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Lecher System (1970)
Terry Atkinson, David Bainbridge, Michael Baldwin, Harold Hurrell (Editors of Art-Language)

This apparatus consists of two parallel wires along which a high-frequency radio wave is guided. Reflection occurs at the far end and standing waves are produced. At voltage and current antinodes, that is where the voltage and the current differences are at a maximum, detection of this may be made by the application of suitable means. These voltage antinodes are 1/2 wavelength apart and current antinodes are similarly spaced but shifted 1/4 wavelength along the wires. That is that if a 1 meter wavelength were generated there would occur antinodes every quarter meter, being alternately of the kind voltage, current, voltage, current, etc.


At certain points, which are voltage antinodes, the voltage difference between the two wires will be at a maximum. At other points are current antinodes which are detected by connecting a 1.5 v. torch bulb across the two wires. The torch bulb holder is connected to two stiff wires and inserted in a test tube which serves as a handle. With the hand held well away from the Lecher wires, the torch bulb is slid along on its connecting wires, and the points where the bulb lights most brilliantly are noted.1


The complete arrangement possesses a “sculptural morphology” and an “electromagnetic morphology.” “Critical perceptual performances” regarding the former supply knowledge of quantitative aspects of the latter, and, from this, a further deduction “back” extends knowledge regarding the former. The whole affair is thus nonampliative in a theoretical sense, being a demonstrative business much rather than a “revelatory” one.
The scale of this arrangement is such that it may be regarded as a “natural sculpture.” Assuming as requisite to “natural sculpture” to be morphological characteristics that exist within the resolving power of the human visual perceptual capacity. This implies objects within a particular range of dimensions; arbitrary though this might seem there is a strong cultural precedent; we would, I think, have less difficulty in regarding a 1 meter cube as sculpture than a 1 centimeter, or even 10 centimeter cube as sculpture; small variations of form would be lost on us at this scale. Similarly a 10 meter cube, although if this was all it were, could hardly be anything other than sculpture, employing the cultural precedent it would not be regarded as “natural sculpture” anymore than the Pyramids or Blackpool Tower are normally seen as “natural sculpture.” Likewise small variations of form would be lost when viewing the totality.
Thus the Lecher system here employed falls within these confines of natural sculpture almost completely. The wavelength employed is of the order of 1.5 meters (about 5 ft. 7 1/2 in. – highly anthropometric) and with the Lecher arrangement this can be obtained within appreciable dimensions “whereas its corresponding coil and condenser arrangement might be microscopically small.”2

Spectator Y: This could perhaps be regarded as sculpture; my own analytical procedures may be inappropriate here: they rely a good deal on Panofsky’s notions of tri-stratified subject matter. Spectator X: The thing is too discursive and convoluted. This is partly due to formal/ functional equivocity.
Y: It is also iconologically opaque. That is not to say that one can’t account for it, iconologically significant accounts and “ordinary” ones aren’t necessarily mutually exclusive. X: The bulb, for instance, is “climactic.” The electromagnetic aspect gets in the way more. There is a lack of specificity.
Alien: I am not clear what the criteria of individuation are for sculpture. I can observe the waves directly – you can’t. If you have to use instruments, etc. –
and various logical operations, do you thereby obscure the possibilities of singling the thing out essentially? Your singling-out procedures appear to be macroscopic. You have no adequate “ordinary vocabulary” for dealing with such things as “lines of force.”
X: Robert Morris has written that the size-range of useless three-dimensional things is a continuum between the ornament and the monument. Sculpture has generally been thought of as those objects not at the polarities but falling between them.
Alien: The waves are highly linear much like the dotted lines in the diagram in the catalogue indicate; would these be called three-dimensional things?
X: I doubt it.
Alien: The situation is doubly fraughtuous. I mean irrespective of whether or not you count the waves as three-dimensional, the thing runs against the simplistic tenets of “Minimal Art.”
Y: I am used to thinking of Giacometti’s and Moore’s as sculptures. The iconographical vacuity of the piece may disappear at a metatheoretical level. At the moment, I still see just a bulb, bits of wire, etc. The intentionality of the piece is far from clear.
Alien: Is the prospect of iconological interpretation of the piece conceptually tied to the notion of intention?
Y: Morris sometimes proffers even “guides,” “rules” for interpretation. These are analogous to semantic axioms.
Alien: These might generate a regress. Also, some iconologically propelled spectator might fasten something symbolic to “the wave form.” Y: Certainly.
Alien: What then are artists for? Do they provide interpretational paradigms – even axioms? Motivational talk makes the situation worse.
Y: There is, according to Bainbridge, a “natural sculpture” aspect to the object. But seeing this is not his sole prerogative.
X: The construction of a hierarchy of insight authenticity is the spectator’s prerogative.
Alien: Interpretations are not always associated with closed (e.g., semantic) systems. Any link between intention and art is conceptual not logical. X: It’s only recently that sculptors, etc., have talked so much. Alien: Morris talks about sculptural paradigms. From conversations with my friend (who was associated with the M1 pieces), it seems that one can know that a thing is art without having criteria of “artness” which cater for odd or controversial cases. This may well generate – on the other hand – be generated by – identity problems. What about electromagnetic morphology?
X: There is Takis – and perhaps other “kinetic” artists. Alien: From what I remember of Paris in the 50’s, there was in Takis a “direct” (for you) demonstration of the effects of electromagnetic activity. One can equate Bainbridge’s notion of “natural sculpture” with Morris’ criterion of size; however he appears to have no reservations as to strongly inflected internal relations. One is very soon not only discussing conditions of art-objecthood but also conditions of art-spectatorhood.

It does seem though that you Earthlings can easily visualize an electromagnetic morphology though only by analogy with, for example, a sculptural morphology; the question seems to be what status you are prepared to allow such procedures. In the case of this piece the sculptural morphology is what generates the electromagnetic morphology. An issue may perhaps be made between formal/theoretical and instantial priorities.

* Reprinted from Studio International, Vol. 180, No. 924 (July/August, 1970). 1 C. H. Bailey, The Electromagnetic Spectrum and Sound (Pergamon Press, 1967).

2 G. Southworth, Principles and Applications of Waveguide Transmission (New York: Van Nostrand, 1950).