By Jen Mulson
Updated: September 4, 2014 at 3:38 pm • Published: September 4, 2014
Unlike Thomas Edison, the name Nikola Tesla isn't one you hear all that much. Many argue it should be as ubiquitous as Edison's.
A new exhibit, "Transmission/Frequency: Tesla and His Legacy," focuses attention on the Serbian-American scientist, engineer and inventor who lived in Colorado Springs from 1899-1900. It opens Thursday at I.D.E.A. Space at Cornerstone Arts Center.
Seven projects, created by artists from around the country, directly reflect or indirectly suggest the inventor's work, said Jessica Hunter-Larsen, curator of the interdisciplinary arts program at Colorado College.
"There's an interest in the maverick, the outsider," Hunter-Larsen said about Tesla. "He was definitely pushed out of the inner circle. He was very altruistic in some ways, and interested in the idea of free electricity and free power."
The reportedly eclectic and charismatic man is known for the alternating current electrical system and the Tesla coil, a voltage transformer that steps up ordinary 120 AC household voltage to tens or hundreds of thousands of volts. But as it turns out, he invented or had a hand in numerous other significant inventions. He just never paid much mind to getting patents on his work, biographers say, which led to his fade into obscurity after his death in 1943.
Tesla ran into trouble with his idea of free power. It clashed with the businessmen and one-time employers he surrounded himself with, like J.P. Morgan and George Westinghouse, who made their money charging for it.
"There were some miscommunications about what his intentions were and what the power companies' intentions were, so there were some issues there," said Hunter-Larsen. "He lost out on a lot of the patents he should have (had), and sold over rights to patents to inventions he made in the area of power, and got written out of some of the big deals.
The result: "We don't attribute some of the things that were invented to him because of that."
His discoveries are said to be radio; wireless transmission, which resulted in cellphone technology; and fluorescent lighting, among others.
"Incoherence," an installation in the new Tesla exhibit, was created for the show by Denver artist David Fodel. He calls Tesla a genius. "A lot of his ideas were latched onto new age, spiritual kinds of approaches," Fodel said.
Fodel heard of the inventor as a child. The artist eventually went on to work with electroencephalogram (EEG) data from people having seizures, turning it into sonic and visual feedback.
His piece turns the Schumann Resonance into both a visual and audio experience. The resonances are standing electromagnetic waves that exist in the Earth's electromagnetic cavity, he said.
"The piece itself is incoherent frequency," Fodel said, "but it also relates to the incoherence that surrounds the interpretations and legend and mystery that surround Tesla."
The inventor came to Colorado Springs for specific reasons, said Marc Seifer, author of the 1998 book, "Wizard, the Life and Times of Nikola Tesla: Biography of a Genius." He built a lab on Knob Hill, at the intersection of Kiowa and Foote streets, where he worked for eight months.
"He was testing his radio equipment," Seifer said. "There's a notebook of Colorado Springs notes and calculations that he sent impulses around the Earth and it rebounded. He was trying to calculate nodal points around the Earth so wireless towers wouldn't be randomly placed; there would be specific locations."
At one point, he also blew out the power grid of the entire city, Hunter- Larsen said, which didn't make him the most popular guy in town.
"He discovered the Earth has resonance capacity," she said, "but not in the way he hoped or anticipated. Later, science found the Earth does conduct but not in the way Tesla wanted it to. When he left, he felt he was ready to take the next step."