Current State of Affairs

A project by Mari Velonaki, 2010–11

Copper structure with integrated mirror, incandescent light globes, hydrophones, electronics and computer for real-time sound manipulation, water and electricity. Dimensions 220 cm x 120 cm x 36 cm.

A work about symbiotic relationship between heterogeneous elements, which is a recurrent theme in my work.

A copper structure that houses a full-length mirror is placed against a gallery wall. A row of six round incandescent globes crown the top of the mirror. The globes are brightly lit. As a spectator approaches the mirror for a closer look, s/he sees drops and rivulets of water trickling down from the electrified globes, with droplets falling to the surface of a water-filled tank embedded in the base of the copper structure. The droplets generate a continuous and ever-changing soundscape as they fall and splash into the water. Metallic resonances ring throughout the space in counterpoint with ‘bassy’ undertones, renewed with every droplet. By extending their hands, visitors can catch lukewarm droplets landing on their palms—at the same time they actively influence and can even still the soundscape.

In this reactive installation, I aim to create a reflective state of attraction and uncertainty. The work mirrors both the current state of global affairs and the space of personal reflection and contemplation. In this work the re-circulating water which is drawn from the open water tank and pumped to the top of the mirror construction only to fall as droplets references the earth’s water cycle; a natural cycle that has been disrupted through industrialisation with the accompanying threat of global warming and sea level rises. The light that illuminates both the water and the mirror is provided by incandescent globes; globes that have been made obsolete in many countries around the world in an effort to reduce urban energy consumption. The globes are powered by electricity which also powers the re-circulating water as it travels over the globes and falls to generate an ever-changing soundscape. The work suggests a symbolic symbiosis between heterogeneous elements that can coexist within a utopian ‘recycled’ unity.

Current State of Affairs meanders between ‘neo-retro science fiction’ and the industrial revolution, linking ‘ways of being’ to contemporary ecological sensitivities in relation to urban environment and consumption by creating a regenerative water cycle. Unnatural in an industrial sense, water and electricity indicate a surreal state, with a certain seductiveness in the aural outcomes produced by the unusual encounter of these two elements; a reflective structure that at once invites and repels with its promise of a futuristic wishing-well.

When I first envisaged this project I was inspired by a specific site: the old Electrical Store at Cockatoo Island in Sydney Harbour—a site that in my eyes resembles a gigantic factory rather than a ‘store’. Cockatoo Island has been at various times a prison for convicts, a site for ship repair, and was at one time the largest shipyard in Australia. The shipyard was closed in the early nineties, and the site is being revitalised for reuse for exhibitions and other cultural events.

The work does not pretend to propose a solution to the general public for the urban excesses of energy consumption, but to draw their attention to this problem by creating an utopian system that reuses and regenerates post-industrial artefacts to create, aurally and visually, a new aesthetic framework.

Technical Approach

For safety reasons the globes are not powered by 110V mains electricity, but at the intrinsically safe level of 32V. Water is pumped from an open tank in the base of the mirror structure to a distribution plenum at the top of the structure. Pressure regulation and needle valves allow adjustment of the water flow over individual globes. Six hydrophones capture and amplify the sound of individual water drops as they strike the surface of the water in the tank. The sound is filtered and manipulated by computer software in real time. The work is in two parts: the mirror structure itself, plus a small rack-mount box that contains power supplies, preamplifiers and the computer.