AboutWinter Sparks turns away from the traditional understanding of the museum as a contemplative and over-cerebral white-cube space, and seeks to engage visitors on a journey through impressive large-scale reactive installations. The selection of works takes over FACT's building to ensure an immersive experience where the visitor becomes part of the different environments, experimenting with light, sound, space and motion.
Curated by FACT's director Mike Stubbs, Winter Sparks explores the relationship between art and science through the works of Canadian artist and composer Alexandre Burton, Dutch artist and academic Edwin van der Heide, and Spain-based Bosch & Simons, known for their âmusic machines', all being seen in the UK for the first time.
Edwin van der Heide's Evolving Spark Network (Gallery 1) consists of a grid of electric spark bridges that traverses the exhibition space. The movements of visitors are detected by radio frequency motion detectors and used as input for the network. The electric sparks produce both sound and light, and the patterns generated have distinct visual and sonic qualities. The visitors find themselves in the middle of an installation that addresses the whole space that it occupies. This network serves as a metaphor for the electrical impulses by which our nerves communicate information, activated by input from the physical world.
For van der Heide, electric sparks represent beauty, purity and simplicity. An electric spark is one of the most elementary forms of light generation, while the impulse produced makes the shortest imaginable sound. Composing with these impulses can therefore be seen as one of the most fundamental forms of composition in time and space.
Alexandre Burton's interactive installation Impacts (Gallery 2) is a âlive' sculptural installation consisting of Tesla coils each fitted with a glass pane and suspended from the ceiling. The presence of the visitor activates an audio and visual experience. The visitor's proximity to the works engages arcs of electricity of variable intensities as well as a rhythmic articulation, generated by the impact of the electrical arc on the glass pane.
For more than a decade, award-winning artist Alexandre Burton has been producing artworks using digital technologies, both on his own and as a member of the Montreal-based digital arts collective artificiel. Impacts has only been shown previously at the PHI Centre in Montreal, and FACT is honoured to re-stage it for its local, national and international audiences.
Bosch & Simons's Wilberforces refers directly to a phenomenon from science, the Wilberforce Pendulum. This pendulum is nothing more than a hung spring with a central weight and two eccentric weights for calibration below it. The secret of the system lies in conceiving a calibration in such a way that the resonant frequencies of translation and rotation of the spring are so near to each other that once set in motion its movement can change gradually from vertical motion into rotation without adding energy from an external source.
In this previously unshown work, produced by FACT, Bosch & Simons use pendulum springs for generating and processing video and audio data. Hanging a video camera, a microphone, and loudspeakers from the springs, images captured by the camera are projected in real-time, and at the same time motion data is used as a source for live electronic sound production.
Following the tradition of the artists' former vibratory projects, their main interest is to create a complex system in which various frequencies influence each other. Alongside unstable balances and order and chaos, another theme of the work is the mystery of signal processing. How much of the sounds and images produced are processed in an analogue way, by movement and feedback, and how much is done digitally? Wilberforces raises questions about what is âreal' and what is manipulated by âtricks' - an issue that cannot be questioned enough in the era of mass manipulation we live in.
A full programme of events around the Winter Sparks exhibition, including artist performance on the opening day, will be announced on www.fact.co.uk in the coming months.
Winter Sparks is supported by the Conseil des Arts et des Lettres du Québec; the Québec Government Office, London; and Mondriaan Fund.