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Mary Ellen Carroll
Sunday, March 1, 2015 to Wednesday, June 1, 2016

PUBLIC UTILITY 2.0 focuses on the unused television spectrum and its potential as a material. It proposes to be the first trial that intentionally architects an urban to rural network for residential, commercial, industrial and scientific use. Super WiFi will be specified as a material for creating connectivity and it will shift urban planning from the street plan to the elevation plan where frequencies and data can be openly sourced for the future PUBLIC UTILITY 2.0 proposes to create broadband connectivity in under served locations in New York, New Orleans and Nairobi.

Unused frequencies can be retrofitted and used for connectivity across the BQE in the Bronx; above Robert Moses’s divisive I-10 corridor that parted Tremé in the sixties in New Orleans; and along the recently constructed Thika Superhighway in Nairobi. Super WiFi devices developed with the Rice University Wireless Network Group, directed by Professor Edward Knightly can provide this access.

 Since 2004, the group has been providing free connectivity for over 4,000 residents in an underserved community in Houston’s East End with the organization Technology for All. There, they developed a wireless mesh network that is still in operation. In 2011, the Rice Wireless Network Group also installed the world’s first residential device for a Super WiFi broadband connection in that same neighborhood that continues to provide a 51-year old grandmother, Leticia Aguirre, with broadband Internet.

The proposed locations of Super WiFi stations will be determined locally, through discussions with local residents community organizations and institutions. The spectrum is a space that can be programmed for myriad uses and participants. This is what PUBLIC UTILITY 2.0 can do.

 Artists understand potentiality. We have the ability to work under the radar with unsuspecting materials, extract their latent power and transform them. When we are successful, we make visible something that previously had gone unseen. The Korean artist Nam June Paik, for example, emancipated video from television to become the father of video art. Paik understood the technical aspects of television and broadcasting and in 1974 coined the term the “electronic super highway” to talk about how electronic telecommunications would be socially and economically more significant than the landing on the moon. What he wrote came true. He knew what was possible to do with the “snow” on a screen from an unused television channel, he turned it into a video work.

 Art can serve as a catalyst for what the Kenyan author Yvonne Adhiambo Owuor calls the “ethical imagination,” the creative act that engages real world concerns that are considered and are of consequence. Architecting the frequency of television for the 21st century contributes to an evolving and egalitarian society that could be characterized as the ultimate free market playground. More than any other president, Mr. Obama surfs the Internet, looking for new ways to reach viewers who don’t watch the news or even television. If the Internet and these frequencies are a national resource and people are not connected, certainly President Obama should understand and ask why should anyone be prohibited from having access when there exists the possibility for everyone in America to be connected. Furthermore, the policies set by the FCC are frequently the boilerplate for other countries. By keeping a largeportion of this national spectrum unlicensed, the FCC and the United States establish the model by which the potential for these frequency bands can be ethically realized and replicated in other underserved locations in the world. It becomes an “enabling resource” rather than a limiting one, architecting access and creativity. PUBLIC UTILITY 2.0 makes the city as architecture perform by retrofitting the frequency of TV for the 21st century, as a work of art.


Mary Ellen Carroll, 2015


The work on display at the Lambent Foundation is a modified version of PUBLIC UTILITY 2.0, the commision for the biennial, Prospect.3 New Orleans, under the artistic direction of Franklin Sirmans, the chief curator of contemporary art at the Los Angeles County Museum of Art. The work was originally conceived of displayed at the American Institute of Architects at Lee Circle in New Orleans.

On Friday May 8th, 2015 Lambent Foundation hosted an artist dialogue with artist Mary Ellen Carroll and Kenyan Author Yvonne Adhiambo Ouwor on PUBLIC UTILITY 2.0.

Related Links:
- View online PUBLIC UTILITY 2.0 publication!
- Mary Ellen Carroll's recommended reading list
- Next City writes on PUBLIC UTILITY 2.0