In the five years since she has been broadcasting conversations via her nomadic online radio station, RadioEE.net, multimedia artist Agustina Woodgate has transmitted from some interesting locations. Her last conversation, concerned with sea-level rise, was broadcast from a boat. The one before that was on a 16-person pedal car on Miami's Underline below the Metrorail tracks.
Now she’s off to the Amazon jungle, to a town in Brazil called Fordlândia, for Transmissão Fordlândia. She and her team will broadcast from a town founded in 1928 by industrialist Henry Ford. Taking a break from repainting her Miami studio, Woodgate pauses to discuss how this place, with its long-abandoned rubber factory in disrepair, fits into RadioEE’s concern for movement and mobility of people.
She says of the jungle’s rubber resources: “It's the only one thing [Ford] couldn't manufacture in the United States... so with the government of Brazil, he made some deal and ended up acquiring an entire plantation up in northern Brazil. So the whole manufacturer brought urban homes — the whole setup of an American industrialist-style factory, imagine — in 1930.”
The project soon failed because the native labor force revolted against the American labor practices Ford imposed on them, not to mention the location's hostile natural environment. “The only way in, which is still the fact today, is by boat. And today, the boat from the closest town, which is Santarém, is a ten-hour boat ride, so it's almost absurd to create this empire in a place where it is still hard to get to.”
It didn't work for Ford, but Fordlândia made perfect sense for RadioEE, a project Woodgate describes as a series of “nomadic, bilingual, event-based” broadcasts driven by themes of mobility, migration, and transportation. Woodgate sees the town, which she says has a growing population of about 2,000 people, as a sort of example of the beginnings of industrialized mobility. That it is set in a place where nature is a great challenge is a poetic kind of bonus. She compares it to Werner Herzog’s movie Fitzcarraldo, about a rubber baron’s crazed determination to access a rich pool of resources in the Amazon by transporting a steamship over a mountain.
"It was a total failed experiment,” she says of Ford's rubber plant. “It's interesting to think that way of Ford because Ford has always been seen as this incredible businessman, and this was such a failure.”
The remoteness of this place also poses several challenges to her and her crew. It will take them three days of travel to get to Fordlândia. “We take a plane from Miami to Belém, and then we take another plane from Belém to Santarém, and then we take a boat from Santarém to Fordlândia," Woodgate says.
Then her team will face the challenge of working with satellite internet because there is no service at the location. To top it off, their goal is to leave an operating FM radio station behind for the locals. “Fordlândia used to have a radio station, and that radio station was their cultural outlet to the world,” Woodgate says. “About three or five years ago, that radio station closed, and ever since then, the radio station never got activated, so when we found out about the story, we thought it would be fantastic not only to bring our radio equipment and broadcast from there but also leave this channel reactivated.”
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That's why it’s so important for Woodgate to crowdfund this project via Kickstarter. It gives a growing community a chance to be informed. “The intention is to collect the remaining funds for our airline tickets and purchase equipment so that we can leave it there,” she says.
With ten days to go, she’s a little less than halfway there, but she remains hopeful they will reach their goal. “I think we're gonna make it,” she says. “We're waiting for some bigger backers to respond, but it looks good. I mean, we've collected half the funds in half the time. After this week, I might be worried,” she adds with a laugh.
RadioEE will transmit online in English, Spanish, and Portuguese via radioee.net September 16 and 17. You can donate to help fund the broadcast and support a radio station in Fordlândia via kickstarter.com.