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[Premiere] A Laser Landscape Sears the San Andreas Fault

Epicenter Projects taps media artist Robert Seidel for a series of long-exposure laser experiments in the desert.

by Beckett Mufson
Aug 7 2015, 3:30pm
Images and video courtesy Epicenter Projects

While driving through the California desert surrounding the San Andreas Fault line with a trunk full of computers, lasers, and a power generator, Berlin-based artist Robert Seidel passed a number of golf courses and tennis courts that left him scratching his head. "Who confronted these natural and artificial extremes in the first place?" he wondered, echoing the sentiments of the many who decry the water wasted on lush greenery in the middle of a desert. But whoever they were, they and Seidel had something in common: the desire to change the desert landscape into something more captivating.

Working with Cristopher Cichocki and his roaming exhibition space, Epicenter Projects, Seidel is tracing the dry, dusty landscape with long-exposure laser drawings for a new work called Magnitude. Epicenter Projects is relatively new, but offers a fresh perspective on the idea of an exhibition space by creating temporary artworks that can only be experienced through the website. But Seidel's past experience in experimental film, video installation, and environmental projection are left by the wayside in this case, in favor of the laser, which he says is better-suited for the vastness of a moonless desert night.

Robert Seidel, Magnitude #8, Epicenter Projects, 2015

"Getting my hands on the laser gave me the possibility to work in almost infinite scale," he tells The Creators Project. He and Cichocki experimented in different locations before arriving at the outcroppings of rock they've since frosted with tangles of lightning-colored laser light on the Epicenter Projects website. "Because of the dimensions it became a performative gesture. I had to move the laser, using refractions or reflections to inscribe shapes into the canyons. These sequences of drawings and gestural marks added up to a singular image that is not replicable, only captured in long-time digital exposures."

Beneath Magnitude's dazzling surface visuals, Seidel explores a longstanding relationship between the technology and its desert home. "Laser interferometry is used to monitor tectonic deformations, ultimately to detect earthquakes, which threaten large parts of California. There is even the Laser Interferometer Gravitational-Wave Observatory (LIGO) in different American sites to detect gravitational waves predicted by Einstein, so the laser is an established technology in the desert," he explains.

Robert Seidel, Magnitude #1, Epicenter Projects, 2015

The drawings themselves draw upon the Surrealist concept of automatism, with Seidel distilling architectural or scientific concepts—in this case, levels of measurement in the Richter scale, which measures the energy of an earthquake, for example—into visuals. He continues, "The Richter Scale was the perfect origin to develop these laser drawings along the contours of the San Andreas Fault area." The looming undercurrent of catastrophe gives Magnitude an edge, which makes sense given the artist's bleak view of the future.

"Since the cities on this planet are growing exponentially, I think these [deserts] will be the dystopian places of our future," he predicts. Images of the dusty wastelands of Mad Max and Dune spring to mind. "Keeping the infrastructure in the desert alive will probably be too costly, as the shrinking former resort towns alongside the nearly abandoned Salton Sea exemplify." With an array of screenings, several self-curated exhibitions, a solo show, and stage design scheduled for the rest of 2015, Seidel is leaving the desert's dystopian atmosphere behind, but, he adds, "I can safely say that the residency at Epicenter Projects was one of the highlights of this year!"

Robert Seidel, Magnitude #2, 2015

See Magnitude highlight the San Andreas Fault in Epicenter Projects' official images and behind-the-scenes GIFs below.

Robert Seidel, behind the scenes of Magnitude, 2015

Robert Seidel, 
behind the scenes

 of Magnitude, 2015

Robert Seidel, 
behind the scenes

 of Magnitude, 2015

Robert Seidel, 
behind the scenes

 of Magnitude, 2015

RobertSeidel, 
behind the scenes

 of Magnitude, 2015

Robert Seidel, 
behind the scenes

 of Magnitude, 2015

Robert Seidel, 
behind the scenes

 of Magnitude, 2015

See the full set of images on the Magnitude project page, and check out more of Robert Seidel's work on his website.

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