This work was motivated by a lifetime of curiosity about the inner workings of the earth and its peculiar significance to us human beings…. I redesigned and built a simple sensing device for the sole artistic purpose of recording the minute pulsations and tremors of our planet, and the tidal motions in the earth’s crust caused by the sun and the moon and, for that matter, by the living and interacting beholder. (2)
- Juan Geuer
Al Asnaam: The People Participating Seismometer (1) (1980) epitomizes Geuer’s belief that the closer we can come to understanding the physics of our environment, the more we will appreciate our responsibility to it. The work consists of a horizontal pendulum that is calibrated to react to seismic activity in the bedrock. A laser beam projection directed at the wall responds to any and all motion in the space, creating brilliant swaths of red light. The addition of audience participation, through movement, is integral to the experience of Al Asnaam and reinforces the connectivity of humans to each other and to the ecosystems they inhabit and impact.
The interactivity of Al Asnaam serves an important function. It demonstrates our need to trust that, as inhabitants of what is quickly
becoming an increasingly fragile planet, we need to attend to what we cannot see. Juan Geuer sought truth, not only with respect to science, but also with respect to our interconnectedness as people sharing a common environment.
Juan Geuer (1917 - 2009) was an Ottawa artist who fearlessly explored the intersection of art, science and technology—and ultimately our impact on the planet. Born into a Dutch family of artists, he left Holland just before the beginning of the Second World War, and immigrated with his family to Bolivia. He came to Canada in 1954, and from the late 1950s through the 1970s, worked as a draughtsman at the Dominion Observatory of the National Research Council in Ottawa. Having worked in glass, painting on canvas, and murals from the 1940s onwards, by the 1960s, Geuer began seeking alternatives that would better reflect the creativity he found
in everyday life. He turned to producing more conceptual work in the early 1970s, looking to bridge art and science. Some of his work incorporates pieces of scientific apparatus, whereas other pieces analyze or incorporate natural phenomena. Geuer remains a Canadian pioneer in international new media art and science-based artistic investigations.
Installation: Helium neon laser, aluminium structure, fine adjustment mechanism and horizontal pendulums, aluminium (base), Plexiglas (box), aluminized Plexiglas (reflector)
Collection of the Ottawa Art Gallery. Purchased with the support of the Canada Council for the Arts Acquisition Assistance program, Glen A. Bloom, the Walter & Duncan Gordon Foundation and OAG’s Art Rental and Sales Service, 1998
On view as part of SAW’s 50th anniversary exhibition Shows of Solidarity: 50 Years of Video and Performance at SAW (May 5 – June 24, 2023), Curated by Stefan St-Laurent: https://saw-centre.com/programming/shows-of-solidarity-50-years-of-video-and-performance-at-saw.
1. Titled after a 1980 earthquake in El Asnam, Algeria.
2. Juan Geuer, Al Asnaam: A People Participating Seismometer (Ottawa, ON: Ottawa Art Gallery, 2001), n.p