Magnetic Movie, 2007

Runtime 4:23 Magnetic Movie is a single channel moving image work that explores the material nature of planetary magnetic fields, as perceived by man. Photographed and recorded at the NASA Space Sciences Laboratory at U.C. Berkeley California, we bear witness to visualisations of magnetic field lines appearing in and around the laboratory, apparently as part of some experiment, while scientists describe their form, matter and motion through the use of clunky metaphors and visual descriptions. In 2005 we spent six months at a NASA space sciences laboratory for a research fellowship. During our time we interviewed the scientists as a way to start enquiring into their science. Through these interviews we became interested in the magnetic fields they were talking about, how they studied them and the data they collected and plotted. We were intrigued as to how they interpreted this invisible matter to create visual and verbal languages to describe them, and how this has led to an almost mis-interpretation of this matter as lines of force rather than fields. We wanted to make a piece of work which explored this process of creating a framework to study matter and then manifesting it as something which man can describe or communicate. In the back of our minds we were remembering what a solar physicist had told us "it's nature that's real, science is just a human invention". The work is made from photographs we shot in the laboratory, which have been brought back to life through the introduction of composited computer generated (CG) animation and camera motion. The CG imagery is based on actual scientist’s visualisations of magnetic fields. where they plot actual data collected on satellites from around planets, to produce manifestations of millions of lines of varying geometries. We have mimicked the basic form and motion of these visualisations to create our own elaborations of this visual language and introduced them into the laboratory. By doing this we wanted to bring these enormous fields down to the human scale so we can relate to them on our own terms and also to emphasise them as a fantastical object in our everyday environment, something which is unfamiliar to us that supposedly exists. We introduced the hand held camera motion to suggest someone witnessing these events occurring, so that it wasn’t interpreted as a science documentary but more someone coming across these events by accident. The supposedly scientific dialogue leads the work, describing this matter. Throughout interviewing the scientists they would use metaphors for our benefit in order to find a common language whereby we could start to comprehend the complex science they were describing: we learnt of hairy balls on the sun and dancing dots. When there was no likeness they would describe abstract form and motion. We wanted the viewer to feel like they were perhaps learning something from the scientists, when in reality it is quite removed from the actual science due to the language barrier and through how we have edited the material. It makes you feel like you are getting a sense of what this matter is and maybe almost understanding it. It is this sense of the intangible we are toying with, what is reality? We have used Very Low Frequency [VLF] recordings of the Earth's Magnetosphere to animate the CG field lines. These sounds are inaudible within the human hearing range and by using a simple antenna make audible lightning burst and high energy particles travelling the Earth's magnetic fields. By attaching the sound to the very fabric of the field lines they flinch and squirm to the resonance, creating matter born from the sound. Some viewers thought this work was a real documentary and many arguments ensued where people would discuss in length why it was or wasn't. Even one of the scientists featured received contact from other scientists saying they didn't know they had been doing these experiments. It was never our intention to try and fool people to this extent but in a way it is a testament to its success as an artwork. Magnetic Movie is an Animate Projects commission for Channel 4 in association with Arts Council England. Semiconductor is UK artist duo Ruth Jarman and Joe Gerhardt. Through moving image works they explore the material nature of our world and how we experience it through the lens of science and technology, questioning how they mediate our experiences. Their unique approach has won them many awards and prestigious fellowships including; Samsung Art + Prize 2012 for new media, Smithsonian Artists Research Fellowship, Collide@CERN Artists Residency Award and a NASA Space Sciences Fellowship. Exhibitions and screenings include Let There Be Light, House of Electronic Arts, Basel (solo show); Worlds in the Making, FACT, Liverpool (solo show); Da Vinci: Shaping the Future, ArtScience Museum, Singapore; Field Conditions, San Francisco Museum of Modern Art; Earth; Art of a Changing World, Royal Academy of Arts, London; International Film Festival Rotterdam; New York Film Festival; Sundance Film Festival and European Media Art Festival. www.semiconductorfilms.com