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Finnbogi Petursson's 'Second/Second' addresses the connection of water, sound, frequency

| Wednesday, Oct. 22, 2014, 9:13 p.m.
Sidney Davis | Trib Total Media
“Tesla Tune” by artist Finnbogi Petursson at Wood Street Galleries on Saturday Oct. 18, 2014.
Sidney Davis | Trib Total Media
“Infra – Supra” by artist Finnbogi Petursson at Wood Street Galleries on Saturday Oct. 18, 2014.

Icelandic artist Finnbogi Petursson takes delight in blurring the lines between artistic mediums.

“Second/Second” is his first solo exhibit in this country, on display at Wood Street Galleries, Downtown.

Born in 1959 in Reykjavik, Petursson is best known for his electronic works that fuse sculpture, sound and architecture to produce immersive, multisensory installations.

As sparse as the Icelandic landscape, the show is made up of only two installation pieces — “Infra/Supra” and “TeslaTune.”

Therein lies the point, says Murray Horne, the show's curator: “His work evokes the natural landscape of Iceland with a sense of reverence and humility to nature's beauty and destructive power.”

That's certainly true of “Infra/Supra,” which is deliriously simple in theory, being made up of three speakers arranged equidistant and just above the surface of a large, low pool of water.

Lit by spotlights from above, so as to cast reflections on a gallery wall behind, it brings to mind the serene surface of a natural pond, violently hit by a stone, to which the resultant ripple effect is a palpable witness.

Since 1990, Petursson has worked with water in several of his installations. But, as before, sound is his primary medium of choice. The speakers emit sequences of single tones that create what Petursson likes to call “drawings” over the surface of the water, by forming consistent ripples or waves that emulate the invisible sound waves emanating from the speakers.

“I'm using low frequencies in these installations that are more or less based on a certain state of mind when the brainwaves reach the border between the two worlds we live in — the one we are in during awake periods and the one we enter in our dreams,” Petursson says.

“Our brain activity goes from 12 Hz when resting our head on the pillow and slows down to 1 Hz for a total reset,” Petursson explains. “I use 3 Hz in ‘Infra/Supra,' the frequency when the brain is in its most creative state. These frequencies are way below the audible range, so I use higher frequencies to create interference waves — 40 Hz and 43 Hz create, for instance, 3 Hz interference vibration, which you can hear in the piece.”

As for the drawing aspect, Petursson says in this installation, it's rather a straightforward conclusion.

“I'm working with variations of lines, straight-line, in fact — the most straight line you can think of, thanks to water and Mr. Isaac Newton, and negative/positive sinus lines vibrating below and above the zero line creating light and shadow pattern on the wall with the help from spotlights on the opposite wall.”

The other installation piece, “TeslaTune,” is a homage to Nikola Tesla (1856-1943) whom Petursson, as well as many others, calls “the father of AC current.”

First exhibited in Cologne, Germany, in 2005, Petursson has adapted this version to the Wood Street Galleries space, almost entirely filling one gallery.

“The first version was a European-version 50 Hz,” Petursson says. “The one I have made for the Wood Street Galleries is an American-version 60 Hz. The 60 Hz frequency/tone is the most common sound in modern society, since it lies in the background in our homes, as well at work as a rumble from transformers inside all electric equipment surrounding us when awake and in our sleep.”

Petursson created the sound element of the piece by running the frequency through a programmer, which divides it into eight pipes, which are cut into various lengths and suspended about four feet above the floor.

“Before the frequency reaches the pipes, it goes through a slow-frequency filter so the various length of pipes respond to low or high frequency, bounces into a curved wall and appears to you as constant various AC drawings, depending where you stand in the room,” he says.

The effect is rather numbing, to say the least, in which such simplified sounds contribute to a meditative quality, alluding, again, to the influence of the artist's native Icelandic landscape.

Perhaps, as Horne puts it, it's something more: “Petursson returns us to our childhood fascination with water and sound. Materials that produce a sense of contemplative wonderment of their process and simple complexity.”

Kurt Shaw is the art critic for Trib Total Media. He can be reached at

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