New media installations: Agulhas Drifter and Digital Ice Core

Agulhas Drifter

Interdisciplinary artist Cy Keener’s multimedia kinetic sculpture Agulhas Drifter (2018) takes the current wave conditions in the open ocean, off the coast of Durban, South Africa, and translates it into a sound and light display. In 2018, Keener launched a custom blown glass buoy, fitted with electronics, into the Agulhas current. The buoy monitors the pitch, roll, and vertical acceleration of the waves and transmits the data to the installation via remote sensors in near-real time.

“There’s a matter of a few hours delay,” says Keener, an assistant professor of sculpture and emerging technology in the University of Maryland’s Department of Art. “But it is data from that day.”

The kinetic sculpture projects a shifting horizon line, based on the wave motion data throughout the room. At times, the line is steady, indicating calm seas; at other times, it’s erratic, indicating rough seas. In either case, it’s a visual representation of the ocean current as a dynamic, changeable force.

The same principle of remote data gathering is behind Keener’s light sculpture Digital Ice Core (2019), which is also on view. “I was north of Alaska on the Arctic Ocean with a group of scientists,” he says. “I put out these special sensors that go through the ice that’s floating on the ocean and take light and temperature readings throughout the depth of that ice.”

The sensors capture data from the ice, as well as the ocean beneath it and the air above it. In the gallery, the data is translated into a red, green, and blue (or RGB) color spectrum in a vertical column of light. Like Agulhas Drifter, the data is gathered in near-real time.

The thickness of the ice changes gradually, growing thicker or thinner depending on the conditions of the offsite environment. That affects the appearance of the onsite light sculpture. The light column that mirrors the ice, for instance, grows shorter or taller.

“The goal with these pieces is that, if you come on different days, you might see subtle differences,” Keener says. “It allows me to have a connection to these wild places that are outside of our daily lives.” Center for Contemporary Arts

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