'Geothermal Activity' for Fresh Winds Biennale 2018, Gardur, Iceland
My installation piece for Fresh Winds Biennale 2018 is a culmination of a number of ideas developed since participating in a residency project with Yatoo in South Korea in 2016. Below I will explain the process that led me to make the work.
As mentioned before, I was fortunate to be invited to participate in an artist residency in rural South Korea with Yatoo group, who are one of a number of artist groups around the world who make nature and environmental artworks.
On first arriving I was given a pair of large disused speaker cabinets that contained the 3 speaker cone types normally found in these – tweeter, mid-range and woofer. I made various experiments with these 3 types of speaker to make visual artworks that used natural forces and materials. With the tweeters I made 'sound drawings' by attaching wires to the cone and playing loud sounds so the speaker physically moved, tracing lines in soil with the wires.
With the woofer I attached a cork to the centre of the cone, then attached the cork and speaker to a thin sheet of plywood. I made patterns in dry soil placed on top of the plywood by playing low frequencies through the speaker. This is a process known as cymatics and has been used many times before in many works.
Full blog of my investigations: http://simonwhethamwithyatoo.tumblr.com/
I made a short video of this process (https://vimeo.com/175192553), which was seen by Jun Seung Bo, the curator of Suwon I-park Museum of Art in Suwon, South Korea, who invited me to exhibit the work in a group show later that year. Because of funding and organisational issues, I was not able to make the work myself, so sent detailed instructions, kindly also translated into Hangul for me by a friend Cho Hyun A. The instructions were clear on how to construct the installation and which materials were to be used.
I commissioned another artist friend, Ryu Hankil, to attend the installation of the work to ensure the sound was strong enough to cause the effect required and he found that instead of soil collected nearby the site of the museum as requested, the material used in the installation was a gravel made from small white stones. This created a stronger and more aggressive sound than I intended and I requested the material be changed to my specifications, but it was not.
I followed this project with a number of others using speaker cones, materials and low frequencies which can all be found described on my website: http://www.simonwhetham.co.uk
When invited to Fresh Winds Biennale 2018, Iceland, I planned to make a work with lava rocks in some way, as I had recorded an installation by Collin Mura Smith that he made for the previous edition of the biennale. I knew the sound of lava was particular and I wanted to make a work about Iceland and it's formation. This was the perfect opportunity to make the work I had intended to, but was unable to with SIMA.
When collecting lava, my guide Jón Adólf Steinólfsson told me of a location nearby, next to an electricity generating station powered by volcanic waters, where one could feel the ground vibrating under your feet. This is precisely the sound/vibration I required as I wanted inaudible vibrations to cause the lava rocks to make the sound I had heard 2 years previously.
I revisited the site twice, once also with Icelandic sound recordist Magnus Bergsson, to capture this phenomenon, and we also visited the volcanic mud pools of Seltún together. The sounds from these sites were used in the installation to create the required effect.
The piece was simply titled 'Geothermal Activity' as this created the lava rocks, but also is used to cause the lava to make a new sound.