Haunted Telegraph

Véronique Béland


During a residency at Avatar and with the collaboration of Alexandre Burton (Artificiel), Béland developed the computer programming for the sound design and interactive component of her project. Haunted Telegraph is presented from December 16, 2020 to March 7, 2021 at the festival Chroniques, Biennale des Imaginaires Numériques.

Connected to sensors that increase the threshold of human perception, the receiver of a needle telegraph reacts to variations in its immediate environment. The process involves training an artificial intelligence to analyze imperceptible phenomena—the evolution of electromagnetic waves present in the space in different forms—in order to detect meaning: speech, words, sentences, etc. Seated in front of the device, the viewer is first invited to listen to the sound produced by this strange machine, as it transposes the signal analyzed by the neural network into audible frequencies: a fluctuating white noise whose modulations are sometimes similar to the voice’s formants. Whenever a direct hit occurs, the telegraph activates to transmit these messages from the ether—whether or not they are comprehensible. By placing their hands on the table top, the visitor can interact with the work and, through their presence, take part in the quest for a “beyond,” thanks to a system that filters the signal to reveal fundamental frequencies. All the machine’s activity is recorded in a logbook containing all the mysterious information uncovered by the neural network. Although we may be trapped in the illusion of one world, this installation attempts to imagine other possible parallel or underlying worlds. By relying on the technological promises of the future, it offers a new understanding of the present.

Notions of the ghostly and the spectral, which haunt Béland’s work and research, are once again called upon in the Haunted Telegraph. The artist aims to provide viewers with favourable conditions for listening and receptivity that can reveal their own “ghosts,” as well as offer them some downtime for noticing and observing what normally escapes them.

Born in Quebec, Canada, Véronique Béland has been living in France since 2010, where she graduated from the Studio national des arts contemporains Le Fresnoy in 2012. She also holds a Master’s Degree in visual and media arts from the Université du Québec à Montréal.

At the intersection of media arts and literature, her work focuses on elusive phenomena on a human scale, and constantly explores the seemingly empty in order to reveal its content. Leveraging various transcoding and translation protocols, which convoke art and science while maintaining a close connection to the concept of archiving, her artworks seek to bring together the perceptible and the imperceptible, and allow a certain form of narrative to emerge.

Since 2005, her work has been part of many solo and group exhibitions in Canada, the United States and several European countries (France, Belgium, Germany, Netherlands, Lithuania, Spain, Portugal). In 2014, she co-published with Catherine Tremblay a book of photographic correspondence titled “Elles collectionnent des mondes” at Les Éditions du Renard. She’s also the author of the collection of poetry “Le vide de la distance n’est nulle part ailleurs” (2016) and “Malgré les collines – égarements cartographiques dont vous êtes le héros” (2017), both published by sun|sun editions. Appointed Associate Artist at the National Centre for Space Studies (CNES) for the 2021-2022 season, she will create an original work intersecting art and astroscience.

Her pieces have won several awards, including the Jacques de Tonnancour Prize and the Award of Excellence from the Roland-Proulx Studios in Montreal in 2007, the Prix des Amis du Fresnoy in 2012 and the Artist’s Book Revelation at the Multiple Art Days Fair in Paris in 2017. Her career has also been honoured with the Marguerite Moreau Prize for Contemporary Art in 2021 and the prestigious World Omosiroi Award (Japan) in 2022, an international and interdisciplinary distinction “celebrating knowledge innovation, given to individuals whose ideas and activities are inspiring and eye-opening.”

Co-produced by Association AY128 – Les Usines, Avatar (Quebec City), Le Lieu Multiple, Espace Mendès France (Poitiers), and the Chroniques platform; supported by the Conseil Régional de la Région Sud, City of Marseille, and Institut Français (Paris), coordinated by Seconde Nature and ZINC. The project was supported by the Contrat de filière arts plastiques et visuels en Nouvelle-Aquitaine (Ministry of Culture, Région Nouvelle Aquitaine, and Réseau Astre). With the support of the Canada Council for the Arts, the Conseil des arts et des lettres du Québec, the City of Quebec, and the CCSTI – Réseau néo-aquitain de la culture scientifique. Computer programming, sound design, and interactivity: Alexandre Burton (Artificiel). Computer programming, artificial intelligence (deep learning): Léo Dubus. Antenna production and telegraph mechanization: FabLab Les Usines. Set design: FabLab Les Usines.

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