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(Non)Interference Patterns

A collaboration with mice and magnetism

Background

(Non)Interference patters was my thesis work, exhibited at MOMENTUM in 2013 at the University of Ottawa.

In this project, live mice were recruited to help create the art, which consisted of studio-based and live performances where their play resulted in a series of 'drawings' and a video that captured them at work, so visitors could see them in action even when they weren't performing.

The mice were feeder mice, sold at the pet store as snake food, but I treated them as pets and collaborators for their entire lives. Their involvement consisted of 20 minute stints playing by running in a wheel or a ball meant for pet rodents. Rare earth magnets were affixed to their toys, so the rhythms of their play created (harmless) shifting magnetic fields . These shifting fields intersected a glass plate resting above them horizontally. On the plate was placed another magnet, coated in ferrofluid, a liquid magnetic substance.

When applied to a magnet, ferrofluid surrounds it on all sides, forming something like the atmosphere around the earth, but held around the magnet by magnetism rather than gravity. This makes it extremely slippery when sitting on the glass, and as the magnetic fields change, it pulls the fluid-coated magnet around the surface, leaving a trail of the fluid behind it. This created the drawings, which were then installed on the opposite side of the room from where they were created.

There was a strong performative component to the work, where visitors could watch the mice play, watch the magnets fly around the surface drawing, or spin wildly in a bowl, dancing, or watch metal shavings lift and fall gracefully, with a sound like the wind through small branches, as a mouse passed by below.

Each mouse exercised/played/performed a few times, for about 20 minutes at a time. Their names were Breakfast, Lunch and Dinner. They were never fed to snakes but lived out the rest of their lives as beloved pets.

Statement

I’m drawn to the notion of human interaction with the world we inhabit. Ceaselessly discovering, creating and destroying, we change the face of the globe and the structure of life on it. I’m interested in the way we seek answers, or suppress freedom of information in power struggles. How do we situate ourselves as a part of this complex system of Earthly life? I describe my feelings towards the subject as equal parts critical and sympathetic. I am boiling with excitement at the bizarre wonders of the universe in all its sizes and dimensions, laws and paradoxes. I also feel culpable and humbly grateful for the sacrifices that have occurred in order for humanity to have progressed to its present stage. In this project I hand over some of the creative power to three representatives of a group who happen to have allowed for a great expansion of knowledge regarding the physical human: little white mice.



The project’s earliest beginnings stemmed from an unconscious blurting of the phrase “A House for a Mouse” up into my conscious mind. This was the title of a book that my mother used to read to me, but not remembering many details, I quickly drifted into a dramatic daydream, where I constructed a surreal sculptural landscape which mice could inhabit. My favourite element of this strange arena was a glass-bottomed water feature under which mice could run – the glass being their ceiling. In the shallow water would be some form of particulate matter, suspended gently until a mouse scurried beneath, at which point it would gather towards the mouse and be dragged behind it in an underwater comet-trail, then relaxing as the mouse disappeared into other tunnels. While researching for a material that could behave in such a way, I came upon ferromagnetic fluids. The landscape was left behind for the time being in favour of exploring mice and magnetics.

 

By harnessing biological and magnetic forces, the performative aspect of the installation appears eerily separated from any direct human or mechanical interference. The patterns created by the movement of the mice are erratic, influenced not only by the shifting of magnetic fields perpetrated by the little albino agents, but by the inevitable interference of gravity and inertia, as well as my decisions regarding magnet configuration, fluid application, and duration of performance



(Non)interference Patterns functions as  a shameless challenge to revive a childlike curiosity about the way in which our universe functions. At the same time, I question whether it is possible for humanity to truly know our physical or social environment. As the mice are unaware of their creations, I imagine that we too are rich in ignorance, leaving a vast wealth to be discovered.