Thomas Ashcraft, Observer and Trader of Specimens

Thomas Ashcraft studiously records thousands of images, sorting through the weak signals and very little things that share and intersect his environments: microorganisms rain barrels on his property in New Mexico, disintegrating meteors, electromagnetic strays reflecting off the upper atmosphere, and Jupiter radio bursts sweeping across the earth like a spotlight. His artistic task is to be “technically accurate and poetically interesting at the same time,” and his preferred role is independent scientist rather than amateur scientist, one he found in the pioneer of radio astronomy Grote Reber who, like Ashcraft, extended his activities to several, seemingly disparate categories. Ashcraft’s dedication is reminiscent of the novelist Vladimir Nabokov who investigated butterfly genitalia for hours each day and, similarly, he considers his images, biotic and abiotic, to be “specimens”. After outlining Ashcraft’s work, I will concentrate on his images of forward scattering, specimens of FM-transmission fragments reflected off meteors and Space Shuttles.

Douglas Kahn is Research Professor at the National Institute for Experimental Arts, University of New South Wales. His books include Noise, Water, Meat: A History of Sound in the Arts (MIT Press, 1999); Source: Music of the Avant-garde (Univ. of California Press, 2011), edited with Larry Austin;  Mainframe Experimentalism: Early Computing and the Foundations of the Digital Arts (UCP, 2012), edited with Hannah Higgins; and Earth Sound Earth Signal (UCP, forthcoming).