Untitled Antarctica

Melissa Clarke

A series of sculptural video and sound that generatively morphs through underwater seismic reflection profiles, three-dimensional topographies and the scientific renderings of an ice gouge.


Untitled Antarctica includes two video pieces projected onto sculptural forms, a multi-channel sound piece and a series of prints. The first video piece iterates and generatively morphs through single-channel and multi-channel seismic reflection profiles compiled by geophysicists and studied by scientists over the last thirty years. Also used in the visuals, the scientific rendering of an Ice Gouge and three-dimensional topographies that I create in a geophysical data imaging software. After imaging, I pull them apart and create the video using particle systems and similar morphing algorithms as the profile video. The sound is derived from gridded three dimensional bathymetry data, parsed in several iterations, to provide different scales and elevation samples.

The videos are remapped and projected onto two physical pieces, one made out of glass to evoke the ice gouge as well as the glaciers that gouge, taking on their asymmetrical form as they entropy over time into the water and often become smooth illusionistic islands on top and jagged formations on the bottom. The other piece is a sloping addition to existing walls; taking as its scale z elevation values from three dimensional, or XYZ, gridded bathymetric data. These three dimensional seabed elevation maps, (the gridded data) also use single and multi-channel seismic reflections, multibeam bathymetry, (otherwise known as methods of acoustic imaging,) and other sensor and gravity data, and are pulled together and interpolated by the scientists using geophysical data synthesis. I am sampling small and evenly spaced z elevations from this grid data, appending the elevations to a two dimensional array of latitude and longitude. I then turn the elevation points upside down into a one dimensional line in the fabrication process so that floor is the water and the top of the slope is the distance measured from it and the video travels between these points.

Many variations in the video and sound are informed by the elevation values parsed from the bathymetry grids; currently the Amundsen Sea and the Ross Sea are the main data sets for the elevations. There may also be other data included as the project comes towards completion.

The prints are part of a CD/DVD release of the Untitled Antarctica series produced by an independent media label to be announced this summer. The installation will exhibit in two venues beginning next fall.

Previously I worked with Acoustic Imaging, specifically the data provided by Dr. F. O. Nitsche from Columbia LDEO, in 2009, for a video and sound piece on the Hudson River. Since the project I became increasingly interested with the imaging and history of geomorphic change and physical structures beneath the water above it— that relationship or geophysical historical dynamic. I knew Dr. Nitsche had been studying the interaction of glaciers and the topography around West Antarctica, as well as the history and potential future of those interactions in terms of climate change, glacial melting and movement, so I began there for my thesis, and it grew into a general obsession with the science, history and culture surrounding Antarctica.

There are a few well-known sound and video pieces based on Antarctica, including science and data, DJ Spooky's, Sinfonia Antarctic and Andrea Polli's Sonic Antarctic to name two. But I feel this series, Untitled Antarctica still presents a unique perspective, is a natural progression to my Acoustic Imaging series and will add to the conversation on this mythical place.

User Scenario
The work is fairly generative, as it iterates through the profiles and other data constantly, the viewer/listener will be intrigued by the evolving sound and imagery that seems to morph before them, yet also has some repetitiveness.

I use a combination of shaders and computer vision in Jitter, (jit.cv objects; this patch I altered based on Luke Dubois'.)The patch shuffles through hundreds of seismic profiles at timed intervals, while brightness and contrast of the images shift based on incoming data numbers from the bathymetric profiles. The matrix[s] are averaged and results are combined as new images, textured on a jit. gl video plane (using OpenGL), and this is recorded as movie files to a folder. The patch is also constantly shuffling through the movie folder to pair movie files with incoming images upon which to average, (currently I have it stop at 3000 movies and return to the beginning.)
Both videos are handled this way. Meanwhile the sound is constantly being recorded as the data is mapped to different frequency spectrums and I replay in real time, as well as mix and play back a composed version.

Some images are also used to create particles in Cinder, which I record and save as movie files and import into the movie folders. The particles build up as texture enhancing as a sand-like texture onto the low resolution of original images and gives the visuals more of an animated feeling, especially in the Ice Gouge piece, where the visualization of vertices was used to create a feeling of going in and out of the scarring and gouging of the earth by the moving glaciers.

One of the most DIY projects I've done, I built everything myself, including: cutting, sanding and working with glass and creating files for the CNC, running the jobs and post CNC fabrication. It was exhausting, but I feel more empowered to make large scale pieces and less intimidated by the scope of a larger project. So, should I have assistance, or work in a collaborative for such projects, I know I can certainly do it even better.