Often portrayed as a distant, other-worldly, uninhabitable, nationless, and undeveloped space, Antarctica is yet distinguished by science and natural splendour. Melissa F. Clarke describes Antarctica as “a space that began in our collective culture as a set of cartographic reductions; a place unknown, yet imagined, and mapped since the time of the Greeks. As our media and technology shifted, this space transformed between the spectacular in films and photographs, to the evocative in scale via the culture of science and data.”
Untitled Antarctica (2011) is a generative installation that includes glass, wood, video sculpture, and sound. This multimedia installation brings together Ice Gouge, a glass and single channel video sculpture; Amundsen’s Wall, a video sculpture made out of wood and fabricated using computer numeric control, with single channel video; and multi-channel sound primarily created from underwater terrain data. Made out of glass, Ice Gouge evokes the glaciers that gouge and their asymmetrical form as they decay over time into water. The scales of the glass pieces are derived from data and research, as well as invoked by a visualization created by Dr. Frank O. Nitsche, Columbia Lamont-Doherty. The video generatively cycles through Antarctic underwater terrain data. Machined out of fiber-board, Amundsen’s Wall is a series of sloping geometric additions to existing walls that take their height and scale from elevation values of the same Amundsen Sea terrain used for the sound in this series. Sounds are a combination of data sonification and sounds altered through digital and analog means. The composition is generatively written, sound of the underwater landscape written through acoustic imaging echoes through the space and shift over time with the video.
The content of the installation is based on underwater terrain data, acoustic imaging, single channel and multi-channel imaging of the glacier carved earth beneath the ice. Clarke has used three dimensional data visual information for the sound and the video in the installation, while custom software generatively alters sound using data mapped to frequencies and other sound generating means in the software patch. The video is an algorithmic compositing of data that alters over time using brightness and other measurable aspects of the video plane in the software.
What Melissa F. Clarke reveals through her installation is how the confluence of interior and exterior data generates a range of intermediate places. Their asymmetrical occurrences transform boundary surfaces at the meeting point of multiple environments, showing how different functions, forces, and energies redefine or alter different states of matter. Like with our appreciation of the Antarctic landscape, understanding of the dimensions created within the installation is a matter of scale, observation, and interaction. We are presented with virtual fields of accumulative materializations, a germinal virtuality shaped by data and information. These intermediate states reinterpret real environment conditions only to highlight (data) instability and real-time changes within the environments. Reflective of the absolute situations defining both the Antarctic space and these virtual intermediate spaces, the installation unveils the provisionality of mediums, the dynamic and transitory nature of physical states; one could see them as ephemeral and evasive thresholds. Untitled, therefore impermanent.
The artist’s generative compositions are discontinuous structures where time intervals and space intercalations reveal the topological instability of the environment, its processual transformations. Spacings that are associated with discontinuity and flexible sequentiality generate asynchronous geometries and superposing intermittent sequences that help us understand the unseen. Through Clarke’s work, one can also observe the transition from classical and modern time-space to an informational time-space characterized by instability or indetermination. It also helps us challenge ideas of the glocal understood as an event that responds to the particular by interconnecting with the general; here, this multi-space or plateau creates transitions between the specific and the generic, between the concrete and the abstract. For Clarke, data and information are instruments that help her picture an annulled yet fully manifest and resonant space, allowing compositional orientation through the black and empty space of what would otherwise be impossible to visualize. Through a series of echoes, resonances, algorithmic combinations and transfers, or recursive transitions, the local map of the glacier is reinterpreted as a topological topography where space is measured to become time and matter manifests its germinal virtuality.
The first three paragraphs of this text are based on Melissa F. Clarke’s artist statement and a series of information provided by the artist © Melissa F. Clarke; adaptations and additions by Sabin Bors / February 5, 2015.