John Osorio-Buck’s Transtation and Re-Humanization

Never underestimate people’s ability to humanize the city, make it habitable, meaningful, worth living in. –Barbara Kirshenblatt-Gimblett, 2003

A Brief Summary of Alienation and DeHumanization:

Both reason and religion outlaw the principle of magic.  Even in its resigned detachment from existence, as art, it remains dishonorable; those who practice it become vagrants, latter-day nomads, who find no domicile among the settled. –Horkheimer & Adorno, 1947

Horkheimer and Adorno, exiles from Germany, were writing at the end of World War II, so we must forgive them their pessimism; humans are resilient.  Non-commercial, collective, artist-run artspaces, like the Berwick Research Institute, reinvigorate the power of Art to connect, inform and inspire all people.  These spaces for art are inherently and utterly subversive, and all the more dangerously so because they are not overtly political.  Most people, we can admit, are apathetic to politics now and adverse to anything “boring”: Art is engaging, not dogmatic or parochial –it can be fun or even beautiful!

Boston Inspectional Services Department’s attempt to shut down the Berwick (by falsely claiming it was “an illegal nightclub”) is a testament to the Berwick’s cultural impact.  That the Berwick continues with a deepened commitment to their mission is a testament to their strength and the necessity of their collective endeavor.  That the temporary closing of the space fit in perfectly, indeed bolstered, Artist-in-Research John Osorio-Buck’s project Transtation, is a testament to the virtuosity of his work and his shamanistic insights about our community.

Each of the three elements of Transtation (Radio Transmission, Construction Site, and Beehive) empower our unique connections to our world, attest to the importance of every individual, and illustrate that our private well-being is intimately connected to the health of our wider community.  With these interwining aspects, Transtation reaffirms our individual and collective agency.

Radio Transmission

Horkheimer and Adorno would have loved pirate radio, the democratization of mass communication!  As it was, they were suspicious of radio because as a “bodiless mouthpiece,” it “takes on the deceptive form of a disinterested impartial authority, which fits fascism like a glove.”  Contrastingly, some blame “the downfall” of American culture on the transistor radio because it provided kids with access to music/art outside of adult supervision, which lead to the strengthening of Youth Culture integral to the Civil Rights and Women’s Liberation movements.

Osorio-Buck’s pirate station WRFR, Radio Free Radio or, Radio Utopia (as it was called after the shutdown), directly challenges Clear Channels’ frightening monopoly and homogenization of radio, and points out the FCC’s failure to uphold the requirement set by the Supreme Court in 1945 to ensure, for the “welfare of the people,” that we have access to “information from diverse and antagonistic sources.” 

Radio Utopia inspired others to set up their own stations.  The beauty of pirate radio is that it expands the reach of our personal voices, spreads our ideas, connects us to strangers –sometimes reaching them while they are in a very private space, bedroom, car, headphones— and yet it is not dominating because its existence says ‘you can do this too.’  It is also pleasurable to capture the power of sending sound through the air in waves; sounds of your choosing become omnipresent –like a god.

Construction Site

Sometimes the structures established by humans —government, law, education, business— appear indomitable even when they are failing to aid in our collective progress towards our greatest creative, intellectual, and spiritual potential.  We lose sight/site of the fact that these systems/constructions are merely tools in our effort to live together peacefully.  As Osorio-Buck points out, decisions about public space are usually made without ample input from the community.  The waves of re-development in Boston rarely consider how changes to our shared space, and the roads that connect them, effect our collective memory –and future.  Transtation gives voices to, and validates, individual and community experiences of urban transition and transformation. Throughout history, cultures erect monuments to their values.  The decisions made by city zoning boards and real estate developers in Boston reflect skewed priorities: money and speed are chosen over health and pleasure.


Osorio-Buck shows us there is hope.  Bees will find flowers, gather nectar and make honey no matter what, even in concrete-covered urban environments.  Their honey holds information about their environment: the plants, the weather, pollution; and honey lasts forever, it will never mold.  Every bee plays an important role in the survival of the hive; they communicate through dance. The symbolic (and actual) power of bees, honey and their hives run deep throughout cultures globally such that it need barely be explained, it tugs automatically at our gut. 

Bees, like radio, disperse (genetic) information and pollinate (ideas), creating more (flowers/informed people) from which to draw sustenance.  Bees are models for utopian community: while cooperating to keep their hive alive, they create something sweet and healing.  One bee, alone, in its entire lifetime, will produce 1/8th a teaspoon of honey; one hive will produce 60 pounds of honey in a year.   Osorio-Buck’s original intention to establish a functioning beehive at the Berwick was transmuted into considering the Berwick itself as a hive.  In response to the ISD shutdown, members of the Berwick community donated their particular skills, working together to preserve the shared artspace.

Osorio-Buck also mapped the beespace within a bee’s travel-distance from the Berwick.  He discovered those overlooked areas and renegade gardens that provide nectar, pollen or water.  He was photographed within the beespace holding a sign that reads “WORK OR DIE.”  This refers to the lack of support an individualistic capitalist society provides for its members who cannot work, and also to the fact that artists are, by definition, compelled to create art and they will do so regardless of circumstance.  This resilience is what we, as a community, most admire in our artists.

We depend upon art to (re)connect us to our shared humanity.

And yet, this very resilience enables us, as a community, to allow civic support for artists to stagnate because we take for granted that artists will find a way, no matter what, to be there when we need them.  Transtation gracefully asserts that this passivity in relation to art, communication, community, and our shared spaces is not healthy.  The Berwick, like a beehive, is a functioning, living, expanding monument to our potential.

Sady Sullivan

November 2003