Trace / Art Installation

Created in collaboration with David Wicks, Trace is a field of ceramic plates installed in the desert that are struck according to past local seismic activity. Each plate repeats the recent history of movement at a site in the surrounding mountains, transforming the seismic activity into rhythmic percussion. The overall effect is something like a seismic gamelan, a subtle audible and visible trace of the activity that came before it.

Trace developed as a response to the desert, a place of indirect signs. The presence of each of the desert’s elements is made known by what it leaves behind, by subtle tracks and discarded matter. Not only do we know of living things like lizards through secondary evidence, but we also learn about the ground underneath the desert by what is happening on the surface. Fault-lines are apparent not as fissures in the surface or rock formations, but by the presence of plant-life above them. We do not see the thing itself, but rather its effects.

Trace provides an additional signifier of the earth beneath the desert. It is a sonic field that is sympathetic to the earths vibrations.

Trace was installed outside 29 Palms (just North of Joshua Tree) as part of the Dry Immersion III: Desert Projects exhibition.

We used python to turn the seismic waveforms into data usable by an arduino microcontroller that drove the motors. Elaine Hu fabricated the ceramics. Process photos are available on flickr.

The making and exhibition of Trace was supported by a grant from UCIRA.