This work was motivated by a lifetime of curiosity about the inner workings of the earth and its peculiar significance to us human beings. In 1956 I was fortunate to start working as a draftsman with an astronomical and geophysical institute called The Dominion Observatory. As an artist surrounded by dedicated men of science I felt like an undercover agent called upon to reveal deeper meanings of what was accomplished in this institute, which resulted in a number of, what I called, Heuristic Experiments. One of these were started in 1979 with the generous assistance of the Canada Council for the Arts. I managed to reinvent and to build one of their basic sensing devices for the sole purpose of imprinting the minute pulsing and the tremors of our planet as art onto the living and interacting beholder.
Al Asnaam, otherwise known as the People Participating Seismometer consists of three basic elements: a helium-neon laser powered by standard electrical current; a chrome plated Plexiglas cylinder standing vertically at a slight angle. The third and main element is the actual sensing devise, which is covered with a Plexiglas box and is placed on a heavy metal plate, standing in turn with three short adjustable metal legs solidly on the concrete floor. The beam of that laser is projected through the Plexiglas enclosure where it strikes the bottom of one of the surface-coated mirrors. It can easily be seen that the two mirrors face each other. As the beam is slightly angled upward, it reflects back and forth between the two mirrors, eventually emerging over the top of the mirror, which first interrupted its path to strike the chrome-plated cylinder. Through the slight tilt of this cylinder the beam is reflected upward and due to its curvature the narrow beam is spread out, striking the walls of the darkened room in the form of a read smear. In the schematic drawing one can see that the mirrors 'M' are the masses of two horizontal pendulums. These pendulums are suspended by extremely fine wires attached to the top and the bottom of vertical posts at 'd' and 'e'. If at rest the mirrors are perfectly parallel. Then the beam will remain at the center throughout its entire path. If however the floor is pressed down, for example at 'N', the devise with its vertical posts will slightly tilt, both mirrors will swing in the direction ofthe arrows and the light beam will be guided to one side and as a consequence the red smear will travel horizontally along the walls of the room.
Because the suspension point 'd' and 'e' are extremely close to the true vertical, the angular motions of the horizontal pendulums are much greater that the original angle of tilt cause by the depression of the floor. The multiple reflections between the mirrors and finally the effect of the curvature of the cylinder magnify that angle considerably. The total magnification achieved is between ten and a hundred million times depending on the adjustments allowed by the circumstances and the rigidity of the floor. Not shown in the drawing is how the pendulums are dampened in little pots of oil. This damping is necessary in order that the pendulums do not simply swing back and forth, but follow the true motions of the ground.
The Seismometer received its name from the October 10, 1980 earthquake in Algiers. The surface waves of that large earthquake were seen in my studio as broad sweeps of the light from one side of the room to the other. The next day we were informed by the media about the devastation and of the painful death of thousands of people buried alive under their crumbling adobe walls.
The surface waves of a similar earthquake in Camtchatca in Northern Siberia were seen when Al Asnaam was featured in this same fault during the exhibition 'Investigating Chaos' in 1993.