NEWS
FACTS
TEXTS
TONES

Jacek
Smolicki

Tower (2019)

Tower is an exploration of cultural, environmental, material and political testimonies of the Gleiwitz (today Gliwice) radio tower constructed in the 1930s in the close vicinity to the border between Germany and Poland. The project is an instance of what I came to describe as an expanded archaeology of mediations that takes into account not only human- but also other-than-human spaces and tempauralities.

Being the tallest wooden structure of this kind in Europe (118m), the tower has over the last century witnessed several turbulent political transitions. Those, in turn, have systematically redressed its functions to serve various, often radically competing intentions.

The tower has been best known for its role in a false flag provocation that took place on August 31st, 1939. On that day, a group of German soldiers dressed in Polish army uniforms staged an attack on the radio station near the tower. It was an element of a wider Nazi propaganda aiming to spread intentionally ambiguous and fake information about alleged acts of Polish aggression at the bordering territories of Poland and Germany. In this staged attack, 'Polish' soldiers used the radio to announce their presence on the German territory. This provocation helped manufacture another piece of evidence prompting the invasion of Poland the following day.

During the communist era that followed WWII, the mast was used to broadcast medium-wave transmissions of the Polish National Radio. It served also as an element of a secret, inter-regional radio communication system for the communist party. However, the most significant role that the mast acquired after the war was its use as a jamming infrastructure against the broadcast of Radio Free Europe and other West-European radio stations.

The building near the tower that at the time hosted broadcasting equipment, serves today as a museum. The mast has been transformed into a carrier for more than 50 antennas and transmitters facilitating mobile communication and Wi-Fi distribution in the region. Financial benefits from this collaboration with private companies help maintain the mast.

In recent months, the city authorities have been testing the fifth-generation cellular network technology (5G) turning Gliwice into a forerunner of such developments in the country. Unverified information about the impact of this technology on human health has been circulated among local inhabitants leading to a wave of protests by the radio tower. Precisely because of its height (and, arguably, its history), the tower almost immediately became implicated into numerous conspiracy theories and its managers were falsely accused of installing 5G infrastructure without informing the public.

This project takes the form of an audio essay and performative lecture comprising archival audio-visual material, field recordings, field notes, and experiments in real-time radio jamming and transmission. While traversing historical and present forms of mediation that the tower enabled and was implicated into, the project also illuminates its history in the context of environmental transformations. While serving as an exemplar of a historical and political instability of any media and communication infrastructure, the Gliwice tower also accounts for their indissoluble reliance on and exploitation of other-than-human actors and energies. In this light, the history of the tower does not start at the moment of its inauguration. Rather, it connects with a longer history of using (larch) wood in construction and maintanance of communication infratructures. Similarly, the story of the tower does not stop at the moment when its radio broadcasting function became obsolete. Rather, the story continues. And as it continues, its telling requires continuous revision inclusive of reflections on how such infrastructures inevitably participate in the exploitation and disruption of other-than-human realms, such as through the production of electrosmog. The case of the tower is an example of how disruptive, manipulative, and confusing forces of media are not only inherent to the content they deliver to human actors but are also embedded in the very material infrastructure of media and communication systems, their technical mechanisms and operations. For the media content-biased human mind, these disruptive and confusing effects of infrastructures might be secondary, entirely irrelevant or imperceptible. But for the other-than-humans the case might be radically different.


The project was presented as a performative lecture at Media Matter: Media Archaeological Research and Artistic Practice, an international conference organized by Stockholm University in November 2019.

The project is envisaged for publishing as an audio-essay in early 2021.

Tower is also a part of Quivering Stillness, an ongoing exploration and documentation of sites affected by military conflicts, political unrest and ruination. The project can be followed on para-archives.net






Short film based on a field recording session conducted at the site in October 2018


Screenshot from the movie depicting the radio tower


Area of coverage after the tower's inauguration. From the book "Historia gliwickich radiostacji" by Jacek Schmidt


Natural distribution of Larch. From "Larch wood - a literature review", Forest and Landscape Working Papers, 23/2007


Radio Free Europe's Polish service, range of coverage from broadcasting station in Gloria, Portugal. Source: http://www.radiojamming.puslapiai.lt/photo.htm


Soviet sky-wave jamming from Gavar (near Yerevan) in Armenia. Source: http://www.radiojamming.puslapiai.lt/photo.htm




Telecommunication and mobile network transmitters as installed on the structure of the no longer functional radio tower




Field recording session at the site, October 2018


Multi-channel installation/performance at Fylkingen in Stockholm, October 2019