Coelacanth

Karl Heinz Jeron • 2017

The gallery becomes an aquarium: fish made out of paper with electromagnetic field sensors form a sound sculpture. They investigate how scientific knowledge functions.

The fish sculptures are shaped after the model of coelacanthes, a species that has been around for 400 million years. They are considered living fossils. Coelacanthes have biosensors for electromagnetic fields that they use for orientation in the lightless depths of the sea. The sculptures are each equipped with a sensor that sonifies the electromagnetic fields of their immeadiate surroundings. Electromagnetic fields areĀ  everywhere. Every living organism, but also electrical equipment produces them. The sculptures thus generate a resonance chamber and create an acoustic map of people and machines. The installation does not produce a noisy soundscape, but a delicate crackling, that is only audible for the attentive visitor. A bright blue LED indicates that the fish sculptures are active.

Coelacanthes were long considered extinct – the last fossils are about 70 million years old. Reports of coelacanthes were considered apocryphal. Only 1938 the naturalist Marjorie Courtenay-Latimer discovered the fish on the East coast of South Africa near the mouth of the river Chalumna in the Indian Ocean. Cryptozoology deals with animals for whose existence there is no proof, only vague clues in the form of local reports, fairy tales and blurry photos. Anthropologists and zoologists normally do not take this research seriously because it does not follow accepted scientific methods. Sometimes, however, the mainstream scientific community must make concessions. As with the coelacanth, on occasion stories and myths prove to be a valid source of knowledge. Another example is Alexander von Humboldt’s observation in March 1800 on a voyage to the Amazonas. He saw electric eels jumping of the water like dolphins and fatally attacking horses. For a long time this report was dismissed as unbelievable, until 2016 experiments with the dangerous animals showed exactly the same behavior.

The artwork Coelacanth focuses on the competition between the different forms of knowledge. It compares the language of art with the languate of science. Both are ways to convey complexity. Art wants to understand science, but not become science. It deals with the idea what good science is or should be.