Volcanic art: ‘Iceland is like a blank canvas’
UCD scientists went to Iceland to study subglacial activity in the wake of the ash cloud. With them went a painter
Now that this expedition has ended, the next task is to go through the data, analyse it and try to make sense of it. The seismometers left by the UCD team will continue to generate information, which will be recorded and pored over by Braiden and the rest of the team.
Meanwhile, McDonald will be using the sounds, sights, soil samples and light impressions she has gathered to generate a new series of paintings.
An exhibition is planned for the Fenderesky Gallery in Belfast later this year. She will also be collaborating with the composer Susan Stenger, who has worked with John Cage, to create a special sound piece based on the deepcore data from the Icelandic glacier.
Populations at risk
The data gathered by the UCD team will have applications wherever volcanic activity poses a threat to the local community, such as in Italy, where Vesuvius and Etna are still considered a threat to the large populations living in their shadow.
“You can’t prevent an eruption, but if we know more about what’s going on inside a volcano, we might be able to minimise risk and vulnerability,” says Dr Braiden.
If, by chance, the UCD team doesn’t manage to develop an early-warning system for volcanic eruptions, McDonald may be able to help. During her research, she met local people living in these remote parts of Iceland, and found they had a knack for knowing when volcanic activity was stepping up in the area. And one of the most reliable early-warning systems, says McDonald, are common-or-garden ravens.
“I’ve been gathering stories from people who live around the Vatnajökull region, and they told me how the ravens communicate with folk by tapping on the windows, like a Morse code, to warn of an imminent eruption. Many of these folk are third-generation volcano dwellers, with a highly tuned-in ability to feel the planetary waves.”
Scientific palette: Art, Dev and the Jesuits
Siobhán McDonald takes a scientific approach to creating her art, which chimes with her status as artist-in-residence in UCD’s science building. For her previous project ,The Eye of the Storm, McDonald visited Tom Blake, director of the Irish National Seismic Network in the Dublin Institute for Advanced Studies’ school of cosmic physics, to discuss the Earth’s geology and structure.
“He brought me down to the basement – where Dev once hid – and showed me a collection of seismograms made by the Jesuits in the early 20th century. It was an incredible find – these scrolls had been sitting there for years, and they didn’t know what to do with them.”
To make the seismograms, the Jesuit scientists used a paper-blackening technique that is now all but forgotten. McDonald travelled to Göttingen, Germany, to visit one of the few seismic stations left in the world that still uses the process, and studied the technique, which she now uses as part of her work.
McDonald has been commissioned to create a work to be permanently displayed at the entrance to the new Science Centre at UCD.
Futurevolc is coordinated by the University of Iceland and the Iceland Met Office.
Prof Chris Bean is the UCD lead. Siobhan McDonald is collaborating with Prof Chris Bean this year in the making of a sound piece together with the Internationally acclaimed composer Susan Stenger.