Every day, the earth quivers and convulses. Hardly anyone notices. The United States Geological Survey (USGS) estimates there are 500,000 detectable earthquakes in the world each year; only 20 percent of those can be felt by human beings.
In Los Angeles—in a bid to open the eyes of an endangered community—artist and engineer D.V. Rogers, along with a group of volunteers, has constructed Domus, an experimental installation that allows visitors to experience the world’s constant, pulsating seismic activity. “The idea is create a contemplative space that will help people be more responsive to the larger biological and seismological environment,” says Rogers, who grew up in the geologically active country of New Zealand.
Set on the front yard of the Silver Lake experimental space Materials & Applications, Rogers’s Domus is an 18-foot, low-cost shelter made with 4-by-8-foot exterior insulation panels and bi-directional filament tape. The artist’s building system was based on Vinay Gupta’s low-cost open-hardware system Hexayurt, which can easily be built with materials bought online or at a building supply store. (The system’s ease and cost effectiveness explains why, every year, Nevada’s Black Rock Desert explodes with thousands of these Hexayurts during the Burning Man Festival.)
Inside the six-sided yurt, a 7-foot-high by 5-foot-wide LED chandelier stands at the center, its 576 lights pulsating red, green, and blue. Its pattern is activated by seismic activity reported by the USGS, which is converted into a sonorous, waveform sound through a system Rogers developed at the University of California Santa Barbara’s AlloSphere Research Facility, in collaboration with Ryan McGee, Rene Christen, and Stock Plum.
Pews rest against Domus’s walls, encouraging visitors to gaze at the chandelier. Eighteen mid-range speakers above the pews and four subwoofers below pour out a haunting sound. “Everything pulsates out from the middle,” explains Rogers, much like the way earthquakes ripple from a specific origin. As an added touch, Rogers has also devised a simplistic base isolation system mounted on concrete footings beneath the structure that decouples Domus from its foundations, should a well-timed earthquake jolt Los Angeles. Theoretically, the base isolation system should absorb as much as 80 percent of the seismic ground wave during an earthquake.
Rogers has been working in the anti-seismic field for more than five years. In 2007, he was the first artist-in-residence for the USGS, where he installed The Parkfield Interventional EQ Fieldwork, a re-engineered shake table in an excavated trench. Part machine, part land art, Rogers’s machine responded only to California seismic events. This latest installation was an outgrowth of his 14-day installation, Disastr Hotel at the Sydney University three years ago.
Domus is like a seismic temple, though Rogers rejects the idea that there are religious overtones in his work. He simply means to start a conversation, he says. “Earthquakes are a Trojan horse,” says Rogers. “We can argue about climate change, pollution, or deforestation, but earthquakes don’t discriminate. They’re everybody’s business.”
Domus opens October 23 and runs through Spring 2015, at Materials & Applications.
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