The Electromagnetic Fountain

Archive for the ‘nuture/nature’ Category

Deep North (rough notes, still editing)

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Climate change as paradigm shift

It’s Saturday afternoon. I’m in my studio in Oslo and I’m supposed to be doing some accounting. I have dropped in to the live stream from the auditorium at Transmediale in Berlin – a panel debate about climate change – and I become more occupied with what’s going on there than what I’m supposed to be doing here.

There is a woman speaking, her name is Alice Miceli.

Alice Miceli

I’m not exactly sure what she is talking about at this point,  but she is describing how to approach the invisibility visually. How to penetrate space in a specific way. To create images of the zones and spaces you that cannot see. She is talking about Chernobyl as a turning point, an accident in time. The melt down at Chernobyl happened local in space, global in time. Comparing it with 09.11, or other accidental scenarios where we see the consequences, we don’t see the victims right away. We won’t even see them all before we die.

Who is to blame?
Is it the director of the power station?
Who is responsible for balance?
It is a moral question.
If you don’t know who your enemy is, how can you begin to understand the situation.
Creating the vocabulary by the very means of the vocabulary, of the matter of radiation, to tell the story.

A question from the audience …..

– Are you actually using the local radiation, auto radiography?

Yes. A direct imprint with a special kind of film, working with the actual radiation of the zone to reproduce life sized images.

– What kind of images are you getting from the process? An image from a tree/house, what would it be like in the end?

We had no clue of what these images would look like. In the middle of the process the results are mimetic in relation to the source, but you can’t tell what the source is like.

– The matter – the intangible matter, what does it look like.

The combination has many aspects. You can see that in the pictures themselves

(Unfortunately, I can’t see the pictures on the stream)

More questions to the panel (Endre Kiss, Victor Nemchinov, Rob van Kranenburg, Alice Miceli)

– What do you mean by multitudes?

(Dr Victor Nemichov) We want to see the horror images, we can only see the broken windows, the dead trees – how to visualize that in a non binary way? I would go to Chernobyl and take pictures of the cemeteries of the men who died, whose children never lived ………….

(Professor Endre Kiss on multitudes ….) Multitudes want to indulge rather than conform. It is our option as to whether we constrain ourselves or not. On a global level it means compassion, communications and trying to come to grips with the dangers around us. The idea is too young to use practically (or something along those lines …. )

(Kiss has earlier described 3 scenarios for the future:

I. apocalyptic scenario
2. politics, arctic commission, immigration (environmental)- by functional/rationalist means.
3. optimistic scenario – to replay the 20th century (lit. of 1910-12 discovery of north pole). The earth is already discovered, but through this scenario, we can gain our north pole – discover it again.)

(Someone from the panel comments) Multitude is a creative thing – an eagle eyed view, seeing such long territory. To think that an idea or a word that is not ready to be used is quite a difficult concept. To try to get this long view back in the network  – where twitter is an example of the opposite, I’m doing this that, this, that etc, and a compulsive disorder in which young people are living in now.

(Endre Kiss) Yes. It creates stereotypical identities, a non holistic version of yourself, small chips are components that collide. Stereotypical components of one’s self. A stereo vision.

This Optimistic Mode, creativity, not the notions of “creative industries”, how can it work?

(Endre Kiss) To connect with historical events,  the discovery of the north pole, the idea that we have no missions, etc, to visit Russian literature – a middle European common place, to replay the 20th Century – a philosophical replay.

I don’t think it will be a reality, but the possibility is still there.

The session ends. i move to the salon.

IN THE SALON (workshop session)
Dominque Malaquais, Eléonore Hellio, Dicoco Boketshu and jaromil are discussing Critical Consumer Practice

Jaromil is talking about the use coltan in mobile phones, and reflecting about the implications of using these minerals, 25% of it which is mined in the Congo. This is a territorial issue that I haven’t really thought about in relation to my own project, being more concerned with bandwidth territories. Concerned with the matter of the immaterial I have forgotten it. I am glad that it is brought to attention. He is calling for actions to turn off mobile phones, computers, to stop supporting the death market – payment with arms, etc.

Some snippets from the dialogues …..

Sony claims that they are not using tantalum (chemical derived from coltan) – how can they know that they are not using these things? With a market is driven by death, there should be a world wide tax on coltan to disarm the people in the Congo. The drug market is only profitable if it is illegal. The same with coltan.

The rest goes too fast to transcribe …….

Now there is a performance by Mowoso, transmitted live from Kinshasa via Skype. Some people at Transmediale are complaining about the video transmission resolution. There is no 2 way communication with the Mowosos artists  – a typical remote performance problem. How to synchronize the clocks and keep all channels open – that is the question.

Miles away

far apart

Fathoms under

worlds apart

Hours beyond

seconds away

centuries yonder

miles under

time over

A part apart

And right now, a google search produces a message telling me that going to the search results may damage my computer …. is this a coincidence?

coincidence? 01

And then …….


End of transmission ……..


Written by ajsteggell

January 31, 2009 at 5:00 pm

Fictional radio spaces

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 (Ellen Røed sent me this link a while back, but I forgot to put it up. Thanks Ellen!)
During a workshop called Tangible Interactions at the Oslo school of Architecture and Design, Ingeborg Marie Dehs Thomas devised a concept of an encyclopeadia of radio waves that contains a selection of fictional radio ‘species’.


Written by ajsteggell

February 6, 2008 at 12:19 pm

Electromagnetic Fountain

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This summer I’ve been prototyping the electromagnetic fountain idea, which has now changed its name back from the Screaming Fountain to simply the Electromagnetic Fountain.

Here’s the first description …….

Every city has its own invisible twin-city – an architecture in flux made up of electromagnetic waves emitted by its numerous electrical facilities, transmitters and receivers. The Electromagnetic Fountain is a small-scale, transportable fountain that responds to these waves to form an ever-changing aquatic choreography.

Fountains generally perform aesthetic functions. When they are placed in urban spaces the intention is often to bring an oasis – an experience of nature, into the city. Observing and listening to fountains can be a mesmerizing and contemplative experience, but the repetitive patterns can also seem arbitary and without meaning. The dancing water of the Electromagnetic Fountain is neither predictable nor random. It draws on data derived from the detection of electromagnetic activity in its immediate surroundings (wireless technology such as mobile phones and surveillance equipment, tram lines, traffic lights, antennas, etc) to control the dynamics of the rise and fall of its water jets. In other words, it is the electromagnetic nature of the city that is reflected in the fountain. Like the wind, it is invisible. Unlike the wind, it is not often perceived or reflected over. By gazing at the fountain, the ethereal body of the invisible twin-city is revealed in a poetic and enigmatic way.

However there is a flip side to the story. The electromagnetic spectrum is a highly fought over private, commercial and political territory, and the increasing use of wireless technology has given rise to concern over environmental and health issues. Perhaps the fountain can function as an unusual information display system; an electromagnetic barometer for those who encounter it.

The fountain will be constructed in a portable format that resembles a satellite dish; a circular bowl of approximately 2 m in diameter that rests on a pedestal of about 45 cm high. It is equipped with devices for detecting and digitizing man-made electromagnetic activity in the near vicinity. This data is used to control an electric water pump as well as six water valves so that the water jumps and drops to evoke the feeling of the incoming data. Underwater lights that also react to this data will be used to illuminate and colour the fountain. The fountain will be scented with the smell of ozone. All equipment will be stored and secured in the fountain’s pedestal, out of which will come one cable for connecting to a power supply, and a nozzle for filling and draining water.

Once the fountain is constructed, appropriate host-spaces will be found where it can appear for a limited period of time. Examples could be on a roundabout, in a city square, playground, school yard, shopping centre or gallery/museum. The aim is to find public spaces where diverse/interesting readings of electromagnetic activity are detected. That the fountain appears in any one space for a limited time only will bring a sense of performance to this project, and each space will produce unique results.

Written by ajsteggell

August 25, 2007 at 8:03 pm

The Screaming Fountain

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Michelle Teran has provided a name to my urban fountain idea posted earlier – the Screaming Fountain, I like it and I’ll keep it! At least for the time being. Anyway, since attending the Maxwell City workshop I have been doing some thinking about how to go about making the fountain, asking for advise from fountain folks from industry/design/art worlds.

One of the people I have contacted, and who I hope will reply to me, is Koert van Mensvoort who is part of a team in Amsterdam who worked on a Datafountain. It has 3 water jets controlled by the ebb and flow of the value of the yen, euro and dollar – (¥€$). The site provides some interesting information about how the fountain frame/design process went, I can’t find too much technical information about the pump, valves, nozzles, electronics and programming.

I have had several conversations about this project with my partner, Per Platou, who has questioned the relativity of my fountain idea in terms of art. Is it more relevant as public decor? Well …… my answer is that it could be both. A fixed fountain could fall into the last category, but a mobile fountain could be a performative work.

My current aim is to make a prototype fountain, self contained and relatively easily transportable. It can be placed in different environments/locations, indoors and outdoors in urban spaces. Each new location should produce different screams and dances. So the fountain’s activity is emergent. If I can produce a working prototype, and through it, get some attention, find a suitable location, perhaps I could move on to phase 2 – the fixed fountain – having more idea about the demands of making such a thing.

I’ve purchased a water pump (Nautilas 200) which can produce a water stream of up to 1.5m. The pump is controllable (more/less power) so I can hook it up to a Lanbox/dmx box and pass the sound data from the EM sniffers to my mac and then use this to control the pump activity. The splashing effect of a 1.5m jet needs a pond/container of 3m in diameter to catch the splash. I have no place to try out the pump in my studio here in Oslo, so I’ll have to wait until I go to a cottage by the sea in Old Bitch Bay, south Norway to do some experimenting.

I have suggested to Gisle Frøysland of Bergen Centre for Electronic Art (BEK) that I could bring my project to PIKSEL 07 – a yearly gathering of people working with Open Source audiovisual software, hardware and art – to get some input from other folks about modulating data/frequencies, etc etc. He thinks its a good idea, so I just hope I can afford to spend a week there ……..

Written by ajsteggell

July 15, 2007 at 3:07 pm

Insect Lab

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Img source:

Insect Lab is an artist-operated studio that customizes real insects with antique (such as mechanical watches) and electronic components. Not directly related to using the electromagnetic field as artistic material, but anyway ……… The creations are described as a “celebration” of natural and man made functions. Each “specimen” is displayed either in a black shadow box or a conical glass jar. You can even order a custom insect based on your preferences if you like.

View the whole collection here:

Written by ajsteggell

June 3, 2007 at 4:18 pm

Antenna aesthetics: nature?

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Here are some examples of camouflaged antennas resembling nature’s wonders.

  • Rock

A boulder offered by Larson Camouflage offering services for mobile communications with headquarters in Tucson, Arizona.

hatch closed :
hatch open:

This Wireless Rock in Santa Susana Pass, California houses one or more wireless antennas. The lifting ring bolt at the top of the rock is a nice touch.

outside view:
inside view (with 2 coaxial cables showing that the rock transmits and receives):

A rock with a warning sign by Nextel at its Rocky Peak site in the Santa Susana Pass, California.

warning sign:

  • Cactus

Spot the antenna?

Saquaro Fountain Hills, Arizona:

  • Tree stub

  • Palm

California dreamtime, a palm in the sunset:

A cell palm with a diamond shaped date!
(The “date” is a microwave panel for saving the carrier the cost of leasing a data line from the local telephone company.)

Pretty sad palms in Sprint’s Desert Hot Springs monopalm site.

  • Pine

A pine antenna in San Diego County. The red light on the top of the cell pine tree warns off low flying helicopters.

A monopine – Lake Elsinore, California

  • Bison

Verizon’s cellular bison, located in Carr, Colorado

close view:

Written by ajsteggell

May 24, 2007 at 12:04 pm

Sky Ear

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Sky Ear
Usman Haque, 2004

[From website: Sky Ear had its last full-scale public launch on September 15, 2004 at Greenwich Park, London. There are currently no confirmed flights planned for the future, though various discussions continue.

sky ear

Electromagnetic fields (EMF) exist just about everywhere in our atmosphere. Urban locations in particular have a diverse and vibrant hertzian culture, with mobile phone calls overlapping text messages, combining television broadcasts with garage door openers that interfere with radio transmissions and wireless laptops, etc., not to mention the natural EMF that already exists in the atmosphere. This project is a spatial investigation of some of these phenomena.

Sky Ear is a non-rigid carbon-fibre “cloud”, embedded with one thousand glowing helium balloons and several dozen mobile phones. The balloons contain miniature sensor circuits that respond to electromagnetic fields, particularly those of mobile phones. When activated, the sensor circuits co-ordinate to cause ultra-bright coloured LEDs to illuminate. The 30m cloud glows and flickers brightly as it floats across the sky.

As people using phones at ground-level call into the cloud (flying up to 100m above them) they are able to listen to distant natural electromagnetic sounds of the sky (including whistlers and spherics). Their mobile phone calls change the local hertzian topography; these disturbances in the electromagnetic fields inside the cloud alter the glow patterns of that part of the balloon cloud. Feedback within the sensor network creates ripples of light reminiscent of rumbling thunder and flashes of lightning.

Sky Ear shows both how a natural invisible electromagnetism pervades our environment and also how our mobile phone calls and text messages delicately affect the new and existing electromagnetic fields.]

Written by ajsteggell

May 4, 2007 at 10:39 pm

Composition for Building

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Electromagnetique Composition for Building
David Haines and Joyce Hinterding

Experimenta: Australia-Japan Media Art collaboration and exhibition (Sendai Mediatheque) Australia-Japan Media Art collaboration and exhibition, 26 Nov– 25 Dec 2006

[From website: In this work titled Electromagnetique Composition for Building, Plants & Stars the artists wrap a column on the 6th floor of the SMT building with 16km of copper wire to create a giant coil antenna that captures and amplifies the local electromagnetic energy within the building and the background noise of distant galaxies such as the Milky Way. A high definition video projection of overgrown weedy plants sits in counterpoint to the column and reveals a hidden order between the constructed and the wild.]

Written by ajsteggell

May 4, 2007 at 9:32 pm