January 31, 2009

Cindy Bernard: Can you hear me?

In the Boston Globe, Cate McQuaid writes that Cindy Bernard's poignant show at Boston Center for the Arts' Mills Gallery evokes the far-flung community of ham radio operators who kept in touch long before the Internet and blogging made world-building so common. "Artist Cindy Bernard's grandfather, Bill Adams, got his license to operate a ham radio in 1923 and kept in touch with operators in distant countries until his death in 1999. Each contact was confirmed with a postcard, called a QSL card - QSL is ham lingo for 'I hear you.' Adams kept the cards, creating a treasure trove of documents that, incidentally, chronicle 20th-century geopolitical history. Long before the Internet, ham radio operators built a buzzing web of communication around the world.

"More than 100 of these cards are in 'Deleted Entities 1925-1996,' the centerpiece of 'Silent Key,' Bernard's poignant exhibit at the Boston Center for the Arts' Mills Gallery. Laid out chronologically and geographically, all the cards come from regions in which the system of government has changed. The Soviet Union, Czechoslovakia, and colonized regions in Asia and Africa are represented here. Bernard has arrayed the cards in a grid, leaving blanks to signify places Adams didn't reach in a given period of time. The result reads rhythmically, visually capturing ham radio's Morse code stutter....The overall effect - right up to a comical cache of erotic postcards Bernard found stashed among Adams's QSL cards - wonderfully evokes the community of individuals who kept in touch across social and political divides, through revolutions and upheavals throughout the 20th century. Interestingly, despite the ease with which the Internet connects people today, ham operators are still going strong." Read more.

"Cindy Bernard: Silent Key," Boston Center for the Arts' Mills Gallery, Boston, MA. Through February 15.

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