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Waiting for Bárðarbunga – Non-Linear Landscape Cinema

Created by François Quévillon and inspired by the media coverage and consulting data (webcams) of the Bárðarbunga subglacial stratovolcano, Waiting for Bárðarbunga is an installaton made of hundreds of video sequences which are presented according to a probabilistic system influenced by real-time sensor information coming from the computer that displays them.

The video database consists of stationary camera shots that last a few seconds each. Most of them can be seamlessly looped and sometimes evoke remote webcams watching isolated areas. The audiovisual sequences are interconnected one to the other inside a rhizomatic structure. They are grouped and linked according to formal, conceptual, location-based and event-based characteristics. Amongst others, they show rivers under surveillance, glaciers breaking into drifting icebergs, foggy landscapes, hissing steam vents, boiling mud and geothermal power plants.

I was south of the Vatnajökull glacier and heading north-east when warnings of the possible eruption of the Bárðarbunga subglacial stratovolcano begun. They were communicated in a spectacular, almost apocalyptic way by some international media while a certain calm reigned in the areas I was traveling through. I was regularly checking webcams installed in the region, consulting weather and seismic data to see how the situation evolved. During this period, I made audiovisual recordings of weather stations and monitoring systems, of the territory’s transformation due to volcanic activity, as well as geothermal phenomena and power plants. An eruption started at the Holuhraun fissure on August 29. This «quiet» eruption ended February 27th 2015. It was the most important lava emission recorded in Iceland in over two centuries and it released high levels of toxic gases in the air. Since June 2015 the alert level of Bárðarbunga has been set to Uncertainty Phase by the Iceland Civil Protection authorities.

The software for the project was developed collaboration with the art center Sporobole and the 3IT at Université de Sherbrooke specifically working with Sean Wood and Louis Commère, two Ph.D students part of Necotis, a neurocomputational and Intelligent Signal Processing research group. A custom media player programmed in Objective C was developed that integrates data about the state and activity of the computer (temperature, fan speed and energy consumption) while at the same time managing a database of hundreds of videos. The videos can be looped seamlessly and switched from one to the next on the fly. The rhizomatic structure – defining the system’s behaviour, relationships and probabilities – is designed in another app made with openFrameworks and interpreted by the custom media player.

Each video sequence has a loop probability value attach to it. Currently the videos are organized in approximately 40 groups. The connections between these groups are defined by a statistical model and the values of the 3 types of sensors. The graphs on the monitor display 3 types of sensors that cover different time scales. The fluctuation of this data partly determines the course of events. A combination of above average temperature, high speed fan (important mechanical activity = images with machines and human interventions) and energy consumption will tend to lead visitors to the noisy environment of a geothermal power plant. On the opposite, cool temperature, slow speed fan (low mechanical activity = natural environments) and low electricity consumption will transport the viewer to a calm glacier landscape. The two examples are a simplification of the process but illustrate the idea behind the work.

Finally, the project is presented in the form of an installation where video is projected on a wide screen with a stereo soundtrack. A monitor located next to the computer displays dynamic graphics of its sensors’ data, for each type a different time scale is covered. No information is given about what these graphs represent, therefore leaving their meaning opened to the audience’s imagination.

The project is currently on show at Espace F (Matane, Quebec, Canada) from June 10 until September 20, 2015.

Project Page | François Quévillon

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