Access in Excess

Standing out at this year's Whitney Biennial are Neighborhood Public Radio (a.k.a. NPR). Founded in 2004, in Oakland, California by artists Jon Brumit, Lee Montgomery, and Michael Trigilio, the group share both an acronym and a logo with National Public Radio, but their focus is on local communities and DIY broadcasts. The group takes the act of transmission into their own hands, but are quick to point out that they are not "pirate radio," as they don't steal a spot on your dial, they simply hop onto an empty airwave. Their intentionally unlicensed practice is a touchstone for discussion of corporation-controlled spaces, like the air around us, and the programmed homogenization of the radio. What NPR delivers to listeners is a low-budget (but relatively high production value) snapshot of the neighborhoods in which they are stationed. The group has traveled the world, one neighborhood at a time, engaging in dialogue with local inhabitants about pressing local issues, in addition to presenting artist's recordings, audio experiments, and performances. At the Biennial they are broadcasting in the museum, and on the air, from their temporary headquarters in an empty shoe store, a few doors down from the museum. Along with co-hosts Linda Arnejo, Whiz Biddlecombe, and Katina Papson, the founders will welcome a number of visiting artists to the program and invite locals to come in and chat about issues of importance to them. They will also receive and re-transmit broadcasts from other neighborhoods, who are participating in the program from afar and offering a point of contrast with New York's Upper East Side. NPR is influenced by the history of community radio broadcasts, as well as collective action groups and situationist collaboratives, but their focus is squarely on the present and the opportunities afforded by the First Amendment to share our voices. In this vein, they will offer a workshop at the museum, on Friday, April 29, teaching visitors to build their own radio transmitter. If you're outside of the Whitney's local broadcast range, visit the group's site or stream them online. - Marisa Olson

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