignorance and erasure of Lacis from dominant narratives acted as acatalyst and motivation to speculate upon her thinking and other, alternatestories erased or neglected by official histories. 

The resulting playlist was composed of manyforms including: poetry, yoga lessons, political analysis, hypnotherapy,history, cooking recipes, labour protests, drawing classes, birdsong,field-recordings, meditation, resilience training and even love declarations!The content of the broadcasts became an open-ended opportunity to playfullybring together diverse forms, and materials, to assemble these in the shape ofa chorus, an assembly to speculate upon how one might think differently,perhaps towards an alternative world, different times and imaginaries.

The live stream also included performancesincluding readings by Elita Kļaviņa (The Riga New Theater) of texts by TimOkser.

The sculptural construction remains sited on theedge of a wooded area in Roja. 

Signals from Another World (ii)

Ray & Webster have been invited back to Rojato undertake the second stage of the project which will commence during thesummer 2019.  The structure will betransported to the RojaArtLab and in collaboration with Riga based architectOskars Redbergs and curator Maris Grosbahs, will be transformed into a poddwelling/shelter.  The pod will becomethe future home for micro-residency projects.

Original languageEnglish
Publication statusPublished - 13 Aug 2018


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