THIS EXCITED SURFACE (2017)
THIS EXCITED SURFACE (2017)
This Excited Surface is a site specific sonic artwork for camera obscuras. The work is sound-based, with a spoken narrative that interweaves solar physics, cosmologies and desire interwoven with sonification of sun’s activity. The spoken narrative is a story of the cyclical interaction of the sun with the outer layer of our atmosphere, the ionosphere; of darkened spaces that channel light, and about desire, longing and the temporality of connection.
As participants walked into the darkened space of the camera obscura they encountered a glowing yellow dish, a sun in the earth. There was a deep bass sound coming from an under floor speaker and four speakers which played a spoken narrative interweaved with crackling, fizzing sounds of the excited ionosphere.
The ionosphere is a skin of electrons and electrically charged molecules and atoms (ions) that form part of the Earth’s atmosphere and magnetosphere. The ionosphere is created largely from the action of radiation from the Sun, yet it also protects us from this radiation. Disturbances of the ionosphere are caused by solar flares and the solar wind, a stream of electrically charged particles that interfere both with the ionosphere and the magnetosphere. The ionosphere is coupled with the magnetosphere and lies above the Earth’s atmosphere. Areas of the ionosphere adapt and change according to which part of the Earth is facing the Sun. On the night side of the Earth one layer disappears almost completely with other layers reducing in size only to be reformed by the Sun’s radiative action.
The ionosphere is never static, but a fluctuating, mutable surface or skin around the Earth. The ionosphere straddles a seeming division between the Earth and the Sun, the warmth of our atmosphere and the cold of space, yet is also punctured by solar events that sometimes cause storms and sub-storms in the ionosphereric and magnetospheric system. The ionosphere is an interface, the gatekeeper of radiation, the skin of the world. Every 24 hours the ionosphere expands towards the sun and reaches its peak at noon, excited by the interaction and then slowly retracts in the darkness - is a form of dynamic longing.
The psychologist William Gibson writes that ‘at the interface between the medium and substances are surfaces. Surfaces are where radiant energy is reflected or absorbed, where vibrations are passed to the medium, where vaporization or diffusion into the medium can occur, and what our bodies come up against in touch.’ (Gibson 1979:23)
Longing is always more desirous at a distance. It is intriguing that in order to observe the Sun, early astronomers needed to look away from it to examine its manifestations, whether spots on its surface or an orbiting celestial object. It is believed that Anaxagoras used a bowl of oil to study solar activity using the reflective surface to form a mirrored image of the Sun and in doing so created the image of its darker doppelganger looking up from the Earth. And, once the telescope was invented, the Sun was projected onto a surface affording a smaller and less blinding image to study at length. Even whilst capturing these impressions through mirroring or projection, they remained transitory, fleeting, the only manner of fixing them was by hand, through observation and recording, drawing and notation. The celestial occurrences emerge as a triangulation of the event, the eye and the hand. The phenomena of light and matter filtered through the lens of the telescope and the eye to form an image in the dark visual cortex at the back of the brain, where motor neurons relay the information to the hand.
The lens of the camera obscura in This Excited Surface is turned towards the sky, the viewing dish no longer a miniature virtual world, becomes a deep glowing sun looking up from the earth. In touching the dish another fragmented and indecipherable voice can be heard.
The work draws on architect Juhanni Palasmaa’s ideas about the sense of touch and space. It also draws on the quantum physicist, Karen Barad’s writing on touch and the quantum world. This Excited Surface draws analogies of gravitational or magnetic attractions and repulsions, to that of human desires. Desires that often cannot be looked upon directly but can be countenanced obliquely or at a distance, desires that are cyclical and continual, a never ending of expansion and retraction and loss.
This Excited Surface draws analogies of gravitational or magnetic attractions and repulsions, to that of human desires. Desires that often cannot be looked upon directly but can be countenanced obliquely or at a distance, desires that are cyclical and continual, a never ending of expansion and retraction and loss.