Changing States of the World

This post comes from the Artists and Climate Change Blog

By Guest Blogger François Quévillon

I have an interdisciplinary practice that combines installation, video, photography, sound, and digital technologies. My work explores world phenomena and perception through processes sensitive to their fluctuations and the interference of contextual elements. I examine the operational dimensions of images, sounds, and other media through the elaboration of systems with unstable parameters – compressed or endlessly evolving spatiotemporal structures. A mix of scientific observation and contemplation, my pieces create ambiguous experiences through which the ungraspable manifests itself. I investigate how technology affects or redefines human cognition, culture, and the environment, as well as our relationships to space, time, and one another.

My work generally uses interfaces that collect information from the environment. The variable conditions of the environment, human interference, and the activity of the components of the work can influence its evolution. Below are a few pieces that directly or indirectly engage with climate change.

Defrost (2001) 

Defrost is a video installation that explores the different states of matter by orchestrating its

transformation. At the center of the three screens is a slowly growing mass of ice around which several phenomena caused by thermal contrasts evolve in a manner that can suggest a geological timescale. Building momentum through environmental turbulence, the work evokes nature’s cycles as well as the disturbances associated with global warming.

Defrost led to other installations which integrate generative, transductive, and interactive processes, such as États et intervalles (States and intervals) in 2002 and Magnitudes in 2004. These works use computer vision to create experiences where the presence and movements of visitors affect images of icy landscapes, create the sound environment and, in the case of Magnitudes, modify its material configuration with haptic feedback. In these situations, human activity can be interpreted as a disruption to natural ecosystems while reminding us that their behavior is beyond human control.

Dérive (2010)

Dérive invites people to explore 3D models of geographical locations that transform according to live environmental data collected on the Internet. The public interacts with a digitized space whose appearance and recognizability is determined by information about ongoing meteorological and astronomical phenomena. In addition to being visualized, the data transmitted by remote environmental sensors is sonified. By connecting physical and digital spaces, Dérive questions the phenomenology of mixed realities and probes into the changing nature of our perception and representation of the world.

Because Dérive is in a state of perpetual change, reflecting weather conditions, daylight variations, and moon phases, it often leads to unexpected situations. The most surprising of those was during an exhibition at the Albuquerque Museum of Art and History at the end of October 2012 when New York got hit by Hurricane Sandy. I wasn’t in the museum at that time but I could imagine how this severe weather phenomena was translated into a chaotic audiovisual scene. In the days that followed, I heard from people who shared touching testimonials about their experience of the piece, some of them being from New York or having relatives there during the storm. Experimenting with this open-ended work since 2010 raised my awareness of geoclimatic contexts, celestial movements, and how weather systems evolve and travel.

Waiting for Bárðarbunga (2015)

Started during a residency in Iceland in response to alerts about Bárðarbunga’s upcoming eruption and inspired by instruments used in volcanology, this generative video installation examines the monitoring and transformation of volcanic areas. While traveling around Vatnajökull, the glacier under which the Bárðarbunga stratovolcano is located, I shot videos of rivers under surveillance, drifting icebergs, foggy landscapes, hissing steam vents, boiling mud, and geothermal power plants. The piece consists of a database of hundreds of videos loops which are presented according to a probabilistic system influenced by data coming from the sensors of the computer that runs the installation. The work has an unpredictable unfolding and its conclusion remains unknown as the system’s monitoring and the course of events it presents influence each other.

Volcanic eruptions have had an important effect on the Earth’s climate throughout history, shaping the evolution of life and the planet itself. They are simultaneously creative and destructive events. The eruption of Laki in 1783 and Tambora in 1815 caused social, economic, and political turmoil worldwide. The environmental impact of Laki’s eruption is believed to have contributed to the French Revolution, and 1816 is known as the Year Without a Summer. Volcanic eruptions remind us of the fragility of human societies facing climatic disturbances. In this piece, Bárðarbunga can be interpreted as a metaphor for the uncertainty inherent to the current global ecological, energy, and economic crisis. We apprehend and monitor a wide range of potentially catastrophic events that are or seem to be out of control, some of which have the power to trigger profound political change and transform society.


François Quévillon is an artist from Montréal, Canada. He holds a Master’s Degree in Visual and Media Arts from UQAM and has been involved with several artist-run centres and research groups. His work, which is frequently developed during artist residencies, has been presented in exhibitions and at events dedicated to contemporary art, cinema, and digital creation. Among them: Sundance’s New Frontier exhibition (Park City), Spaces Under Scrutiny (New York), International Symposium on Electronic Art (Dubaï and Albuquerque), Festival Internacional de Linguagem Eletrônica (São Paulo), IndieBo (Bogotá), LOOP Barcelona, Plug-In at Contemporary Istanbul, Show Off Paris, Festival de la Imagen (Manizales), Mois Multi (Québec), Espace [IM] Média (Sherbrooke), FIMAV (Victoriaville), RIDM, Elektra, and International Digital Art Biennal (Montréal).

About Artists and Climate Change:

Artists and Climate Change is a blog that tracks artistic responses from all disciplines to the problem of climate change. It is both a study about what is being done, and a resource for anyone interested in the subject. Art has the power to reframe the conversation about our environmental crisis so it is inclusive, constructive, and conducive to action. Art can, and should, shape our values and behavior so we are better equipped to face the formidable challenge in front of us.

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