Sensory

The ‘Anatomy of ice’ explored through touch & sound  

The ‘Anatomy of ice’ explored through touch & sound  

Guest post, by Hannah Rowan (@rowanhannah)

The project Anatomy of Ice is part of my ongoing research into glass, ice and phases of matter.

The transcript and video featured in this blog post come from a performance I developed in Svalbard in the Arctic Circle, just below the North Pole. My tactile interactions with ice are combined with underwater sound recordings, and these are accompanied by a voiceover that merges my personal narrative on touch, longing, distance and loss in relation to the melting ice in the Arctic.

Anatomy of Ice. Image credit: Hannah Rowan.
Anatomy of Ice, Video, 2020, by Hannah Rowan.

………………………………..

An amorphous solid is a liquid that does not flow: its atomic structure is disordered like that of a liquid but it is rigid and holds its shape like a solid. 

Glass is a non-crystalline, amorphous solid. 

Neither a liquid nor a solid, but somewhere between those two states of matter, amorphous materials deform and flow through a collective movement of their particles.

Phase transition is a point at which a substance moves from a liquid to a solid. Glass’s phase transition isn’t truly defined; determining when this occurs is slippery and illusive. No two glasses are the same.

Glistening iceberg on the beach. Image credit: Hannah Rowan.

As crystalline ice melts into a liquid the surface becomes slippery, travelling through intermediary phases of slush and mush on the surface while the interior remains crystalline. 

There is a wave like quality to particles: so too is there a wave like quality to matter. 

As glass moves from a molten state to liquid phase the properties afterwards appear in solids and liquids. The glass’s particles are unstable, always moving.

Instead of states of matter, let us think in phases of matter, boundary lines that map the regions where matter is unstable and existing outside the binary three-phase matter.

On our planet, where almost every solid is heavier than liquid, ice is an exception. Water molecules dilate and move away from one another as they pass from liquid to frozen crystal – the opposite behaviour to most other materials.

Submerge

Imagine you are in a bath of water lie back, let the slippery membrane wrap around you.  Submerge below ground, beneath water, within data, behind screens.

Submerge

most of your body. Except, perhaps your head. 

You are a floating iceberg – only the tip of you is visible above the surface of the water.

Our bodies might appear as contained solid entities but flow with over 60% water: fluids permeate, secrete and leak outside of us. 

How might we be like glass, existing as solid forms in a state of flow, made from minerals with a complex mixture of phases of matter? 

You are soon to be part of the water that surrounds you. Your skin is porous, liquidity seeping in and around you. You are touching these oceanic waters and they are flowing into you. 

Feel the tides in your body

Recording the ice with a microphone and underwater with a hydrophone. Image credits: Hannah Rowan.

Sixty to ninety per cent of your bodily matter is composed of water.

Astrida Neimanis writes that:

Water is an entity, individualised as that relativity stable thing you call your body. But water has other logics, other patternings and means of buoying our earthly world, too.

I submerge my neoprene-clad body in the arctic summer water.  

In my hand I hold a tool, a hydrophone, an underwater microphone, through which I listen and then… I record.

I touch these sounds through this mediatory device, the sounds of loss.

Of ancient air bubbles once trapped and held in ice escaping and dispersing into the atmosphere.

Glaciers are flowing rivers of time, ice that is always moving. 

Inside the ice is frozen gas, recording exactly what the Earth’s atmosphere was like at the moment they became trapped and frozen. The codes of the past compressed and touched by ice. Glaciologists preserve Ice cores as hard-drives for planetary deep time. 

But can lived embodiment also be a way of knowing? 

The gestures of Glass blowing involve specialised makers, encoded knowledge within skills that are not like scientific knowledge. The sensory processes of shaping molten glass involve muscle memory and a form of embodied knowledge and knowing.

I try to reorientate my perception away from static object of study towards a deep engagement of the anatomy of ice.

Muddy glacier landscape. Image credit: Hannah Rowan.

Glaciers are formed by layers of compressed snow that accumulate over hundreds, even thousands of years.

The glaciers cover rock in ice and spreads like a shroud across the land.

Stone, hard lithic surfaces become lacerated like soft flesh under the churning pressure of glacial ice. 

These moving streams of time crack and crevasse as they stretch downwards.

Splitting and calving the ice fragments off the cliffs and buoys in the water below.

These fragments of frozen time are called icebergs. These Icebergs are a few melting sentences from a much larger melting library. 

They are Floating ephemeral archives of knowledge, of planetary deep time.  They are escaping ice memories. 

What other ways might there be to know this ice?

Touch them, feel them, remember them.

The iceberg breaks down into smaller and smaller pieces until finally they become brash ice: small fragments of ice in water. Floating because they contain air bubbles.

This is the last stage of the melting iceberg.

Anatomy of Ice, video still. Image credit: Hannah Rowan.

The degree of blueness in the ice indicates the strength of compression and density.

Blue is paradoxical: the colour of eternity, yet blue lips are the sign of approaching death.

Today, from space, the top of the world in the northern hemisphere looks blue instead of white.  There is an ocean where once there was an ice sheet.

Our computers freeze, inboxes flood, data flows, pixels fragment, memories become clouds and vaporise. 

Imagine an aquarium.

See the luminosity of the water, embedded behind a rectangular veneer, shrouded in darkness. 

See a membrane, where surface meets depth and transparency is a barrier. 

A frame that casts an image, on the surface grease smudges of fingerprints across the glass vignette, the traces of touch. 

Reach out to touch the cold glass, see the luminosity of the water, embedded behind a rectangular frame.

This frame casts an image, as the outside becomes a two-dimensional surface. 

Roland Barthes writes

The world plays at living behind a glass partition; the world is an aquarium: I see everything up close and yet cut off, made of some other substance.

The Aquarium is a glassed world, a container of fluidity, that we gaze into.

Enclosed life designed for voyeuristic observation, denying our tactility. 

The Aquarium is a surface of grease traces of smudged fingerprints, spread and smeared across the glass wall, the glass vignette, the glass screen, that azure glow of the liquid crystal display.

The cool blue glow ripples across skin, skin that forgot what the warmth of touch felt like. Do we inhabit this aquarium; a closed off world that is both nature and artifice, that is both water and screen?

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