The Electromagnetic Fountain

Posts Tagged ‘interactive fountain

An EMF presentation

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Here are my notes and slides of a presentation of the Electromagnetic Fountain that I gave at the National Academy of the Arts in Bergen on Jan 12th 2009. It is a bit of a new approach to presenting this project, and revolves around some autobiographical reflections and associative imagery that has emerged through the process of working with the fountain. With only 20 minutes for my presentation, I try to show more and talk less!


[ Slide: I heard Erkki Huhtamo give this advice at the end of one of his
lectures. Though available on the net, I cannot locate the link.
]

During the mid 1990’s I became involved in exploring the potentials of the net, or the information super highway as it was often referred to then …..


[ Slide: image from The New Wizard from the West,
Pearson’s Magazine, May 1899
]

……  as a creative platform for artistic exchange.

I collaborated remotely with artists from several continents via the new audio/video transmission and tele-conferencing systems to create performances, installations and social, live art happenings.

One of the rituals of participating in this telematic space was to perform a compulsory “good bye” wave of the hand into the webcam to each other when closing a performance.


[ Slide: MIRAGE. Motherboard, Galleri F15, Moss, Norway and the net, 2000.
Realvideo feedback installation, looping around the globe
]

This created a simple form of non-verbal communication that could generally be recognised despite the low bandwidth crackly audio and pixelating video transmission.

Today I am interested in exploring the potential of another kind of wave as a source of artistic material, namely the electromagnetic waves and pulses that are emitted from our numerous electric, wireless and mobile communications devices. They pass through our streets, homes and bodies and increasingly carry the raw signals of our wireless communications, and yet they are, generally speaking, imperceptible to humans without some kind of technological intervention.

I am attempting to reveal them and give them a physical presence in the form a fountain whose water jets and coloured lights dance to the electromagnetic activity detected in its near vicinity.

The fountain was conceived as a portable fountain with performance value, designed to appear in urban spaces where there are “hot spots” of electromagnetic activity for a short period of time before moving on to a new destination.

Its bowl is a recycled, redundant parabola antenna dish acquired from the 120 m high television transmission tower on the hills of Oslo (from which Stockholm can be seen with the bare eye from an observation tower when the weather permits).

It has become redundant because analog TV transmissions have recently been terminated in favor of digital signals, and the previously designated bandwidths are being sold off to the highest bidder.

The electromagnetic spectrum, in its entirety, has increasingly become “a hotly fought over political, commercial and private territory” (E. Berger and M. Howse, 2007).


[ Slide: image from: http://mynasadata.larc.nasa.gov/ElectroMag.html ]

“The spectrum is treated as a `commons´, belonging to every person. It is controlled and administered by governments who, in turn, license the various radio frequencies to commercial and other institutions for broadcast. In other words, in every country the electromagnetic system is owned by the government on behalf of the people.”
[Jeremy Rifkin, 2001]

Sometimes it is hard to remember that the air that we breathe has become colonised by the wild-fire of WI-FI, and the environmental and health risks involved are not yet fully understood. This is reflected by the attempts of corporate network providers to hide their transmission and reception devices from public view with the aim of reducing the fear that the lack of adequate information surrounding these issues inspires.

Take this palm tree for example. I spotted it while driving to the airport in Rome in 2007.

And yet fear is an issue that I deal with each time my cell phone runs out of power, or I forget it. I just don’t feel safe without it. I seldom switch it off, though I often want to. As I feel my ear starting to get warmer, I can’t help wondering whether my brain is getting cooked as well.

Perhaps I should get a pair of these ……


[ Slide: image from Anthony Dunne and Fiona Raby’s website]

…. placebo underwear with silver lining to protect your nether regions from electromagnetic radiation, created by the dynamic duo, Dunne and Raby (UK).

Science is a social activity that we perform in our everyday lives – winning on the roundabouts and losing on the swings. It is a risky business. The question arises as to how much (and with what) we are prepared to pay in the pursuit of high speed, physical and telematic mobility that are a part of modern day life.


[ Slide: image from http://www.fototime.com/24784734E056C6A/standard.jpg ]

Life seems so fast these days. There is a pressure to always be available at different places at the same time, yet in different time zones – or going somewhere without actually moving from the spot.

Sometimes I wish to slow down time for a while, and experience the world from the earth up, rather than the sky down  (as I do when I pear down onto my keyboard and into the deep space of my horizon-less screen).

I want to know how things work, under the veil, so to speak. I want to look beyond the ease of the slick point-and-click interface to explore the raw signals of telematic communications – to catch them before they pop out of a screen or speaker. Before they become a cell phone conversation or an sms, a surveillance image on a video screen, an email, a bank transaction, a death match in Unreal Tournament 3 or a new avatar in Second Life. I want to give them a body that can only be experienced locally, yet is made up of a myriad of local and global gestures and utterances, and a multitude of physical bodies. Big aims for a little person!

Marshal McLuhan once noted that electricity is itself a medium with a message. With my current work I suggest that, more specifically, it is the electromagnetic spectrum that is a medium worth paying attention to today. But how can you pay attention to parts of the spectrum that humans cannot see, hear, feel, taste or smell?

In the case of the fountain, it is equipped with an electromagnetic detector, or “sniffer”.

Like a dog with a sharp nose,


[ Slide: image from Epica Awards 2007 ]

…. it picks electromagnetic transmissions and transforms them into audible signals, drawing them down to one point on earth and grasping the feeling of the analog waves and digital pulses as they pass by.

Let me give you an example – the sound of a a laptop with a wireless router performing a bit torrent download, recorded by Martin Howse using a sniffer he made for the fountain.

It is the qualities of the screaming, popping and crackling sounds that the fountain uses to control its water pumps, valves and lights.

In other words, it functions like a musical fountain – a famous example of which is the Bellagio fountain in Las Vegas.


[ Slide: image from: http://govegas.about.com/od/phototours/ss/Belsbs.htm ]

Fountains generally perform aesthetic functions. When placed in urban spaces the intention is often to bring an oasis – an experience of nature, into the city. The Bellagio fountain, though easier to describe in terms of entertainment than nature, fits naturally into the virtual reality of Vegas. Yet it contributes to sucking dry a valuable natural resource – water. On the surface, what is natural in one sense seems unnatural in another, and yet the twain are unfathomably intertwined.

I do not wish for the Electromagnetic Fountain to fit naturally in with its environment, but I do wish it to establish a playful, aesthetic identity wherever it pops up.

I wish it to misbehave a bit, to become an eye catcher, to create an emotive space, a gathering place, a form of information display – a data stream, wet to the hand and babbling with life – and perhaps even an electromagnetic barometer for those who encounter it.

The Electromagnetic Fountain is “location sensitive” in more ways than one. It is not connected to a water supply and therefore has to filled up with it, which it then recycles. Being placed outside and exposed to the elements has its consequences. A strong gust of wind sends the water flying out onto the street. Calling on the fire brigade to fill it up becomes a spectacle in itself – as was the case when it took part in the Article Biannual Exhibition of Electronic and Unstable Art in Stavanger last November.

Getting them to rescue it when the temperature unexpectedly dropped below freezing point became another!

Here’s a 5 minute video of the fountain as it appeared on the town square in Stavanger.

There are a few technological hurdles I wish to overcome before I’m through with the fountain. Shielding the sniffers from the fountain’s own electromagnetic emission is one thing I haven’t adequately achieved yet. It should be done to avoid creating a feedback loop that undermines its ability to detect and respond to other signals. Our physical bodies also emit a certain amount of natural, or bio electromagnetic radiation, but when we communicate wirelessly we emit more, and often unwittingly give up rights to bits and bytes of our ‘selves’ and our world in the process. This is my main concern – though it is the potential health risks that the press has focused on in their coverage of the fountain.

Next time the fountain goes out into the world I intend to give it a speaker so that the noisy, crackly sounds of the electromagnetic detectors can be heard – though they might become too invasive to be tolerated in public space for long. I think troubled times demand a strong voice. By actively addressing both the positive and negative aspects of the coin, it may be possible to negotiate a radiant future in positive terms. That is, for what it is worth, my personal vision.

Thank you. And goodbye.


[ Slide: image from The New Wizard from the West,
Pearson’s Magazine, May 1899
]

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EMF article in the Weekly Technical Magazine

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Here’s a link to an article about the Electromagnetic Fountain by Stein Jarle Olsen, published in the Norwegian Weekly Technical Magazine, 02.11.2008.

The article is called “Sprutende ingeniørkunst” in Norwegian, and I’m finding it hard to translate “sprutende” to English. Shooting, splashing? The best word I can hit on is ejaculating. Discussing the problem in the kitchen of Canadian artist (and my hostess with the mostess) Vicki Moulder, we come up with two alternative English titles:

1. Ejaculatory Engineering Art
2. The Art of Engineered Ejaculation
Other alternative suggestions welcome :-)

(photo by Stein Jarle Olsen)

Written by ajsteggell

November 2, 2008 at 9:00 pm

Success! 6 jets working!

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On the last day of the second session and main EM Fountain work time in Skien, the 6 jets finally came into action. It took a long time to find out how to wire the dmx relay box to the relay box that serves the electronic valves with electricity ……

Relay box 1 Relay box 2

Fiddle 6 Fiddle 5

Fiddle 3 Fiddle 2

Producer Observing data

Smiles 6 jets!

What became clear when we saw the fountain in action was that it was most lively without a cell phone installed by the antnenna.  The antnenna picked up ambient disturbances in the electromagnetic environment and the fountain responded with a rich variety of chorepgraphic patterns, jet heights and light blinky-blinks. Then, when you come close-ish to the antenna with a cell phone, the feedback is instantaneously perceptible, with a uniform choreography and all jets on full height. It is beautiful and sense making. But it is hard to say if the fountain will react likewise when it is moved to a new location …..

I now have a break for a week (going to show the Emotion Organ at the ACM Annual conference and exhibition at Science World/Vancouver). After that I have another 3 full days in Skien where all the remaining things need to be done to get the EMF ready for meeting the public – not in the least is to see if it will run on its own steam for 24 hours and more. The first preview will be in Porgrunn town square on 8th November, where it will stand for 24 hours before travelling to Article 08, Stavanger.

RGB lights arrive, but no relay box

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The 2 remaining RGB lights finally arrived today, but the relay box for the solenoid valves, expected at 13.00, still hasn’t made it through the post. It’s frustrating because I really want to see the whole thing up and running, and to make sure the pump that serves the solenoid valves is strong enough, and that the switch box/relay box system works too.

Last night brought with it some minor glitches, such as a potential risk of water spill flowing in to the electronics chamber from one of the bars supporting the fountain bowl, and a defunked blue colour on one of the RGB lights on a pentagon water jet. It takes 3 weeks to get hold of a new one – and we really don’t have time to hang around for it. I’m going to move the funky light out of the pentagon format and put it in the group of 3 that surrounds the central jet. I’ll try and aim this light at the top of the jet – it will always have a red/yellowish colour though. Another option is to get a white light from my studio in Oslo, and replace it with that.

So all that happened today was that Marius hooked up the 2 new lights and placed the funky one in the centre.

Under the fountain Cable work Light work

And just in case you are thinking that Marius is the only one getting dirty lying under the fountain – you are wrong! I do it too – but I’m the only one taking photos.

It’s extemely cold in the warehouse. And even colder when you’re wet. So once everything is up and running I’m planning to fill the bowl with warmish water and get my bikini on to focus the lights. I can’t reach the central ones without getting in the bowl, and I can’t focus them without the jets being at their full height.

Written by ajsteggell

October 22, 2008 at 11:12 pm

Houston, we have a problem

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Inspection_02 Houston, we have a problem
L-R: Atle (ROM3), Svein Kjetil, Øystein and Geir (NLI Engineering)

Had a meeting today with the project group from NLI Engineering AS to go over the water pressure and leakage troubles, as well as the electronic valve issue. Contrary to the idea of getting a 3rd pump to help/feed the two existing ones was the suggestion to address the “visible” faults – the angles and bends in the tubes running from the nozzles to the pumps and valves. The electronic valve issue should be solved with a relay box that supplies the valves with electricity, and is triggered by signals from the existing switch box. If this works, it won’t be too costly, and could be completed by Wednesday. Perhaps I will see the water jets working by the time I have to leave on Sunday.

The software still keeps running!

I am feeling positive :-)

(PS: Just got a call from my flat in Oslo – the water pipes in the bathroom are leaking – and water it running down into the flat below. This cannot be happening!)

Written by ajsteggell

October 20, 2008 at 9:37 pm

An exciting day at Frank’s workshop

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So, I finally arrived in Skien and got my first glimpse of the Electromagnetic Fountain for real in Frank Ralle’s workshop!

EMF jets

Here it is, with 6 nozzles mounted on the bowl which rests on a square-shaped base.
Here’s the base with the bowl taken off, and upside down.

EMF base EMF base 2

There I discovered a hexagon within which three triangular chambers are in construction. I am fascinated by the way Frank has thought about the geometry of the whole construction – drawing various geometric forms out of the pentagon/circle form. It is all very alchemic.

The 3 chambers will hold the fountain’s electrical components.

1. The computer (Mac mini), 2 rgb led light controllers, cls dmx dimmer, LAN box LCX, Alesis sound interface and Milford Electronics DMX switch/relay box.

2. The “wet” components – 2 pumps and 5 solenoid valves.

3. The EM sniffers.

We start to find out where the components in chamber 1 should be placed (R photo).

I like the look of the base upside down – it looks like something that could be landing on Mars sometime.

Here’s the marking’s Frank has made on the hexagon for drilling holes that will carry cables up to the 8 rgb lights and the 4 EM sniffers that Martin Howse has made (still waiting for them to arrive from Berlin).

Hexagon Marking the hexagon

And here he is drilling holes!

Drilling

The central jet nozzle and 3 rgb lights will be mounted on this construction …..

EMF Central Jet EMF Central Jet 02

But first it needs a bit of work ….

Soldering

At some point during the day Marius The Electrician arrives to plan the work he will start tomorrow – namely connecting all the various cables to the various components together in a safe way so that folks won’t get electrocuted.

Marius the electrician EMF base

Marius works for NLI Engineering AS, the company who is responsible for projecting my project. It is obvious that this project provides him with a challenge, but he is smart, dedicated and easy to talk to, so we work through various unknown factors together – reading manuals, asking questions, etc. I discover errors on the product list. there are 2 rgb led lights missing, as well as various cables. Atle Barcley, the producer, rushes around following things up. (Sorry Atle, I didn’t get a photo of you).

At the end of the day I take a walk outside. I discover that Frank’s workshop lies on the river that flows between Prosgrund and Skien. So some pictures of the surroundings follow …. and note the beautiful summer sunshine that accompanied the day ….

Brødrene Ralle AS Junk

A strange machine Friends in the back yard

Workshop view 02 Workshop view 01

It has been a great day. It is an undescribable feeling to see something imagined taking form in the real world ……

Written by ajsteggell

October 6, 2008 at 10:21 pm

Control scheme revised

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The time has almost come for ordering the parts for, and construction of the Electromagnetic Fountain. The summer break has put a nervous edge on the project. It has been difficult to contact people and keep the project flow going. The main hick-up (at least at present) has been to decide on how, and with what to light the fountain. The eventual solution is to use LED lights and DMX controllable RGB controllers manufactured by Wibre and sold by an Oslo-based company called Illuminator AS. After many communications with Svein Kjetil at NLI, and a long meeting with petter at Illuminator AS it became obvious that any ambitions to individually control 18 industrial RGB colour changing LED lights was economically impossible. So a new idea evolved during our meeting:

Each manifold with 5 jets should have 5 colour changing 3×1 LED lights.
The central jet should have 3 colour changing 3×1 LED lights.
Each set of lights (3 manifolds sets, 1 central jet set) has its own controller.

If this solution puts too much strain on the budget, then the only solution I can think of is that the number of water jets will have to be reduced. There is no point in having a poorly lit fountain.

Other changes to the scheme:

LANBOX LCX replaced with LANBOX LCE mini DMX controller.
USB connection to mac replaced with ethernet connection
x2 Milford Electronics DMX relay boxes for the soleniod valves of the water jets.

networksetup_03