Animate Projects: Magnetic Movie

Animate Projects: Magnetic Movie

Still from Magnetic Movie, a Semiconductor film by Ruth Jarman and Joe Gerhardt shot at the NASA Space Sciences Laboratory, UC Berkeley, California, USA.


In Magnetic Movie, the secret lives of invisible magnetic fields are revealed as chaotic ever-changing geometries . Semiconductor have taken the magnificent scientific visualisations of the sun and solar winds conducted at the Space Sciences Laboratory and Semiconducted them. All action takes place around NASA’s Space Sciences Laboratories, UC Berkeley, to recordings of space scientists describing their discoveries. Actual VLF audio recordings control the evolution of the fields as they delve into our inaudible surroundings, revealing recurrent ‘whistlers’ produced by fleeting electrons.  Ruth Jarman and Joe Gerhardt of Semiconductor were artists-in-residence at SSL. Combining their in-house lab culture experience with formidable artistic instincts in sound, animation and programming, they created a magnetic magnum opus in nuce, a tour de force of a massive invisible force brought down to human scale, and a “very most beautiful thing.”

With Magnetic Movie, Semiconductor have tapped into a new and ancient aesthetic of turbulence. We can hear it in the sounds of natural radio-naturally-occurring electromagnetic signals from the earth’s ionosphere and magnetosphere-that course through Magnetic Movie, at times animating the animation, a quick nervous response condensed into static. The sound itself is the product of the combined turbulences of the earth’s molten core, weather systems and electrical storms, ephemeral ionization in the upper atmosphere, and the solar winds. What we hear is underscored with complex and supple orders, in fact, too complex and supple to be ordered. We already have experience of them in the tangible turbulence of water and the crazy convection of fluids combining, tongues of fire and the thermal afterthought of smoke, the ribbons of clouds stiffly blown twisted up a hill. The flux championed by Hericlitus that has awed audiences since antiquity. But in Magnetic Movie are we observing a series of scientific experiments, the universe in flux, or a documentary of a fictional world? Magnetic Movie is the aquavit, something not precisely scientific but grants us an uncanny experience of geophysical and cosmological forces.

In 1744 a simple experiment was conducted in Sweden to reproduce the underlying cause of the Aurora Borealis in a laboratory, what we would now think of as a room. A small hole in a shade “the size of a large pea” let through a ray of sunlight that then was refracted through a prism. The small patch of light broken into a spectrum of colours then traveled through a medium of turbulent air directly above a warmed glass of aquavit. The resulting image landed on a screen a few short feet away and looked like what was seen dancing in the sky on many long Swedish nights, nature’s sublime entertainment in the real pre-history of cinema.

The experiment concluded that the aurora was caused by a refraction of light through volatile vapors. Straining a rainbow through drunken air may have not proved to be most scientifically accurate recreation of the Aurora Borealis, but it was the “very most beautiful thing that can be arranged in a dark room…flashing beams shoot suddenly up and then transform into colored veils, endlessly changing position between themselves, the one against the other.” The shift in magnitude from the scale of the earth to a miniature in the laboratory was no doubt greased by the remaining aquavit left undedicated to the pursuit of science.

Just as the finicky sun in Sweden was let through a small hole in the shade in 1744, scientists at the SSL at University of California in Berkeley theoretically model, conduct experiments, and develop instruments to study the magnetic fields of the sun. They study them deep inside the sun’s core, their effect on the looping of the corona flaring above its surface (the photosphere, that lights our days), and the solar winds of charged particles that interact with the earth’s own magnetic field, creating the auroral displays at the poles. .

04.47 minutes. / 16:9 widescreen / 2007

Awarded the Nature Scientific Merit Award by Imagine Science Film Festival, New York 2009. Purchased by the Hirshhorn Museum, Washington for the permenant collection 2008. Awarded Best Film at Cutting Edge at the British Animation Awards 2008. Special Mention, Best International Experimental Short at Leeds International Film Festival 2008. Awarded Best Experimental Film at Tirana International Film Festival 2007.

Special mention:Bill Abbett, David Brain, Bob Lin, Janet Luhmann, Stephen Mende, Forrest Mozer, Ilan Roth and Paul Thopmson. The CSE team at the Silver Space Sciences Lab. UC Berkeley, USA. VLF Recordings: Stephen P.McGreevy


About Art Selectronic

Art Selectronic is an artist-led initiative, that supports grass-roots contemporary art that remains unswayed by fashion, trends or the whims of government funding. The project involves ongoing research into the placing of contemporary art, it’s audiences and it’s relationship to the everyday. We place great emphasis on context. Our mission is to support new works of contemporary art and foster an audience from a wide range of backgrounds.
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