Ansuman Biswas and Jem Finer

This artwork is part of a conceptually coherent series of pieces which includes The Observatory and wave/particle.

To realize this ‘performance sculpture’ we propose to use the Neutral Buoyancy Facility at Star City. We became interested in the tank itself initially because of its extraordinary illusionistic qualities. There is a palpable sense of solidity and presence emanating from the vast body of invisible water, When the tank is empty of any vehicles or equipment it is very difficult to judge the scale of it, and when the deck is raised to form a ‘lid’ over the tank, filtering out the daylight, the colours become soft and indistinct. As one looks through a porthole into the water a dream like space appears, in which form and perspective are inexplicably different, its boundaries receding into blue-green shadows. The diffuse glow of the nothingness is broken only by the occasional tiny air bubble hurrying tremulously upwards.

  For Suspension two performers in scuba gear will spend 30 to 45 minutes in this environment engaged in a choreographed sequence of sculptural actions. Hollow chrome plated chiming spheres will be used, similar to the Chinese Health Balls used in wave/particle. These will be built in such a way that they will neither sink nor float but will remain in any position they are placed.  

Harmony of the Spheres

At each movement the spheres will chime and jingle. These sounds - along with the ambience of water, scuba gear, and other equipment - will be recorded by underwater microphones and the material thus collected will be manipulated using software tools such as SuperCollider, Max/MSP and Logic Audio. The resulting immersive, surround-sound musical composition will be designed to stand on its own or be heard as a soundtrack for the film. It will also serve as raw material for subsequent live, improvised performances.



Gelled lanterns and video cameras will be mounted at each of the portholes and also submerged in the space. A midi controlled fader board will cycle through shifting lighting states. By manipulating the angles, intensities and colours of light various astronomical phenomena will be replicated including full and partial eclipses, planetary orientations, lunar phases and stellar magnitudes.


Art, Sport, Industry

There will be two distinct aspects to the work. The first will be a live event at the tank itself, emphasizing its stadium-like qualities. An audience will be invited to watch the performance, which will resemble a kind of sporting event or a ritual observance. This event will be a hybrid of industrial engineering and Terpsichorean fantasy. The shining spheres will be positioned by the two sculptor/performers in various configurations within the space of the tank, sometimes close together, sometimes widely spaced. They may sometimes mimic a trail of bubbles aligned in a single dimension. Or they may be spread into a two-dimensional plane, or arranged in three dimensions in a crystalline matrix.


Extending beyond three dimensions the patterns will transform over time so that the performance as a whole will be a visualization of change. This process of change will be seen in the light of a rigorous conceptual framework. The organizing theme is an appreciation of the significance of water in the evolution of exploratory consciousness.



  In Leonardo da Vinci’s phrase water is "vetturale di natura" - the vehicle of nature. He believed water to be to the world what blood is to our bodies. Indeed it is apparent to modern science that life seems to be predicated on some special properties of water - its anomalous expansion, its high thermal coefficient, it’s function as a solvent, it’s apparent ability to ‘store‘ information, its high degree of polarization, its structural complexity, and many other extraordinary characteristics. Many of these features of water are inexplicable in that they do not conform to any known physical, chemical or biological theory. Indeed some of them are the subject of heated, not to say rancorous, debate within the scientific community. What is clear however is that the mysterious properties of water are vital for such biological processes as protein folding or communication across a synapse - and thus for consciousness.

Suspension is an attempt to approach this essential mystery and to make some poetic connections between the following facts:

- An evolutionary river flows from primordial amino acids to unicellular organisms, from fish to amphibian to cosmonaut, from oceanic depths to deep space.

- Fluidity and structure in water is an analogue of the simultaneously wave-like and particulate nature of fundamental matter. Constantly shifting patterns of hydrogen bonding within a small range of angles and distances gives rise to a high degree of order within the constant motion of liquid water.

- Morphological echoes can be discerned in structures at widely different scales. Although electromagnetic forces and gravitational attraction seem to be very different, they give rise to striking formal correspondences, at least in the visualisations of scientists. The search for a Grand Unified Theory - from is driven by an aesthetic appreciation of such coherence and symmetry.

- Consciousness has a locus and function in the physical world. The observer has an effect on physical phenomena at microscopic and macroscopic levels. The universe appears to be full of a remarkable degree of order.

Three Degrees

The schema for the performance of Suspension will be based quite precisely on three magnitudes of order. At one extreme will be a simple chemical reaction. We will use the formation of water molecules from atoms of hydrogen and oxygen. 2H2 + O2 Æ 2H2O At this magnitude the arrangement of the spheres will be in reference to the bonding forces within networks of water molecules, resulting from electro-magnetic forces

  At a second magnitude the formations created will refer to macroscopic changes of state within materials. We will base our patterns on the crystalline lattice structure of ice and its sublimation to an amorphous gas. The crystalline lattice of water, under conditions typical on planet earth, has a six-fold symmetry with many remarkable properties essential for the development of life.  
ice-three (tetragonal crystals)
  The third degree of magnitude will be at the level of planetary systems. We will approximately model our solar system and explore the various configurations which account for seasonal variation, eclipses, phases of the moon, etc.  


These three orders of patterning, while determining the formal aspects of the sculpture/choreography, will be intertwined, overwritten, and entangled. From the point of view of the spectator there will be a radical ambiguity as to the level of scale to which we are referring at any point in the performance. Furthermore, these orders of scale - the product of a scientific/technological worldview - will be overlaid with multiple, divergent perspectives. So from time to time the performance will flicker between engineering exercise, arcane ritual, religious observance and ludic rhapsody.

  As the spheres are arranged in various patterns in four-dimensional space, echoes of Olympian Gods will be evoked, or of alchemists modelling molecules and planets. Images of cosmonauts training to carry out mission critical Extra - Vehicular Manoeuvres with deadly seriousness will vie with the playful spectacle of some zero gravity version of snooker, boules or chess.  


So the live performance will be an event in it’s own right. However this will constitute only one phase of the project. In the next phase a film will be created which will be designed to be shown on multiple screens.

Visitors will enter a space bounded on four sides by images of the spheres moving through various configurations. One possibility, with which we are at this stage still experimenting, is that the final film will contain no divers. The spheres will instead seem to move through the space of their own accord. This will be achieved by careful planning in the pre-production and filming stages. A combination of stop-motion animation techniques and computer-based morphing will be used to generate the cosmic/molecular ballet.

Neutral Buoyancy

Our main research objective in the first phase of the project will be to arrive at a satisfactory design for the chiming spheres. They will be manufactured so as to be as close to zero buoyancy as possible and will also have a trimming system to make fine adjustments possible in order to maintain neutral buoyancy in response to temperature and depth. This trimming system will consist of a small screw-sealed hole to allow water into the sphere and small magnetic weights which can be applied to the outer surface.