Inside ‘Flow’

‘Mountain Aglow’ collects stories around Montserrat and the Soufrière Hills Volcano, and true to its theme, the walk-in exhibit is shaped like a volcano. But as we were working on it, we got feedback from the people of Montserrat that one crucial element of the volcano was missing: The spectacular incandescence of the lava dome that so many Montserratians remember from those early days of the eruption.

This got us thinking about how we could add a new dimension to the exhibit and make it actually glow. To tackle the challenge, we teamed up with Output Arts, a London-based arts collective, and together we developed a three metre tall LED column that can do so much more than just glow: ‘Flow’.

The first outing of Mountain Aglow and Flow at the Norwich Science Festival 2019. Credit: Jonathan Hogg. Location: Norwich. Date: 22/10/2019

A total of 2040 LEDs create the mesmerising light effects of FLOW. Credit: Jonathan Hogg

Placed in the centre of the ‘Mountain Aglow’ exhibit, the LED column is slightly higher than the top of the ‘volcano’. In its “glowing” mode, ‘Flow’ therefore shines red on top of the exhibit, recreating the incandescence of the lava dome. Separate LED strips on the outside flanks of the exhibit light up intermittently, resembling rockfalls and pyroclastic flows. And what’s more, FLOW also includes speakers that can play songs and interviews about the volcano.

Flow in its "glowing" mode. Location: Alliouagana Festival of the Word. Date: 16/11/2019

But the glowing dome simulation is just one of seven audio-visual modes included in ‘Flow’. For example, we added another mode to visualise how batches of hot magma rise up to the surface through the volcano conduit, thereby causing earthquakes and degassing. And as the magma slowly rises, the speakers play the (real) rumbling sounds of the volcano. Other modes showcase the eerie silence and anxiety of falling ash and pyroclastic flows, contrasted with songs and interviews about their impact on the island and its people.

In addition to the visualisation of volcanic behaviour, ‘Flow’ also looks at the lives of Montserratians before, during and after the eruption. Three different modes represent life on island before the eruption, address the strain and hardship of moving and living in shelters during the height of the crisis, and recount the recovery and reclaiming of the island after the eruption. Each of the modes is narrated through songs and interviews with Montserratians and features accompanying visuals.

By default, the seven modes of ‘Flow’ are run consecutively in a 15 minute sequence, but each mode can also be run individually. This video shows the default sequence:

You can see ‘Flow’ at the Montserrat National Trust in Salem, where it is exhibited together with Mountain Aglow. More information on the artwork, including some technical details, can be found here.