Layout print header[D]

Esther Johnson: Wireless Worlds

07 March 2013–21 April 2013

Wireless Worldspresents a selection of work by artist and filmmaker Esther Johnson, Reader in Art & Design in Sheffield Institute of Arts.

Our main gallery will feature Analogue Kingdom, a poetic moving-image portrait of Gerald Wells, founder and curator of the British Vintage Wireless and Television Museum.

 Wells’ stole his first radio, a Belmont, in 1943 at the age of thirteen. He was immediately sent to an ‘approved’ school, whose psychiatrist diagnosed ‘an obsession’ with wireless and electricity – an obsession that continues today. The house Wells was born in and still inhabits is now home to over 1,500 wireless objects and 45,000 valves - the UK’s largest such collection. Analogue Kingdom reveals the charm of Wells’ world, where radio relics and their attendant stories fill every nook and cranny. With the digital switchover, Wells’ analogue collection is a reminder of the magic that may be lost.

In addition to Analogue Kingdom, Johnson will exhibit a selection of photography taken at the British Vintage Wireless and Television Museum and items of analogue wireless technology.

During the exhibition there will be scheduled screenings of Tune In, Johnson’s 16mm film portrait of the fascinating world of amateur radio operators, better known as HAMS. Dealing with the politics of space and social communication, Tune In blends documentary and abstract audio to reflect on the use of DIY radio equipment in an ever-changing modern world.

The Mezzanine gallery will host photography taking during the production of Tune In, and a selection of amateur radio QSL cards – uniquely designed cards that are exchanged as a result of two-way radio-communication between two amateur radio stations/operators.

There will be a scheduled special event live radio station manned by Sheffield Amateur Radio Club on 12–13 April 2013.


Analogue Kingdom was one of the highlights of the 2010 Cut & Splice festival. The film’s intimate documentary portrayal of obsessive radio collector Gerald Wells as a Sir John Soane for the Marconi age touches on deep truths about the nature of collecting. In this simple yet beautifully judged piece Esther Johnson explores how identities are formed though place and the meaningful accumulation of clutter. It is one of the most moving descriptions of the relationship between man and machine that I have experienced.” – Richard Whitelaw, Senior Producer and Head of Programmes, Sound & Music; Curator, Cut & Splice Festival


“…in allowing her subject a sympathetic platform [Johnson creates] a palpable connection between subject and audience through film… Without any noticeable mediation (itself proof of Johnson’s skill as a director) Wells hints at his own deeper story, all the while moving around his museum as a frail man, preserving technology that continues to offer pleasure, and still functions, despite having been declared obsolete by the world beyond his museum’s four walls. It’s touching, tinged with nostalgia (the cinematography seems to caress the objects we see, as though bathing everything in the golden light bestowed by Wells’ own vision) but there’s also a tougher subtext here about mortality; an implicit acceptance that today’s cutting edge, multi-million dollar mass technologies will themselves, one day, be the preserve of men like Gerald Wells, pushed into the margins of whatever world they have (by then) helped to create.”   – Wayne Burrows, Nottingham Contemporary review


An unusual delight...beautifully composed study of a dying breed of enthusiasts and hobbyists...The more I think about this film the more I love it.” 

– Ben Blaine, Film Programmer

An astute and affectionate portrait on the unseen community of HAM radio enthusiasts.

– London Film Festival


Artist Biography

Esther Johnson is an artist who creates work that takes a poetic approach to documentary and narrative, through film, video, audio and photography. She studied for an MA at the Royal College of Art, London, and for a BA (Hons) at Royal Holloway, University of London.

 Johnson’s poignant documentary portraits examine extraordinary, resonant stories that may otherwise remain hidden or ignored. Her work reflects on the effect of ‘progress’ and societal change on communities and individuals in the margins of society, and of how the universal can impact on the particular. Work is acutely observed with minutely composed and paced imagery juxtaposed with contemplative soundscapes that mix voiceovers with field recordings. She makes photographic work that develops observations of the inhabited social and domestic environment and via the praxis of dérive.

Johnson's work has been exhibited internationally in over 30 countries in galleries and art fairs including Cornerhouse, Manchester · FACT, Liverpool · ICA, London · the Istanbul Biennial · the Japan Media Arts Festival · SIGGRAPH · Site Gallery, Sheffield · Sotheby’s, New York · Tate Britain · Tate Modern · Zoo Art Fair, London; plus film festivals and special events including, the BFI London Film Festival; International Documentary Festival Amsterdam · NASA, California · Raindance, London. In addition work has been broadcast on BBC television and radio.

Support for her work includes: Arts Council England · BBC · The British Council · Film London · London Artists' Film and Video Award · National Endowment for the Arts · National Lottery · Screen Yorkshire · Sheffield Contemporary Art Forum · Skillset · Sound and Music, and Yorkshire Arts.

Johnson was awarded the 2012–15 Philip Leverhulme Prize in Performing & Visual Arts for young scholars. She is a Reader in Art & Design within Sheffield Institute of Arts at Sheffield Hallam University.

Sheffield Hallam University, City Campus, Howard Street, Sheffield S1 1WB, UK

Phone +44 (0)114 225 5555 | Fax +44 (0)114 225 4449

How we use cookies

Privacy policy

Freedom of information



Legal information