The installation is entered via a dark tunnel, marked by gently glowing lines of light and a pool of soft pulsing light on the wall, set at eye height - which marks the first of two viewports. Peering into the first reveals a glowing, delicate life-like entity, apparently swimming in fluid motion, glowing mysteriously within an inky darkness. This entity continually swirls, unfolds, streams and circulates, changing direction, then pausing, next accelerating, sometimes glowing brightly, but most often on the edge of visual perception, then fading away, soon returning elsewhere. And all the time, in the background, a rich, subsonic-infused sound track ominously evokes sensations of deep, dark, sub-aqua environments. Moving further down the tunnel, the viewer next encounters a second aperture into this world, this time only faintly visible, which now reveals a very different, much more chaotic series of indistinct, ambiguous images of the same form. Whilst this perplexing form is reminiscent of a deep ocean creature appearing through the porthole of a submarine, caught in a nature documentor’s lens, its seductive form is clearly also synthetic. Furthermore a dissonant mechanical sound periodically causes the ‘entity’ to entirely disappear – only to unexpectedly return at quite different locations.
Constructed from fibre optics, lighting and wiring, floating within a large unseen tank of water, Deep Ecology’s sophisticated illusion is propelled by unseen water jets, lighting controllers and robotics. The glowing ‘entity’ is never viewed directly, but either through mirrors and image diffusion structures or via semi transparent cloths – front on, under or just above the waterline. In these ways each very different viewing port, and the entire, engulfing experience of virtual darkness punctuated by faint diaphanous light encourage disorientation, mystery, intrigue and wonder.
Deep Ecology premiered in the solo exhibition Over Many Horizons at UTS Gallery, Sydney, Australia in 2016, posing open questions around the profoundly blurred ecological distinctions of the natural and the synthetic. Just as one series of natural species and conceptions slip into extinction, what else must take their place? As biodiverse worlds descend into permanent darkness, are we inviting the 'extinction of human experience' in our unquestioning rush towards synthetic, lonely futures. Deep Ecology therefore seeks to embody both the risks of species extinction and the need to empower sustainable lifestyles that work with and for sustaining futures. Deep Ecology is therefore both an experiential artwork designed for galleries and festivals and a framing device for ‘Re-Futuring practices.
The work was informed by rich conversations around marine ecology and ecological ethics, interspersed by guided snorkeling sessions at Sydney Institute of Marine Science (SIMS), Chowder Bay, Sydney harbor led by Head of UTS Life Sciences, marine biologist Prof. William Gladstone and Emeritus Professor and marine biologist, Anthony Larkum, facilitated and curated by Lisa Roberts from the Living Data Program.
TEAM: Keith Armstrong, Lawrence English: sound design, Luke Lickfold: coding.
PARTNERSHIPS: Australia Council For The Arts, UTS Gallery, Curated by Tania Creighton and Eleanor Zeichner, QUT Creative Industries, Thanks to Living Data (Lisa Roberts), UTS Life Sciences (Prof. William Gladstone), National Science Week 2016, Sydney Science Week 2016, Sydney Design 2016, UTS Institute for Sustainable Futures, QUT Creative Industries, Prof. Anthony Larkum. This project has been assisted by the Australian Government through the Australia Council for the Arts, its arts funding and advisory body.
This project has been kindly assisted by the Australian Government through the Australia Council, its arts funding and advisory body. Keith Armstrong is supported by a part time senior research role at QUT Creative Industries.