Observatory asks: How can you make a data-driven painting in real-time collaboration with the most powerful forces of nature?
When Mount Saint Helens catastrophically erupted in May 1980, it showered my nearby hometown with inches of gray ash, forever impressing on me the unpredictable power of unseen forces. Later I learned that seismology is linked to nuclear weapons; the field matured partially as a way to detect underground detonations from across the globe. For the past ten years I’ve been depicting both subjects as examples of the apocalyptic sublime, using traditional techniques, like paint on canvas.
MSH is still very active, its conditions constantly monitored by the Pacific Northwest Seismic Network’s seismometers inside of the crater. I want to harness this dynamism and express it within my own painterly language.
Multiple viewers simultaneously experience Observatory installed in a physical exhibition space (shown: LACMA Art + Technology Lab) and remotely, on their mobile device. The artwork is composed as an animating diptych: The left side portrays a painting of MSH backed by a shifting color gradient, while the right displays a rapidly changing crosshatch of lines. The combination of abstract and representational forms express concepts of scale, power and change.
Every aspect of the painting is animated, moving either slowly or quickly depending on current seismic conditions. The mountain appears painted from different perspectives; colors subtly shift; lines erratically appear and disappear at odd angles. Because the lava dome could erupt at any time, the composition is entirely unpredictable.
Observatory is performed over the course of one month. Within that time multiple viewers will experience the physical exhibition and/or acquire Observatory as an app, using a QR-code displayed in the gallery. Although everybody is viewing the same artwork, they will never experience the same thing twice.
At the end of the exhibition, Observatory goes dormant and the performance is over.