Air traffic control (ATC) refers to communications from controllers on the ground who attempt to prevent aircraft collisions. My interest in ATC stems from experiences I had as a child in my father’s single-engine airplane. Drawing from the notion of a disembodied controller, Bald-faced Controller envisions bald-faced hornets as the controllers of elevator space. To this end, the installation/intervention consisted of a hornet’s nest, out of which live air traffic control communications were played.
Bald-faced Controller existed in an elevator car for two hours on May 10th, 2014.
I purchased the bald-faced hornet’s nest from a local Pittsburgh resident who found it on his property. In the final work, the nest contained a small speaker out of which the ATC communications were played. I built the speaker using a 5V audio amplifier, a step-up board, a transducer, and an 1/8 inch phone connector. The speaker driver was secured to a laser-cut box, which increased its volume considerably. Miccus Mini-Jack RX and TX (a bluetooth transmitter and receiver) were used to send sound to the nest from a hidden smartphone. A feed from the Istanbul Atatürk Airport on liveatc.net was chosen as it had the most activity of the feeds I previewed.
I remained in the elevator with the nest for the two hours that it was installed. During the intervention, I documented reactions using a Drift “action camera” hidden in an empty VitaCoco bottle. I chose the elevator in Carnegie Mellon’s College of Fine Arts building because I thought it would have a fair amount of traffic. In fact, May 10th was the day of a recital, and many musicians used the elevator during those two hours. Reactions to the work varied; some passengers were visibly confused, others were excited, and many seemed indifferent. One woman turned to me and said, “This is just what I need, a speaker talking to me. It’s not like I don’t hear voices as it is.”
Technically, the project was a success, that is, the components worked. However, I could have been more strategic about the placement and duration. My presence in the elevator likely had a stifling effect on viewers. If I had assumed a more theatrical role, they might had stronger reactions. Bald-faced Controller was, finally, an intervention into the controlled airspace of the elevator. The nest’s secret goal was to direct passengers, so that they could avoid social collisions.