20 January 2012

Surface Tension at The Science Gallery

Somehow I seem to have developed a nasty habit of only making it down to The Science Gallery on the last day or so of their current exhibition. This is a difficult thing to do for I am actually in the Science Gallery quite a lot, both to attend lectures and for meetings (The cafe is a great place to meet clients when its not too busy), but somehow lately I never seem to find the time to actually walk through whatever exhibit is currently being staged until the volunteers are starting to take it all down around me. This means that taking the time to write about their current exhibition is almost a waste in bits and bites, for you can do nothing with this information beyond saying to yourself, "well that looked great. Pity you didn't say anything about it at any stage in the last three months when I could have actually gone to it".

No matter, I took some time on Wednesday afforded to me by a surprisingly light calendar and a strong case of the AhFeckIts to head on down and make up for lost time.

The current Exhibition, entitled Surface Tension took 'Water' as its central theme, and had a wide range of pieces ranging from an exploration of Dublin's water table and the various ways of producing potable water (even from Dublin's canals) through to prototypes for cleaning up oil-spills. As I wandered through I was, as usual, intrigued by many of the pieces while wishing some had something more tangible, and at times found it hard to distinguish between the Art and Science, which I suppose is the whole point of The Science Gallery.

Take The Sea Chair Project for example, illustrated with a rather nice series of plastic models (above). The ocean contains an awful lot of plastic. Every day tons and tons of plastic gets washed into the sea, or lost overbaord from shipping containers. It gradually breaks down into tiny 2mm plastic pellets called nurdles and these are everywhere, approximately 13,000 nurdles float in every square mile of the ocean according to the UN. These get into the aquatic food chain and as they are indigestible cause untold problems for marine life. The Sea Chair Project envisions a trawler being repurposed for harvesting these nurdles from the ocean, then using the plastic to manufacture chairs, boosting decimated fishing communities across the South-West coast of the UK. "Brilliant" I said, but as with many works exhibited at the Science Gallery I couldn't tell if this was an actually work-in-progress, a workable concept, or just a science-fiction artwork designed to provoke thought.

Even if only a concept, it is still pretty cool though, giving rise to notions of giant oil-rigs being repurposed to decontaminate the sea while feeding our insatiable thirst for plastic.

One piece that definitely wasn't science fiction, and my favourite of the exhibition, was David Bowen's Tele-Present Water. Using data relayed from an ocean buoy, a lattice suspended on moveable wires recreated in real time the movement of waves. The model was built to a scale of 1:12, meaning that for every inch of movement by the model, the corresponding wave was moving by a foot. During my visit the peaks and troughs were separated by at least a foot, meaning that wherever the bouy was it was experiencing waves of at least 12 feet high. I say "wherever" because its exact location isn't actually known, for although it was originally moored 205 miles South-West of Honolulu, it broke free of its moorings in April of last year and has been wandering the oceans ever since. The volunteer that I spoke to reckoned it was currently near Alaska based on a correlation between the size of the waves a few days ago and a massive storm that hit the Alaskan coast at the same time. Like Silent Barrage in last year's Visceral exhibit, there is something about telepresence that really captures my imagination.

While sadly now closed you can find out more about the exhibition here, and find some photos that I took here.

Overall I have to say that it did indeed look great. Pity I didn't say anything about it at any stage in the last three months when you could have actually gone to it.

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