Terra Electronica
John Conomos

"Every day the urge grows stronger to get hold of an object at very close range by way of its likeness, its reproduction"
(Walter Benjamin 1936)

D.V. Rogers' enthralling new installation, Seismonitor, is a fine instance of the artist's underlying belief that contemporary artists who wish to transcend the traditional realm of cultural representation need to expand their definition of art materials and contexts.

Seismonitior is a multifaceted, imaginative installation - an apocalyptic machine in its large contours of telematic art, engineering and interface design - mapping out the earth's breathing terrain of spatio-temporality, of moving tectonics and global digital information networks. Rogers has persuasively succeeded in creating a hypnotic, kinetic, telematic work which addresses his inventive manifold interests in exploring the complex and poetic interface between art, science and technology.

Seismonitor's museological origins as an earthquake simulator at the now defunct minerals and mining museum, The Earth Exchange, need to be mentioned in order to appreciate its rich cultural and technological significance. As a recording tele-technological device of data information and measurement, Seismonitior came about as a direct result of the 1989 Newcastle earthquake. In the museum, the simulator became an entertainment device, where the public would stand on it experiencing a 5.7 magnitude earthquake - similar to the one in Newcastle.

Essentially, Seismonitor not only vividly highlights its intricate links to late-capitalist culture's" entertainment - industrial - technological" complex, but it also functions as a vital and witty Duchampian found object in that the artist retrieved the earthquake simulator from the museum in 1996 and reconfigured it as telematic art. It is, therefore, an intriguing open-ended installation that investigates telepistemological questions about access, knowledge, perception and agency at a distance. Seismonitor, in the context of our most influential tele-technologies like the telescope, the telephone, television, and more recently,the Internet and telerobots, is concerned with the techno-cultural-epistemological quest to study knowledge at a distance. In this case, to interpret and output the variable effects and performance of globally monitored earthquakes by means of real-time remote data transmission.

Crucially, Seismonitor 's overall thematic, formal and sculptural configurations vividly suggest Rogers' cross-disciplinary approach to his work as being that (to evoke the legacy of Russian Constructivism to the new media arts) of an "artist-engineer." Specifically, the installation represents a major investigation towards articulating, in the artist's own words, "a machine control (automaton) arising from live representation (mirror) of a remote physical environment (earth)". Seismonitor is a bold exploration of certain critical principles of control and means of control salient to engineering, seismology and information database retrieval.

Moreover, the installation's stimulating inter-disciplinary concerns of art, science and technology reflect the genre's own complex artistic practices: Fluxus, Earth art, video art, Minimalism, Performance art, Conceptual art and Process art. Given the installation's own apt gallery context, it is also significant to note that installation art and alternative art spaces developed together since the 1960s. Consequently, Seismonitor reflects in its own engaging interactive mode of spectatorial participation, the archetypal issues raised by installation art: site specificity, institutional critique, temporality and ephemerality.

Seismonitor also manifests, in its kinetic mis-en-scene of concerns and techniques of re-presentation, the influential work and writings of Robert Smithson and his ideas of site and non-site. For Smithson, Earth art represented a deconstruction of modernism and its idealist ideology of landscape of deserts, mountains, and storms at sea and the romantic sublime. Smithson's notions of "site" and "non-site" refer to the transfer of material from outside an art gallery to an indoor space.

Cognitive entropy, for Smithson, was the main focus of his work; it represented the postmodern condition and it had to be overcome. Smithson in his famous 1966 Artforum essay "Entropy and the New Monuments" praised Minimalist art's "monumental inaction" and regarded it as an ultimate realism that necessitated an imaginative response. Hence, Smithson's earthworks of "entropic" sites.

In a critical sense, Seismonitor is a pun-encrusted installation given its heritage of the Duchampian tradition of 'post-object' art and Earth art, especially since it was 'found' at Sydney's The Earth Exchange Museum and that it is an earthquake simulator. On the latter, Seismonitor is rich in its popular cultural connotations: earthquakes belong to the disaster movie genre , and most significantly, are relevant to Roberto Rossellini's "neo-realist" art cinema in the related form of volcanoes. The two Rossellini movies that need to be singled out here are Stromboli (1949) and Voyage to Italy (1953).The volcano in Stromboli represents the absolute, nature as indifferent and cruel, whilst in Voyage to Italy, the eruption of Vesuvius in AD 79 captures in time (as in a photograph) the eerie contours of the embraced bodies of a couple in the earth itself. This is a traumatic scene which concretises for the movie's unsettled female protagonist (Ingrid Bergman) the existential realisation that "life's so short".

On a certain metaphorical plane, Seismonitor as an installation recording the earth's movements (breathing), suggests telematic art (art in general) as a creative activity that suggests ideas, intuition and techne being (re)animated by human presence. We breath life into art as an ongoing form of ontological self-affirmation in the flux of life. The ancient Greek concept of pnuema (breath) has a particular aesthetic and technological resonance for Seismonitor.

If installations have became the postmodern artform of the late twentieth century, then Seismonitor is a classical instance of a firmly established and flourishing genre that captures, in terms of Anne-Marie Duguet's definition of installation art, the idea of an installation as a "performance-inducing 'apparatus' (dispositif)" 1. Seismonitor's conceptual and formal architecture suggest, in the light of Duguet's view of installations, a multi-layered work with various modes of enunciation that produce certain effects of perception, pleasure, awareness and representation.

Seismonitor's telepistemological sigificance suggests that we need to be imaginative, tenacious and sceptical in creating new forms of human-machine communication. Rogers clearly strives to create a poetical view of telematic art: customizing the human-computer interface in order to see what 'vibrates' beyond our horizons: geographical and personal. Seismonitor is a work that is 'earthed' (so to speak) in that it simulates an earthquake, but moreover, it avoids the more specious forms of techno-utopias which posit a wired world of universal intelligence and access - a cyberspace world which fails to recognize its elitist, ahistorical and Platonic/rationalist limitations reconfiguring the corporate cyborg as the collective norm. Instead, Seismonitor is rich in its techno-cultural pluralism, a work which suggests an utopian realism, a work which is directed towards the future, possessing the quality of (what Ernst Bloch calls) "the -not-yet-known."

1 Anne-Marie Duguet, "Does Interactivity Lead to New Definitions in Art?" in Hans Peter Schwarz and Jeffrey Shaw (eds), Media Art Perspectives, Edition ZKM, Cantz Verlag, 1995; 148.

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