If you were passing Pei Ling Chan Gallery at 9:13 p.m. on the evening of Sunday, July 15, you may have experienced the impact of art and science on Savannah in an interesting way.
For that was the moment of the recent earth quake whose epicenter was at Kashiwazaki, Japan, not many miles from the seismic sensor station at Matsushiro.
Visitors to “The Pulse of the Earth” must enter an almost completely dark space, and when the eyes adjust, they can find their way to the center and enter an enclosure created from hanging panels of white transparent cloth. Here it is possible to sit on a box and be at the intersection of the map coordinates of the Pei Ling Chan gallery space; the lines of latitude and longitude stretch outwards from the box across the floor of the gallery. Visitors then realize that they are at the center of circulating sound, accompanied by the flickering of single light bulbs.
Exploring the rest of the space, they find five points, each marked by a pole set in a rock and bearing the name of a seismic sensor station - Limon Verde, Chile; Quongzhong, China; Matsushiro, Japan; Yakutsk, Russia and the Galapagos Islands off the coast of Ecuador. Lorella Abenavoli has created an installation in which she has translated the vibrations under the earth’s surface, into a sound and light pattern, a language for the human senses.
For the seismologist, the signals have a purposeful and narrow meaning. They detect the movements and shifts of the earth’s interior in order to predict an earthquake.
The artist who takes that information may not be able to forecast, but she has transformed this language of science into the language of art. Through her installation we can see the earth, not as merely inert matter waiting for man’s constructions or providing him with useful plants.
We are forced to consider what its interior might be like. I suggest the visitor at this point go back to the box and sit down to quietly experience the poetic revelation that the earth is a living and breathing organism, with a heart, lungs.
You may be humbled by such a realization. There is beauty and poetry here, an immense idea simply and affectingly accomplished.
Since the 18th century, art and science have been considered separate disciplines, much to the detriment of both. Lately there is an awareness of this fact; science has become less mechanistic and more aesthetic while art has become more conceptual.
Born in Paris in 1966, Abenavoli studied art in France in an interdisciplinary curriculum that combined art and science. Besides this installation, created along with geophysicists and computer and acoustic engineers, she has collaborated on installations with a vegetal biologist and with a choreographer. In order to transmute the pulsing of the earth’s interior to a form she could use, Abenavoli made her own computer software, “SdT”, (Earth Sound).
Paul Virilio, theorist of technology, said that artists and architects should create their own software if they want to master contemporary technology, instead of working on programs they have been sold, and probably don’t understand. Here Abenavoli proves she is the master of her complex work of art.
I have often suggested that the art community in Savannah would benefit enormously from visiting artists from abroad. And this exhibition proves that point. I hope there are similar exhibitions planned for the future.
Pei Ling Chan Gallery is at 324 MLK Jr. Blvd.
Bertha Husband graduated from the Ruskin School of Fine Art at Oxford University and has an MFA from the School of the Art Institute of Chicago.
She has been writring art criticism for over 20 years in publications that include Chicago Reader, Art Papers, Third Text and Left Curve.