November 14th, 2006

krazy koati

Turn on the AC and the DC

Another Biennale exhibit -- I know I talk about these a lot, but they have a very high comment-to-content ratio -- I caught was Mariko Mori's Tom Na H-iu. This sculpture, set on a large (maybe twenty feet square) platform in the middle of a good-sized (maybe thirty feet square) room, is light-emitting diodes inside a giant tube of fogged glass. From the fat end it looks vaguely like a thumb; from the narrower ends it looks like an airplane wing. From within, colored lights flicker in what looks like a random pattern. It's like the campfire that Tron would build. Mori's inspiration was Celtic standing stones and the vision of spirits between worlds.

The sculpture is connected by Internet to the Super-Kamiokande cosmic ray research facility in Kamioka, Japan. According to the caption, ``atmospheric neutrinos'' light green diodes, solar neutrinos blue, ``neutrino bursts'' associated with supernovae to a ``multicoloured'' display, and muons to the pale pink or yellow diodes. The caption states, without really enough explanation, that neutrino bursts are shown eleven minutes of each hour, atmospheric neutrinos 33 minutes per hour, atmospheric and solar neutrinos 44 minutes, and solar neutrinos 55 minutes per hour. If that means average incident counts all right, sort of, but I'm still not sure what it means.

It's a most hypnotic piece. After some time I stepped up on the platform to see how close I could get to it. I got about two steps before a guide I hadn't noticed told me not to stand on the platform. I should have expected that -- why have a platform unless you can't be on it? -- but I'd thought there would be a warning sign outside. Maybe the rule's to protect people who might otherwise touch and maybe break the sculpture, but in the dark room, with flickering, uncertain light, it's tricky to find the end of the dark wood platform before it drops half a meter to the dark wood floor. I got off safely, and the guide warned another woman not to sit on the platform.

It was captivating enough for the strange light and varying patterns, and more fascinating to know it was supposed to have a connection to cosmic ray detectors. For me the remarkable thing was the moments of utter darkness. I've lived in cities or towns or campuses of various sizes most of my life; night can get pretty dark, but there's always moderate light even then, from street lights or the Moon or so. Real, quality darkness is a rare treat, and I was sorry to need to leave it. It wasn't easy to get, either: the best darkness required me standing so my back was to the emergency exit, with the entrance -- along a long dark corridor, but relatively bright -- hidden behind the sculpture, meaning that I'd be quite visible to people in other spots who might want their own darkness.

Trivia: As a parting gift French King Louis XVI sent Benjamin Franklin a miniature portrait of himself surrounded by 408 diamonds. Source: Benjamin Franklin: An American Life, Walter Isaacson.

Currently Reading: A History of Money, Glyn Davies.