The Acoustics of Places
The site-specific installations by Canadian artist Amelie Laurence Fortin translate the sound of given places into visual and immersive experiences. Her art expresses our connection to nature writ large. She invites us to slow down, to take the time to perceive and tune in to our surroundings through their acoustics.
Each plant on earth has its equivalent star in the cosmos.
Amélie Laurence Fortin’s art experiments with a range of soundscapes, including underwater in the Arctic ‘as if the seabed were the cosmos, and vice versa’. The acoustics of a place has an energy and expressive power to it which her installations make visible.
Ahead of her project at Bethanien, this conversation in her studio in Berlin shares the artist’s thought processes in relation to space, sound, and the dynamics therein, ‘listening to the glaciers melt’…
A cycle of reflections
Air, fire, water, earth… which of these elements would you choose in relation to your creative practice and your self, and why?
Water and minerals have inspired me since 2010, and a year ago I started a cycle of reflections around fire and air. I explore how our sensations correlate with these elements.
In 2019 I created the artist book Roche Plante Mer Bois (Rock Plant Sea Wood) with another artist from Quebec. I like to work with the elements in pairs as they respond to each other and show their respective strengths.
These elements denote energy too: gushes of wind, the raging sea, earthquakes … but energy also in the sense of a dynamic force, gravity…
I am now working on a new series of works in response to the thermodynamics of places, and my impression of gravity. The sun is a guiding principle, but also wind that goes with it.
This active force of the wind that is invisible to the naked eye is what sparked my curiosity. I had the idea of making the wind visible in space for my latest project at the visual arts gallery of Laval University in Quebec, Canada.
The gallery had six visible air vents which I took advantage of to activate the work without making a scientific demonstration. By going back and forth with space and adapting new materials and colours, I was able to build a framework for future pieces of this kind.
Is there a particular artwork, person, place or situation that motivated you to become an artist?
A number of artists have made an impact on my career and keep fascinating me, especially those from the Land Art movement which I first discovered at a course in Art History at CEGEP (the Quebec equivalent of pre-university college).
In retrospect, one might discredit them from an ecological and feminist point of view, but I admire the aesthetic potential of what created:
Walter De Maria’s Lightning Field is one of the most significant works of the twentieth century for me.
These artists’ relationship to North American territory, architecture, nature and the monumental is exceptional.
Walter De Maria, Lightning Field. Date: 8-79. Time: afternoon. Site: interior. Direction: north lightning.
The acoustics of space
Do you consider yourself spiritual and how does this feed into your work?
I am agnostic, however I recognise the strength of nature and truly appreciate it.
When discussing your work we touched on the ‘acoustics’ of space and echoes or moments of calm, void. Can you tell us more about the importance of silence, of emptiness in the spaces you compose?
Silence and emptiness are for me concrete and conceptual materials I have been using for a long time, back to when I was drawing. I attached as much importance to the emptiness as to the fullness of the page so as to “make the image active”.
In order to ‘activate the image’, I needed to pay attention to the degree of both void and full on the page, because the void activates what is full, and vice versa.
Void and full coexist.
I perceive the used or ‘positive’ space of a two-dimensional or three-dimensional space as noise that I try to balance with silence thanks to the empty, or ‘negative’ space, In this way, objects, lines and forms become sound materials.
They have a tone and presence of their own.
The sound of the Arctic Circle
The music of a place also brings to mind rhythm… If your art was a kind of beat or pulse which one would it be for you?
My art can be seen as suspension marks. Arrangement of low frequency sounds, unique and clear notes, rich sounds in disparate depth… These could describe my state of mind when I think about my work.
And nature of course has its very own ‘soundscape’ and echoes, vibrations… What did your residency in the Arctic Circle ‘sound’ like?
For my project in the Arctic I collected terrestrial and underwater sounds. The permanent sound recording of the landscape sharpened my sensitivity to everything that was changing around me.
Listening to the landscape and to my peers, to exist in this extremely fragile and sublime territory without exerting any authority over it … it was a deeply moving and wonderful experience.
When I listened to oxygen bubbles that exploded, they seemed compressed from time immemorial, darting in the silence of the salt water and bouncing on to the walls of the glaciers underwater.
My eyes were shut and it felt like being in reversal, with the vertigo of these different orders of magnitude.
As if the seabed became the cosmos and vice versa.
In this hyper acuity of hearing, underwater rivers deconstruct the different densities of water, in layers: like streams in spring and then salt water with its dense and motionless silences…
Above all, it made me aware of the interplay between different frequencies and sounds in a given lapse of time. The macro and the infinitely small meet each other all the time in the Arctic, and we can hear it.
Following this experience, it is this specificity of the Svalbard landscape that I wanted to reproduce.
Power of Geometry
What does the geometry in your drawings mean to you -also in terms of architecture, specific buildings, structures, or motifs that appeal to you?
I like abstracted forms and raw concepts. The simplicity of a geometric shape can translate my initial idea, keeping the essence of what I want to express.
I scrutinize architecture, town planning, the structures of gallery spaces because human construction fascinates me, I am drawn to its sculptural aspect.
The buildings I come across in cities look like monumental sculptures to me. I observe how they cut the sky, how they guide our sight, what sensations arise from it. This helps me analyze how our bodies might shift and react to these full forms, these industrial structures.
What did you find most memorable about your conversations with astro-physicians? Did these change your work process and outlook in any way?
These meetings are always a learning process. First I want to know how the other person thinks, what he sees, what he feels when we talk about abstract notions.
Although theorietical, these concepts are also linked to emotions, and I’m curious to know how this idea unfolds in the expert’s mind. This area I am trying to navigate around is unknown to me but all the more enticing, I am ready for the unexpected.
Fruitful encounters like these are fulfilling both on a human level and in the ideas being thought about together…
Doing more with less
If you could change anything in the art world …?
I would like the art market to trust women more.
Do you have in mind a poem or quote that accompanies you often?
Several quotes keep inspiring me, here I choose two:
The first is from the Litany Against Fear in the Bene Gesserit ritual, referred to in science fiction novel Dune by Frank Herbert:
“I must not fear.
Fear is the mind-killer.
Fear is the little-death that brings total obliteration.
I will face my fear.
I will permit it to pass over me and through me.
And when it has gone past I will turn the inner eye to see its path.
Where the fear has gone there will be nothing.
Only I will remain. “
Amelie Laurence Fortin, Under the Suns, 2020, Photo courtesy of Justin Wonnacott
This became my motto at various times, and especially on my 3000 km kayak expedition on the coast of the Pacific Ocean from Alaska.
It was in fact the first one to catch my attention, a while before I read The Prince by Machiavelli and The Art of War by Sun Tzu.
The second quote is shorter:
Ludwig Mies Van der Rohe’s dictum ‘less is more’, which brought me closer to minimalist thinking, and to the ideas of architects and engineers after him like Buckminster Füller.
His “doing more with less” idea influenced my approach too.
When I create a work on site, I seek out the place’s potential that may just be small to begin with and find that the work actually resonates better with little,
‘doing more with less’ ..
Author: Alexandra Etienne