Flow Over Water Borders at Staatsoper, Berlin

Intervening with Panke River water

Flow Over Water Borders
Sound Installation

14th and 15th June 2019
Junge Staatsoper
Berlin

How does the water change when people act upon it? 

How do we personally change when we interact with other people?

We all have borders. Learning how to navigate them is important. Wether we are overcoming personal hurdles or opening up to others, the process creates changes in both ourselves and others.

“Flow Over Water Borders” at the Staatsoper Berlin, explores the parallel between urban life for young people and the changes occurring in water as it passes through the city. The sound installation explores the meaning of boundaries, the fluid nature of the self and the eternal navigation of the individual as part of society.

Audio recordings were created with class 7c during a co-creation workshop investigating the Panke River in Berlin Wedding as part of the project “DIY Hack the Panke” (Art Laboratory Berlin). Recordings were taken using special instruments developed by the artist, Kat Austen, which generate sounds from the measurement of chemical properties of water.

Part of Wasserklang Orchester.

NB: Entry to the exhibition is only available to Theatre ticket holders.

Wasserklang Orchester workshops DIY Hack the Panke with Gustav-Freytag-Schule

Hydrophone recordings of Berlin waters

Kat will be working during the week of 20th May with students from the Gustav-Freytag-Schule to make sound recordings from water using her hacked scientific instruments and DIY hydrophones, as part of the DIY Hack the Panke project. These recordings will be composed, along with piano compositions with the school’s Klavier AG, into a sound installation at the Berlin Staatsoper in June 2019.

Sensing Water at ZEM Potsdam

Using a hacked pH meter to listen to the acidity of water

13th-14th May 2019
ZeM, Potsdam and surrounds

Kat Austen will be working with participants from the ZeM SENSING PhD programme to explore the human relationship with water using artistic research techniques that meld together embodied explorations with those mediated by sensing equipment. This workshop introduces participants to two artistic research methods that make use of scientific equipment and embodied techniques to connect with water, and facilitates the exploration of local water using these methods.

Not waving but globally drowning

When did Stevie Smith’s drowning man realise he had been much too far out all his life? Just as the waves lapped over his head the final time, as his final breath bubbled up through the chill water?

We are a drowning world. Arctic ice is diminishing year by year. If it all undergoes a phase transition, London would be entirely submerged, and all the levees in Holland wouldn’t save the Netherlands. It’s D-x, but we don’t know xxactly which breath we are on – not quite our last, not yet.

We chatter about it.

Arctic Ice Chatter on Twitter
Arctic Ice Chatter on Twitter

We run campaigns for action about it, increasingly galvanised by activity online – think The Future, Occupy, 350.

But despite all this chatter, we do little to ameliorate climate change. While some flat out deny climate change, they are just a vocal minority. Most of us know that our actions – burning fossil fuels, deforestation, consumption of resources, global trade, flying – all add together to a future global catastrophe. Yet we fail to act – both in global policy decisions, and in our daily lives. Life now is too good to want to change it for the sake of tomorrow.

There is an unseen consequence to our online activity. Computers use power. Making them requires mining, fabrication, shipping. Communications cost carbon. According to the comically named Tweetfarts: “The energy it takes to send a tweet generates .02 grams of CO2.1 With 500 million tweets sent daily2, a total of 10 metric tons of CO2 are emitted per day.”

It can’t be denied that the online chatter raises awareness. The next step is action, for if we fail to act, isn’t all this activism actually adding to the problem rather than helping fix it?

Water is key. Not only is it an impending threat, it is also ironically also a diminishing resource. Alongside the threat of submersion, London faces a drinking water crisis of gargantuan proportions: by 2050 the city will be 350 million litres of drinking water in deficit – if it’s not already an urban sea bed. And water itself – or at leas our use of it – adds to the problem. In 2009, five percent of US carbon emissions were down to treatment, transport and use of water by humans. That’s the equivalent of 62 coal-fired power stations.

Tiny icebergs float in a bath. Tiny people huddle together as the ice retreats under their feet. Some will certainly drown. Those unfortunate enough to be on the smallest iceberg are the first to go.

The melting is now inevitable, but there may be a chance to slow it down, buy a few more precious minutes. Their fate scrolls above them. Like Tinkerbell, if only enough people make enough noise their existence might be saved – for just a little while. Maybe long enough. Show you care.

Floating. Floating. The sky was blue, the waves lapped around his toes. Life was good, no need for change. The current carried him further, the tide rose. Perhaps if he’d realised sooner he might have swum ashore.

How I learned to stop hating and love old electronics – or, making a servo work with a Raspberry Pi by cannibalising ancient motherboards and creative use of the CRT monitors that have been cluttering up the studio

I’m going all guns preparing my sculpture for the New Atlantis theatre show by The Enlightenment Cafe. It’s opening on 19th January at The Crystal in London, UK. Having made iceberg moulds and delivered them to the UCL ice physics laboratory, the next step is to create a hot water boiler that responds to water-related activity on Twitter.

This involves some playing with electronics…

I unwrapped my “christmas presents” from myself gleefully yesterday morning. Electronics to play with! A Raspberry Pi! Cables! A servo!!

Except not everything was there… In fact, there were no jumper cables, and there was no Raspberry Pi B+. And to make matters worse, the 7 inch screen I ordered arrived broken – crucial wires having been sliced through before it was bunged in a package and sent over to me.

cable cutter... not impressed with the ebay service
This is not a serviceable screen.

 

Woe. Woe is me.

Having fortified myself with tea, I decided to see how far we could get with an old RPi (Model A, rev 2) and the cables we already had.

Thus, I made command central. All systems go.

IMG_5450

Using one age old CRT monitor as a workbench, I used the other – normally used for video editing – as a makeshift screen. I literally lost track of how long we spent looking for cables to hook up these bad boys. Finally, hanging onto these hulking brutes of useless electronics through international relocations has paid off. Jun (my incredibly helpful other half without whom I’d not have got so far yesterday) – and his vast stores of seemingly irrelevant and outdated gear – has been vindicated.

But it’s not just Jun who hangs onto old electronics – I have been lugging old bits of redundant crap around the globe too. Including this old motherboard.

motherboard
HOW OLD? I got this baby from a skip outside my department at the University of Cambridge in 2006.

This old motherboard which was the source of the final component we needed – female adapters for my cables so we could link them up to the RPi.

Ancient tech on a shiny new RPi
Ancient tech on a shiny new RPi

Et voila!

All that remained was for me to hook everything up

IMG_5456

Rigging up the servo
Rigging up the servo

Do a bit of programming – you can find some details of how Jun and I got it working on my New Atlantis hackpad – and suddenly you have a servo getting its groove on to the tune of Twitter.

New Atlantis Sculpture – Servo dances to Twitter beats from Kat Austen on Vimeo.

“This video shows two steps in getting a servo to respond to Twitter. First, we’re rigging it up and testing its response by varying the PWM-MS values. Then we hook it up to a Node Red script that scrapes Twitter for #water and #fail at the limits of the PWM-MS values – and it’s grooving to Twitter’s beats.”

The Node Red json files for this can be found on my github repository for New Atlantis.

Finally, I’m struggling with a name for the sculpture. In a wanton fit of sentimentality and punnage I went for Melting Hearts – but I hate it. Suggestions gratefully appreciated.

Making icebergs is the tip of the iceberg

I’m thrilled to be the artist for The Enlightenment Cafe’s New Atlantis show. It’s set in the near future, with humanity on the verge of a water crisis – just my cup of tea!

“The year is 2050, Miami has been abandoned due to rising sea levels, water austerity is hitting a drought-ridden London hard and the CEOs of two major energy companies have been imprisoned for historic climate crimes. Presiding over these developments is New Atlantis, an organisation set up to guide Humanity through the most pressing issues of the 21st century, from Climate Change to protection of water resources.

But there are those that would stand in the way.”

I’m making a multimedia artwork for New Atlantis’s HQ at The Crystal in London. It involves icebergs – well, miniature icebergs – and the internet…

NA Sculpture_bath_2

Ultimately, the icebergs will be made in silicone moulds that I’m going to supply to the ice-wizard Ben Lishman at the UCL Institute for Risk and Disaster Reduction, who will be making a stock of frozen bergs – 3 icebergs per show – in the UCL Ice Rooms. I’ll be delivering the moulds next week, so I’ve been making them over the last week and a half.

First, I made the iceberg from clay:

photo

Then I made a mould out of silicone. I did this with the invaluable help of Ben Palmer, a prop-maker and animatronics engineer for films like Inglorious Bastards and Alien versus Predator. He has been incredibly helpful and ever so kind in sharing his wealth of expertise with me around mould-making and fabrication.

Once the mould was made, I took it home and added crushed ice and water.

 

photo 1-2

Made an iceberg

photo 2-2

Populated it with a little person and a car

photo 1-1  photo 2-1

And watched it melt

Iceberg melting #2 from Kat Austen on Vimeo.

 

Now I’m onto the next 2 iceberg moulds

photo 1-3

Although I left them overnight and they cracked in the cold, so I’m patching them up before taking them to Ben Palmer’s workshop to make the moulds.

photo 2-3 photo 3-1

The eagle-eyed among you may have noticed in the small 3D illustration above that there are lots of people on the floating icebergs. Making those is the next step, along with simultaneously continuing to program the modules that will scrape the internet looking for activity relating to water. Then I’ll be programming an arduino to operate a tap, and then it’ll all come together. Watch this space…

There’s one issue though – the ice is melting rather quickly. I’ve spoken to the marvellous and knowledgeable Alan at Ice Creations and he suggests supercooling the bathwater, possibly using dry ice (ooh chemistry!). So I’ll be doing some tests with that asap.