Lethe

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Lethe - 2012.12.04

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Creating Space for Body and Mind

This work is an artistic and architectural intervention under the project "Creating Space for Body and Mind". The project was a cooperation between Bergen Academy of Art and Design and The University of Bergen fall 2012. On this page I will take you through some of the thoughts I had behind my contribution to the project.

The Mathematics and Natural Sciences Building (Realfagbygget) in Bergen, Norway, is to be totally renovated. A learning center is to be built at the site, adapted to modern ways of learning, and art students were tasked with providing input and ideas to this process. - News article by The University of Bergen

Lethe sculpture

Concept

Fuller Moore, wind diagram

In Andrei Tarkovsky's film, Solaris, at the space station, a scientist ties strips of paper to a ventilation shaft in order to recreate the sound of rustling leaves on Earth. This act emphasizes the disparity between the two worlds. Also in Realfagsbygget there is an absent of nature. The logical, symmetric and brutalistic constructions in concrete and metal, seems so static and distanced from nature - although nature and all its forms are so closely studied in science subjects taught there. The building lacks a bit of randomness - a bit of rustling in the trees.

During my stay at Realfagsbygget I quite soon noticed a subtle movement in the air. The great ventilation shafts and the lofty ceiling up to the cantina hall generate many streams of moving air. I also noticed that the streams changed direction and paths during the time of the day, as the ventilation system is programmed that way. It was almost a slight breeze at certain corners. I found this dynamic and shifting environment very interesting. Students and researchers who use the building I think would appreciate a work that reflects their science subjects. I wanted to make a work in which reacts to and play with rules of physics by the flow of air travelling through Realfagsbygget. The work should act as a little reminder to students that what they study must not only be seen through the rational eye of science. The students must not forget the beauty and naïve mystery of animism summoned by seemingly random streams of moving air. I want students to forget their formulas and logics as they glance out in contemplation in the breaks between lectures and colloquies.

Lethe

Student’s path to knowledge and revelation, for their part, meet many obstacles during their course of study. This path, if not too farfetched, could remind of Dante's Purgatory – the allegory telling of the climb up the Mount of Purgatory, guided by the Roman poet Virgil.

One of the many obstacles Dante describes is the river with its little waves that are bending the grass that spring upon its bank. This river stream is Lethe, the river of forgetfulness, according to Greek mythology of the underworld. Lethe flowed around the cave of Hypnos and through the Underworld, where all those who drank from it experienced complete forgetfulness.

Matelda immerses Dante in Lethe, engraving, The Divine Comedy

Prototype

The prototype consists of a metal frame with ribbon like plastic sheets hanging from it. As the ribbons swaying freely in an area with streams of moving air, they start to wave accordance with the strength of the winds.

Prototype sketch

The materials are still in an early stage of testing. Although the behaving qualities of the prototype’s materials are working fine to support the concept, which is ordinary protective plastic film used for construction sites, further qualities sought for would be anti-static. Materials such as paper, plastic and textile normally contain an equal number of positive and negative charges - that is, they are electrically balanced. Friction can disturb this balance, causing the material to become electrically charged. Among the problems caused by this force is dust clinging to the work. Plastic films, such as polyethylene, metallocene and polypropylene can be made to resist static buildup on their surfaces. There are numerous companies that manufacture anti-static films that could be used.

Other qualities of materials used could be to generate sound. As mentioned in the introduction, paper shreds would make a gentle rustling sound similar to that of wind rustling in the trees.

The design of the frame is made to be modular based in order to easily replace sheets of ribbons if they were to be damaged or replaced with a different material. The frame’s hooks lets you remove single sheets, as each sheet is wrapped around the rods.

For the prototype piece shown in the exhibition in Realfagsbygget, the plastic sheets are manually cut with exacto knifes. For better precision and production efficiency, a laser cutter would be recommended. The sheets should during production be wrapped in flat containers or rolled in a controlled way to avoid creases.

Prototype sketch

Installation

The installment of the works will have to be carefully planned throughout the building. The exhibition prototype piece is made specifically for its place. The piece is hanged strategically in the lobby descending from the ceiling in the cantina hall. Its shape and placement creates a sense of larger space and a connection between the two floors.

The form of each piece will be shaped after its surroundings. A lower ceiling for instance, would have the ribbons made shorter. A wider room would also affect the frame’s dimensions. Due to time limitations and economy, I chose to create only one of these works.

Intervention sketch

Related articles

Creating Space for Body and Mind - news article by The University of Bergen.

Kunst i det realfaglege rommet - by På høyden, the news site of The University of Bergen (in Norwegian).

Kunst i offentlig rom i Realfagbygget - article by Bergen Academy of Art and Design (in Norwegian).

More pictures and sketches

Lethe sculpture Prototype sketch Prototype sketch Prototype sketch