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Insight: Paraboles ulx-56834, how Fragmentin turns waves into vessels of meaning

Text by Giulia Ottavia Frattini

Fragmentin is a Swiss-based collective formed by three members Laura Perrenoud, David Colombini and Marc Dubois, linked by a common educational background at Lausanne University of Art and Design. Their practice unfolds as an interstitial meditation on art and science, focusing on reflections on the digital and the pervasive impact of technology on everyday life. Themes such as control and opacity are central to their practice and inspire them to activate through installations, videos, interactive projects and performances spaces of debate with a lens on the present. Their works thus combine aesthetic choices with critical engagement that aims to stimulate an investigative experience for the audience and raise questions about focal current themes.

An emblematic example of the collective’s take is the site-specific project entitled Paraboles ulx-56834, and which was hosted in the suggestive venue of St-François church in Lausanne this past summer, from 18 June to 26 September 2021. 

It is a sculptural, kinetic and sound-based work that seeks to juxtapose the theme of breath with that of waves – mainly electromagnetic -conceiving them as movements that generate an impact and reactions on the surrounding environment. The motions of these agents are situated and seen as analogies of the forces that traverse and influence our daily lives, guiding both individual and collective actions.

Fragmentin placed a disused and inactive telecommunications tower in the core of the church’s nave. The collective enlivened this impotent object by turning it into a ready-made piece by undergoing a process of de-assembling and re-assembling to set up the tower. Therefore, an act of reappropriation and reallocation of meaning underlies the project, which conveys the idea of being unfinished and, thus, subject to a constant state of work in progress.

Two years ago, we were invited by a cultural foundation who commissions artists every two years for a summer exhibition inside the church in Lausanne (CH). In that context, they proposed the topic of breath/spirit (le souffle/l’esprit in French)as a starting point for the piece. We then had carte blanche to reinterpret it. We decided to make an analogy between breath/spirit and the electromagnetic waves by bringing together their free, disruptive and sometimes demystifying character. For the sculpture, we collected a rusty pylon in the area, cut it into three parts, repainted it and added antennas (also recycled) which diffuse sound through directional speakers – giving a tangible aspect to electromagnetic waves. In that sense, the piece is an assisted ready-made. […], explains the collective by giving an insight about how Paraboles was incepted. 

The intellectual drive supporting the work’s realisation goes beyond a mere reinterpretation of an already existing object but instead aspires to turn it into a device for provoking a confrontation. Also, a focus on ecological issues through the re-use of recycled materials – in this case, the old tower -, lies at the heart of the collective’s practice since Fragmentin is committed to projects dealing with climate change.

The aim is to enable a space for proactive debates by offering a venue that looks like a construction site, to mirror the intents with an artistic intervention: Our works are conceived as spaces for discussion on crucial contemporary themes and issues: this one is no exception as electromagnetic waves can also be conflicting. For example, investing a church with devices for data exchange can be read as a slightly provocative way of questioning the hasty and undemocratic acceptance of new technologies such as the multiplication of antennas for the 5G network without considering their impact on society and the natural landscape. On the other hand, as visual artists, we also have a fascination for the aesthetics of (network) infrastructures, which are banal functional objects for many. From our side, we like to give them the status of a work of art.

To make the sculpture come alive several antennas, which usually serve as vessels for the transmission of wave frequencies, are connected to the extremities of the pylon. The artists took over, or better, ‘hacked’ these antennas by implementing a movable system equipped with speakers; some of them are directional. When in motion, these motorised elements stand at the mercy of wind gushes or air’s stream, hovering between silent stillness and uncanny rotating movements. 

The loudspeakers are meant to transmit sounds and noises, providing a tangibility to the invisibility of the electromagnetic fields that dwell in our everyday spaces. During a thirty-minute loop, multiple takes and opinions on current topics related to the theme of breath and waves are broadcast by these devices to open up an interactive condition for the visitors.

With the five directional motorised sound speakers, we wanted the audience to spatially move around the sculpture to discover these different “radios”. We also played with silence and whisperings (when people are not directly under a sound beam) and the church’s special acoustic to give the visitors a space for meditation. Generally, we had excellent feedback from different types of visitors […]. Still, we also had feedback from worshippers who did not understand why a pylon was installed in the middle of a church that still exercises its religious activity. For the church pastor, one of the aims of our artwork is also to “disturb” and make people question contemporary topics and issues.

In addition, an interdisciplinary interest underpins the project; the trio invited several contributors from different domains to participate in the sound content creation of Paraboles. Specifically, they are the anthropologist Nicolas Nova, the scientist Veronica Bindi, the theologian and poet Francine Carrillo, the media archaeologist Yves Citton and two sound artists, namely Julie Semoroz and Emma Souharce.

Drawing a constellation of poetics to create an all-encompassing narrative is thus a tension that lies at the heart of the collective’s artistic intentions and Paraboles, by bringing together emotions and science, stands as a breathing remnant for this ambitious vision.

(Image courtesy of Fragmentin)
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