When Science meets Art: Quadrature

Credit: Quadrature.co ; Ars Electronica

The Age of Multidisciplinarity

Often, we tend to separate Science and Art in an ungrounded categorical way as they are two disparate fields of human activities. Science is seen as objective, explanatory, rational, practical, and unconditional truth, whereas Art - as a whimsical, irrational, imaginary representation of the so-called "real world." Well, first of all, both Science and Art have been proven adequate or inadequate to reality. Experimentation is part of the process. And second, thinking that way, we exclude some crucial similarities that unite them like creativeness and imagination. All scientific and technological achievements were at one point just ideas in the mind of someone. As Albert Einstein once said, "the greatest scientists are artists as well."Yes, these are two different ways to understand, interpret, represent, and literally, perceive the cosmos around us, sometimes opposite to each other. But instead of seeking their contrasts, we could see how they work together. The more perspectives we consider, the better comprehension of the world we achieve. 

The fact that Art and Science are two different approaches towards the natural world does not cut the connection between them. Conversely, they enrich and enhance each other. We live in unprecedented ages of informational interconnection and easy access to thousands of areas of knowledge and technology. Each discipline has reached striking depths of its subject matter, and now is the time to combine them, to explore their possible and impossible interactions.

Today, we present you with a good example of such interdisciplinary and multimedia artistic experiments – Quadrature.


Quadrature

Quadrature's artistic research focuses on data and physical experiments. The Berlin based artist duo understands technology as means to read and write realities. Together they pursue a transdisciplinary approach, using various media such as time-based performance and installation as well as classical sculptural and two-dimensional works.

For some years, the artists have been working on the methods and stories involved in exploring our world and the cosmos around us. For Quadrature the universe represents an intangible but very real place for their reflections, evoking both the most elemental emotions and the most advanced scientific theories. The boundaries and limitations the human mind and its physical representations encounter resonate in all their work.

The members Juliane Götz, Sebastian Neitsch and formerly Jan Bernstein (until 2016), have won several awards and scholarships for their artistic practice, including recognition by the Prix Ars Electronica in 2015 and 2018, scholarships from the Kunstfonds Bonn, Akademie Schloss Solitude and LaBecque, as well as a fellowship from PODIUM Esslingen and the Hertz-lab of the ZKM Karlsruhe (Centre of Art and Media). Their works are shown around the world in various festivals and exhibitions.

CREDOCosmic Radio Engine for Delusional Observations

A radio telescope scans the skies in search of signs of extraterrestrial life. The received raw signals serve as input data for a neural network, which was trained on human theories and ideas of aliens. Now it tries desperately to apply this knowledge and to discover possible messages of other civilizations in the noise of the universe. Mysterious noises resound as the artificial intelligence penetrates deeper and deeper into the alien data, where it finally finds the ultimate proof. The sound installation revolves around one of the oldest questions of mankind – one that can never be disproved: Are we alone in the universe? This question will remain unanswered until at some point a positive proof is provided. After all, the absence of evidence is no evidence of absence. Until then it was and is a question of faith, of convictions and assumptions, on the borderline between reality and fiction, where scientific knowledge and wildest speculations merge.


MASSES (Motors And Stones Searching Equilibrium State )

Two stones lie on top of a balanced steel plate. The aim of the machine is to create a perfect equilibrium state by moving the stones to the appropriate positions. In a perpetual process, the system succeeds to prevent the imminent divergence again and again by its permanent endeavors, only to intervene somewhere else one moment later. Instead of the pursued state of well-adjusted stability, the work arrives in a permanent state of incessant motion – a fragile but constant situation between fall and float.

The concept was developed during a residency at the European Southern Observatories in Chile. ESO currently runs the largest and most modern ground-based telescopes on earth. Following the degree of precision to which modern research instruments advance, their vulnerability rises and with it the necessity to compensate for even the smallest disturbing influences. Supported by a machinery of sensors and men, the facilities perform an endless dance of observation and calibration.


Fantasie#1

Fantasie#1 is an audiovisual performance for radio telescope, artificial intelligence and self-playing organ.

Located outside of the venue, the radio telescope streams live all incoming data. The received electromagnetic waves are transferred to the audible frequency range. Electronic noises, hums and beeps fill the air. An algorithm transcribes the noise of the skies into midi tones, they are sent to an electronic apparatus operating the organ. During the play various selection and filtering processes (e.g. specific artificial intelligences) are applied in a determined order, serving as a basic score and dividing the piece into three chapters. The artists on stage have a set of parameters available to respond live to the incoming signals, using both the radio telescope and the AI as musical instruments. On the floating canvas above the stage, the sounds turn into abstract images, into a visual representation of what is heard.


Little by little, neural networks take control over the organ and seek in the non-worldly noises for known harmonies, for the smallest traces of human music. In the last chapter, ideas of melodies evolve as the artificial intelligence begins to fantasize about familiar tunes in these alien sounds.


Noise Signal Silence

Radio antennas in the courtyard of the exhibition venue listen to the vastness of space. The received electromagnetic waves control the installation in the exhibition room. Inspired by spectroscopy, the artwork breaks the astronomical radio beams down into their individual frequencies. This spectrum is distributed to the individual arms of the installation. The intensity of the measured radio waves determines the strength of the amplitude and so the movement and sound. A simple mechanism, based on the properties of a solenoid, is used to strike a small resonating brass plate. By multiplication a small armada of finely balanced, long, narrow arms emerges, rocking gently up and down. The vibrations of space performed as cosmic choreography, like a murmuring, chirring, and clacking symphony.

The black 2.4mt dish complies with the guidelines for amateur investigation by SETI (Search for Extraterrestrial Intelligence). Since 1960, this term describes various methods of searching for signs of other civilizations in space. The telescope examines the area around the hydrogen line (1420 MHz), a preferred frequency for any radio astronomy and especially for finding intelligent life on alien planets.
On the roof of the exhibition venue is a Yagi antenna. It uses a French military radar system called GRAVES, which sends radio waves from the ground into space at the frequency of 143,050 MHz. These are reflected back to earth by high atmospheric layers. This system detects all objects that enter the earth's atmosphere at an early stage. This can be meteorites, parts of reentering satellites, or anything else.

The data from both radio antennas are read simultaneously in real-time and transferred to the installation.


Supraspectives

In the process of creating Supraspectives, the artist duo Quadrature has gathered the data of 590 (recent & former) spy satellites, whose trajectory the installation follows. A third of them can be considered space trash, as they are obsolete or damaged, but still, they continue overflying us.

The installation calculates the paths of all those satellites in real-time and speculatively reconstructs the view they are capturing, offering artistically intervened images of what the satellites could be observing. Mainly satellites passing near the exhibition venue are selected, combined with other especially interesting or suggestive satellite images. Additionally, a specifically built motorized antenna on the roof connects live with the satellites overflying Tabakalera, transforming their real radio signals into sound. Every time the installation connects with a satellite, the screen shows the data relative to it, such as country of origin or year of launch.

The installation lives from the contrast between the suggestive beauty of the earth seen from above and outer space, and a critical awareness of its human colonization, very often for military and surveillance purposes.

These are just several selected projects made by Quadrature through the years. If you wish to enjoy their full gallery of scientific and artistic experiments, you can visit their website.

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Saturday, 29 January 2022

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