ON THE ANTICIPATION OF THE AUDIENCE
A short account of how my most recent glass sculpture Evanescent performed when I got the chance to test its limits at ARS Electronica in Linz.
I was invited by V2_Lab for the Unstable media to present and create a work for the Rotterdam Garden at ARS Electronica 2022. This resulted in Evanescent, the first work in a series of glass wall sculptures. My goal in creating this series is to experiment with various forms and motions that probe the limits of what the glass apparatus is capable of as it continues to exist and operate. The title “Evanescent” alludes to a fleeting shape that embraces fragility.
This is what happend.
We find ourselves on the second floor of the Science Building 4 on the grounds of the Johannes Kepler Universität Linz. Upon entering the space you’ll see a shimmering glimpse in the distance. There’s something you can’t truly place just out of sight around the corner. On closer inspection you will see Evanescent, suspended from the ceiling with steel cables, resting its back against the wall. You will probably first notice the six distorted glass blown gears. The gears enclose different shades of red ecoline, when they rotate the red dilutes in shades of orange. At rest the orange will gradually return to red. Two glass chains, along with two stepper motors, operate these strange gears using two stepper drivers and an Arduino. The gears are held in place by the glass frame which is connected to a round wall plate. This wooden white wall plate is holding the sculpture at an angle of approximately 15 degrees. On the floor below the wall sculpture is a semicircle that forms the canvas for the drops of ecoline.
AN ACCOUNT OF THE PERFORMANCES
During the first public performance, the driveshaft of one of the ink-filled gears (top, right) snapped, causing the gear to fall onto the gears below. The ecoline spilled onto the canvas lying on the ground beneath the sculpture. The audience (a two-person crowd) was silent for a moment, at which point others hurried in to see what had occurred. Apparently the sound transcended beyond the perimeters of the exhibition space. It became a small contagious wave with more and more people wanting to know what had happened. Discussing the destruction and expressing their regret over it.
More people gathered for the following performance. I had repaired the broken chain links and drive shaft. After a few seconds the same drive shaft broke again, forcing the gear to drop once more. This time, the audience was aware that it had previously broken, and they were anticipating for it to do so again. Some still felt awful but many others were content and expressed feeling fortunate to have witnessed it.
This time, I was unable to fix it without my torch. So I made the decision to leave the right side of the work with the gear as-is, destroyed on the floor. With the ink spilled, a testimony to what was.
Evanescent consists of two separate parts that function independently of each other. For the final performance at ARS, only the left half of the machine was operational. Even more people showed up for the last performance, I suppose to see the damage in its entirety. Visitors expected the other gears to break as well (as did I), but that did not happen. Fear of breaking turned into a desire to witness it break and be there at “the” moment. The performance came to an end after 20 minutes without any significant visual destruction.
My art is inextricably linked to visitor curiosity. Visitors have attempted to touch and turn on my artwork at each of my exhibitions since 2018. This exhibition was no exception, a visitor even attempted to manually rotate a glass gear. But for every visitor who tries to physically engage with the artwork, there is also someone who tries to interrupt or prevent it. Some actively tell the other to stop, others alert me or the person supervising the exhibition. I’ve grown to consider this an unavoidable aspect of my work. However, it also makes me ponder what would occur if I weren’t there and if there wasn’t a card with the words “do not touch” next to the sculpture.
At ARS Electronica I’ve observed how the audience initially reacts in astonishment to the deconstruction but eventually grows eager to watch it unfold. It makes me curious to what would happen if the audience were left to its own devices. Would they attempt to push the machine to a full deconstruction?
This project was developed as part of the Summer Sessions Network for Talent Development program made possible by V2_ Lab for the Unstable Media and was first presented at ARS Electronica 2022 (Linz, Austria) as part of the Rotterdam Garden Exhibition.