The Electromagnetic Fountain

Archive for the ‘01 EM Fountain’ Category

Freezing electronic and unstable art!

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When discussing the installation of the Electromagnetic Fountain at Article 08, everyone seemed to agree that the temperature doesn’t fall below freezing point in Stavanger at this time of year. But it does!

Last night I got a call from one of the Article 08 team to tell me that the water in the fountain bowl had frozen. Bad news. It can cause unrepairable damage to the pumps and valves. The only option is to remove the fountain from its place on the square before the exhibition ends.

Though the fountain had to be taken into the warm a bit early, I think that it has played its part well. As far as the general public were concerned it had its own opening a week before the exhibition started while I was setting it up. I enjoyed seeing how the fountain changed the nature of an empty square, and turned a seemingly empty space into a gathering place for a short period of time. It was great to see people’s reactions to its presence – the curious, the observers, the playful, the mischievous, the young, the old, the sceptics, the enthusiasts, the impartial, the returners, the passers by, the early birds, the late nighters, the ones in the know – and especially the ones who explained to others what they understood the fountain to be, and how they thought it worked.

If things go to plan I’ll have the chance to work more on the EMF next spring before its next outing into public space. The experiences gained from Article 08 are an invaluable resource to take with me.


Written by ajsteggell

November 22, 2008 at 9:59 pm

More photos from Article 08

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EMF dawn_02 EMF_dawn_01

EMF dawn_03 EMF_watching

EMF_girls_02 EMF_girls_01

EMF_group EMF_curious


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HC has requested more detailed video. Sorry HC, I still haven’t had time to check out my own video, but in the meantime, here’s a short extract that was shown on NRK Rogaland TV:

Written by ajsteggell

November 20, 2008 at 12:47 pm

EMF at night (movie)

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By request from HC, and until I’ve checked out my camcorder recordings, here’s a movie of the EMF in Stavanger that I took with my cell phone at night ……..

Written by ajsteggell

November 18, 2008 at 6:41 pm

(automagic continued) Luckily …….

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…. the new patch solves the lack of sequence changes. The Electromagnetic Fountain has been performing nicely for the last 12 hours.

Early this morning it got a visit from a whole bunch of very lively kids who circled around the fountain for about 20 minutes, sticking their fingers into the data pool and over the valves, and then sucking the water on their fingers and gloves.

Kiddies_01 Kiddies_02

Following a write up about the EMF and the Article 08 exhibition in the local paper, a journalist phoned to tell me that readers had been calling in to ask questions about the fountain, such as

Does the Electromagnetic Fountain emit electromagnetic radiation?
Is it harmful for people with pace-makers to walk past it?

…. and so on.

The focus seems to be orientated to personal health risks more than anything else. I’m curious about how the the results of this interview will turn out in the paper tomorrow.

The opening of the exhibition is tomorrow, but to be honest, I already feel like the Electromagnetic Fountain has been doing its stuff for the last 4 days, and a couple of people have thrown coins into it!

Disregarding my anxieties about whether the EMF will “work properly” or not, perhaps what has been most interesting for me is to observe how people respond to the fountain – also in relation to how much information, and through which channels, they have of the project. Those who have heard about it through word of mouth go straight up to the open network symbol on the antenna box and put their cell phone close up to it. I have also observed these people telling others how the fountain works and what they should do. I love this kind of transferable story telling/knowledge sharing.

People who have read about it in the paper or on this blog want to ask more about how it works, and what my intentions really are. Others, and especially kids, try to push on the symbol as if it was a button/key that should activate something. Several tell me about the musical fountains they have seen.

The dilemma: should the fountain have more specific instructions, or another icon, that tells people  more clearly that they can affect it by placing their cell phone on the antenna box? In other words, how explicitly “interactive” should the fountain propose to be?

——- melancholic interlude —————-

I am staying in room 509 in the Comfort Hotel. It has brochures that tell me how to be a harmonic person, what I should eat, drink and how I should go for walks, exercise, etc to be effective and ready to meet the demands of modern life. I am not allowed to smoke, but considering risking yet another 1000 kr fine by doing so. The hotel claims to be 100% ecological. It’s not true. Ecological food at the breakfast place is an option, not a standard – and the optional food has often ran out by the time I get there. I am feeling insular, but the skype sessions plus the meetings around the fountain are a good relief, and a place to smile, chat and laugh about things. I am tired and my body aches after spending hours in the damp and cold, checking out the fountain every couple of hours to see if each change has brought with it a new glitch, or has led to more stability.I am wondering about what is actually demanded of me – to be a part of an “electronic” and “unstable” art exhibition. Am I allowed to be unstable? Is the EMF allowed to crash?

I am thinking about being continuously on the move in contrast with the artists I met in recently in Vancouver working for their community – their neighborhood in various ways. I am thinking about bigger troubles I’ve seen on the news: the Gaza strip, suicide bombers, Kongo – to mention a few. I am trying to figure out where to go, and what to do after all the things I am supposed to do in the near future.

Written by ajsteggell

November 14, 2008 at 10:51 pm

Posted in 01 EM Fountain

Automagic start up?

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So, I’ve been in Stavanger setting up the EMF for the Article 08 since Monday. It has been a constant, 20 hour/ day process of trial and error. Breifly ……

Luckily, before I arrived some hunky firemen filled the fountain bowl with water – necessary to stop it being carried away or tipped over.
Unluckily, the bowl was mucky when it arrived, and the water consequently very murky.

Dirty water

(Photo: Geir Tore Aamadal)

Luckily, I managed to clean the bowl today by taking out just enough water to keep the pumps running, using a cloth to remove the gunge, and filling the bowl up again with 56 buckets of water.

Luckily, the fountain appeared to survive its journey, with pumps and lights all working fine.
Unluckily, and as in Porsgrunn, the dmx relay box has been cutting out. The fountain runs for anything up to 9 hrs and then the relay box ceases to function.

Light splash

(Photo: Geir Tore Aamadal)

Luckily, the weather was okay for the first 2 days, and I had two very helpful assistants, Geir Tore and Evy, who even washed my dirty clothes for me.
Unluckily, the weather changed and it has been raining and windy – making it difficult to work outside.

Evy and me

(Photo: Geir Tore Aamadal, Evy on the left)

Unluckily, the computer is damaged and does not like starting up at all.
Luckily I buy a new one on down payment, which makes problem solving a lot easier.
Unluckily it contributes to breaking the budget.

Luckily Pepe is on hand to send me my Griffin usb sound interface (from Oslo) in an attempt to get a better sound input from the EM sniffer.
Unluckily the fountain does not respond favourably to it, so I go back to minijack/line sound input.

Luckily I manage to make contact with John of Milford Electronics (who sold me the relay box) who suggests various issues connected to my problem.
Luckily the problem seems to be resolved with a new power adapter.

Luckily, now everything seems to be working, Trond Lossius is on hand via Skype from Bergen to help me by making an “automagic” (is this a spelling mistake, or his humour?) start-up max/msp patch out of the one that is currently functioning.

13.17 hrs

Luckily, Geir Tore offers moral support, reading me Trond’s instructions, because I’m too tired to rely on my own brain operating sequentially.

Unluckily, once installed on the fountain’s mac, everything works except that the fountain’s water jet patterns do not change.

Luckily, Trond helps out, taking me through the various parts of the patch step by step to resolve the problem. Some of the max externals have not been copied over to the new mac, and I’m missing some column data that is vital for changing the aqua-ography.

Skype 15.33 hrs Skype 20.52 hrs

I am waiting for daylight to test the revised patch on the fountain. This is partly because of the wind and rain, and partly because I really need to see if the fountain keeps running (particularly the valves) for a longer period of time if I am going to leave it for 10 days on Monday.

Tomorrow it is Friday, which leaves one day left to get the EMF stable for the opening of the exhibition.

EMF public test run

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Between 12pm and 9am on 8-9th November the Electromagnetic Fountain went through a public test run before leaving for Stavanger to take part in Article 08, 15-30 November. It stood on the town hall square (Rådhusplassen) during “Kulturnatt” in Porsgrunn, Norway, and, though the weather was horrid for much of the time (rain, wind, hail) the fountain appealed to the people who managed to make it to the town square when the rain occasionally stopped:

EMF at Kulturnatt 01 EMF at Kulturnatt 02

EMF at Kulturnatt 03 EMF at Kulturnatt 04

EMF at Kulturnatt 05 EMF at Kulturnatt 06

EMF at Kulturnatt 07 EMF at Kulturnatt 08

The fountain performed beautifully for the first 7 hours. After that the 5 pentagon water jets stopped working. The reason was discovered the next day – a bad connection on the dmx relay box.

The exercise was very useful.

Setting the fountain up the day before the event took almost twelve hours! It was quite an ordeal:

The weather conditions:
Rain, wind, hail and very cold – made it hard to protect the electronics from getting wet during set up.
Solution: For initial set up, use a car boot to house a computer screen, keyboard and mouse. Use Remote Desktop after that (haven’t had time to set it up and try it out yet – so that’s something to prepare for in Stavanger.

Water leaks:

Fixing the leak

The leakage in the pumps and valves that should have been fixed previously were only attended to during the set up time.

The Antenna Box
The antenna box/cable was not finished until 17.30, at which point it started to get dark. I could not test the fountain properly until this had been done.

Fuse goes on start up:
The fuse that protects the electronics went several times when the fountain was turned on, and the mac mini did not respond favorably to this. It seemed like a critical situation, but all went well after a couple of cold start ups.
Solution: plug in the electricity with the fuses off, and then trun them on. This seems to work fine.

Though only the central water jet was working, I left the fountain on to run over night, primarily because I wanted to test the software for a longer period, which I haven’t had the opportunity to do before.

Sunday morning:

A small period of almost rainless conditions allowed Atle and myself to check out the problems with the fountain on Sunday morning. The software was still running fine, but ……

Signal failure to 5 valves:
The problem with the signal failure to the five electronic valves, though identified, is not yet really solved. I have no idea what caused the bad connection. It started to work when I took the dmx relay box out of the fountain base chamber to take a look at it.

Air accumulation in the water system:
There seems to be an accumulation of air in the water system after the fountain has been running a while. This affects mainly the pump that serves the 5 pentagon jets. The result, very low jets and a noisy pump that affects the VLF sniffer output.
Solution: make sure that the air is removed from the water system each day.

We just had time to check these things out and empty the fountain basin before the lorry arrived at 12.00 to transport it to Stavanger.

EMF in transit

I’ll have four days to set it up in Stavanger in preparation for the Article 08 exhibition, and I must admit that the task seems a bit daunting. I had hoped to attain a greater degree of stability by this time. The main problem has been the co-ordination of the construction and electrical work in relation to the demands of programming and testing the fountain, and has pushed my nerves (and probably everyone else’s) to the limits. However, I really enjoyed watching how people took to the fountain during the rainless periods, and, though I say it myself, I think it looks stunning at night!

The only thing to do is to remain positive, and hope for some undestanding in relation to the problems that need to be solved. Though a bit wet and windy at times weather does not look too hopeless from tommorrow evening until next Friday, with temperatures between 4-9 degrees. Wednesday may also see some sunshine:-)