Artist duo Varvara and Mar put a spotlight on the unseen in a series of modified metronomes.
Somewhere in the French countryside, a windmill is ticking in perfect time with the wind blowing through it. Equal parts windmill and metronome, this mechanical mash-up, called The Rhythm of Wind, is the brainchild of artist duo Varvara Guljajeva and Mar Canet, who make works that bring hidden pieces of information to our attention in unusual ways. According to Guljajeva, “All [of our] works have one similarity: we are making [the] invisible visible, and even audible, twisting the meaning and adding poetry to the concept.”
The Rhythm of Wind isn’t the first time that Varvara and Mar have worked with metronomes. They first used them in a piece called The Rhythm of City in order to illustrate the geo-location data transmitted by social media applications like Twitter, Flickr, and YouTube. The piece consists of a series of hacked digital metronomes that move in response to a live data stream, rather than a regular time signature. The more people share content tagged in a particular city, the faster the designated metronome for that city ticks, giving the viewer a real-time sensory experience of the social media activity taking place in several different locations at once.
They apply the same process to global financial data in Speed of Markets. This time the metronomes move according to the amount of real-time financial activity taking place in markets around the world. In a way, these works are playing on the idea of a line of clocks ticking away on the wall, which are all set to the time in different cities around the world, but these works also give the viewer a fresh understanding of the data that might make them feel more connected to the information than just seeing a graph, or statistics, or clocks.
In addition to metronomes, they’ve worked with other devices, like knitting machines. Once again, they reveal unseen pieces of information in a series of scarves based on brainwaves. While the finished scarves aren’t necessarily kinetic or reactive like metronomes, they are quite functional as garments that help remind us that there’s a lot more going on around us than meets the eye.
The Rhythm of Wind in action at Horizons 2016. Video: Mar Canet
Now, Varvara and Mar have gone off the grid with The Rhythm of Wind, a new work currently on display as part of the annual Horizons exhibition. This time, it’s not the digital information traveling through the air that they’re visualizing, or making audible, but the air itself.
The Rhythm of Wind consists of a functional windmill connected to a mechanism that uses the rotational energy of the fan blades to move a giant metronome pendulum back and forth. The speed of the pendulum’s movement—which Guljajeva tells The Creators Project does indeed make a ticking sound—is set by the unpredictable speed of the wind. This subtle twist is intended to make the viewer aware of their environment in an unexpected way as they feel the wind pick up or die down and see the piece in action. “People are talking about [the] speed and direction of [the] wind, but nobody notices its rhythm,” explains Guljajeva.
There’s a striking simplicity to this purely mechanical piece, and the serendipitous similarities between the shape of metronomes and windmills. It’s is a wonderful contrast to Varvara and Mar’s previous work with metronomes because seeing these works side by side illustrates how the ebb and flow of human behavior mirrors the rest of nature. Perhaps what makes these works so effective is that metronomes are specifically designed to be predictable and objective. So, when they’re modified to be subjective based on real-time data, we suddenly see and hear evidence of the hidden displayed by their erratic behavior. As viewers, it’s startling for us to be made aware of these invisible influences, not only because we may be subject to them ourselves, but because we may be creating them, too.
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