In 1903, when Kristian Birkeland wanted to test his theories of how the Aurora Borealis arises, he built a small magnetic model of the Earth by winding copper wire in layers around an iron core. He hung this ‘terrella’ in a glass chamber. By passing current through a cathode ray tube, the
‘sun’ of the model, the electric charge produced ‘polar light’ in the Earth-miniature’s magnetosphere. The artist Signe Lidén is inspired by Birkeland’s miniature earth, and in the work with Skala she has explored the ideas of scale, model and experimentation.
Can one transmit sound through a stone and make the stone vibrate so that the human ear can hear it? It actually began with a question about magnetism – whether a material like iron could be called magnetic even if it doesn’t attract objects to it with magnetic properties. Can a lump of iron ore become an electric coil? Lidén discussed this with her colleague Espen Sommer Eide. She conducted an experiment – around an iron-ore stone she found in the mines in South Varanger she carefully wound copper wire – and yes, there was sound. She could sing into a microphone and the stone sang along.
Lidén’s installation Skala is in the Palm Room in the Plant House of the Botanical Gardens. On the path between the palms she has laid a copper-wound iron meteorite in a display case of wood, glass and metal. Sound signals are transmitted into the copper wire and then set off vibrations in the stone. The slight vibrations resonate in the metal plate on which it stands, and the sound becomes acoustically audible. The meteorite sends low-key sounds out into the space.
This iron meteorite fell down from space at some point four or five thousand years ago. It comes from the crater Piguem Nonralta in Argentina, translated into Spanish as Campo del Cielo, which means the Field of Heaven. As foreign bodies on the Earth, meteorites were until recent times the only material evidence that stars, planets and comets in space share many of the same metals as we find on our planet, such as nickel, cobalt, gallium, germanium and iridium.
What if the iron meteorite is seen as an enormous star and the space around it as its atmosphere? This image has been a guiding principle for the way Lidén has com-posed the sounds for her work. Among banana trees and palms in the hot, exotic climate of the plant house, Lidén has worked with the resonance of the magnetic, singing meteorite.