An Immersive Sculpture, Light & Sound Installation
Sub Surficiem is a powder coated steel, backlit sculptural installation inspired by microscopic observations of cells during the artist’s 3-month residency at biotechnology company Integral Molecular in Philadelphia. The installation incorporates LED lights programmed to simulate light patterns taken from a 60-hour time lapse video of living cells fluorescing under the microscope as they become infected with SARS-CoV-2. Using fluorescence, Integral Molecular’s “Reporter Virus Particle” (RVP) technology allows us to visualize human cells being infected upon interactions of viral spike proteins with receptors on the cell surface, and have been a tool for discovering protective antibodies that neutralize the virus.
Confluence is a 5-minute sonic journey accompanying Sub Surficiem. It is a sonification of data tracking the number of COVID-19 cases, deaths and vaccinations in the city of Philadelphia from March 2020 through May 2021 (all data was obtained from the Pennsylvania Department of Health). Each of these data sets was sonified as a separate track and layered, following the rise and fall of cases and deaths, and later, the introduction of the vaccine. The sonified data which uses digital renderings of stringed instruments including bass, cello, viola and violin (developed by the Institute for Research and Coordination in Acoustics/Music in France) was a collaboration with Mexican composer Mauricio Rodriguez, NEA fellow and Doctor of Musical Composition from Stanford University, who generously collaborated on this project. Additionally, Philly-based musician, Frank Masciocchi, also a lab instrumentation engineer at Integral Molecular, contributed recorded tracks of interpretive, percussive guitar that create ambient dissonance and distortion throughout the piece.
Tonal framework for this piece was carefully considered. Confluence begins with sonorities that are somber and uncertain – a reflection of the collective fear at the beginning stages of the pandemic, and gradually those blurry sound masses become self-reflective, brighter, and more optimistic later in the piece, when the vaccine is introduced. The sonification of cases and deaths fall away as the higher pitched tones of vaccinations continue to rise. Nevertheless, there are traces of loss, remembrance and uncertainty in the final moments.
This immersive, multi-media installation takes the viewer through a micro lens while “listening” to the macrodata of the Philadelphia community, reflecting on the positive impact of COVID-19 vaccines on stopping the spread of the virus, while acknowledging the anxiety that remains as new variants emerge and many remain unvaccinated.