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Artist-In-Residence: Volcanic Surveillance Data as a Medium

Artist François Quévillon crafts a non-linear audiovisual installation around an active Icelandic volcano.

At the intersection between natural phenomena and tech-­influenced human behaviors is Montreal­-based artist François Quévillon's new non­linear audiovisual installation, Waiting for Bárðarbunga. Powered by real-time sensor information, the artwork includes a video projection, stereo soundtrack, and a monitor showcasing dynamic graphics. The project was developed during a two-step artist residency: first at SÍM, in Reykjavík, and later at Sporobole, in Sherbrooke, Canada. 

Inspired by both media coverage and volcanic surveillance data and conceived while in Iceland, the project was initiated by an impending eruption—and unusual local geologic activity—allowing Quévillon to take signifiant audio and visual data samples with the intention of using them in a creative matter. The images, videos, and seismic and meteorological data were manipulated into a data visualization system programmed in Objective C and developed during the second phase of Quévillon's residency, creating a dynamic and generative, documentary-­style A/V journey. 

Driven by the beauty, complexity, and the apparent randomness of such a constant flux of data, Quévillon offers up a strong poetic and technological narrative depicting an unstable society with an uncertain future. To gain more technical and conceptual insight into the project and the creative residency, we The Creators Project asked Quévillon a few questions.

The Creators Project: Can you talk to us about the similarities of this installation to your previous pieces? What does it add to your research?

Quévillon: My work explores phenomena of the world and how technology redefines human perception, our relationships to one another, to the environment, and the environment itself. The piece consists of a database of hundreds of videos presented according to a probabilistic system influenced by information coming from the sensors of the computer that runs the installation. Made of field recordings and stationary camera shots, it has an almost documentary style. The data that affects its narrative is displayed as unidentified graphs on a monitor. What they represent is left open to the imagination of the audience.

En attendant Bárðarbunga from François Quévillon on Vimeo.

Can you briefly describe the general themes of the installation?

In short, the piece deals with the surveillance and transformation of volcanic areas. It has an unpredictable unfolding and its conclusion is unknown. Bárðarbunga can be interpreted as a metaphor of the end-­of-­times feeling that goes with the global ecological, energy, and economic crisis. We apprehend and monitor a wide range of potentially catastrophic events that are or seem to be out of our control.

What was your creative process and which routine did you follow while you were in Iceland?

I worked on a few projects during my residency—this one was unexpected. I was on a road trip when warnings of the possible eruption of the Bárðarbunga begun. The apocalyptic coverage of some media, consulting webcams and data from surveillance systems influenced me to make audiovisual recordings of remote monitoring devices, of the territory's transformation due to volcanic activity, as well as geothermal phenomena and power plants.

How was the final result assembled?

The system was developed during another residency, a collaboration between Sporobole and Université de Sherbrooke. I worked with Sean Wood and Louis Commère, two PhD students [who are] part of the NECOTIS research group. We developed a custom video player that integrates and displays sensor data from the computer while managing the video database and another application to define the non­linear system’s behavior.

What can we expect next? 

I’m continuing my research on computational photography, machine vision, and the operational nature of contemporary images. I'm pursuing another work initiated in Iceland that is an allusion to the dronies phenomenon and my residency in Sherbrooke related to biologically inspired information processing.

Waiting for Bárðarbunga is currently on view at Espace F, Matane, Quebec, Canada, until September 20.

Collaborators / Credits: Software development : Sean Wood and Louis Commère, Assistant : Nancy Lombart, Project initiated at SÍM Residency (Reykjavík, Iceland) and completed with Sean Wood and Louis Commère of the Necotis research group during a residency at Sporobole in collaboration with the 3IT and Université de Sherbrooke (Sherbrooke,Quebec, Canada). Thanks to the Canada Council for the Arts, Conseil des arts et des lettres du Québec, SODEC, SÍM Residency, Sporobole, Necotis, Perte de Signal and Espace F for their involvement and support.

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