Edinburgh Art Festival 2014 interview: Yann Seznec on his fan-based work, Currents

This article is from 2014


'I had to call it the Yann Seznec Fan Club, because I’m basically a giant dork’

Yann Seznec has installed 172 computer fans inside a police box on Easter Road and is inviting audiences to step inside. Claire Sawers takes a look

‘At its most basic, sound – whether it’s someone making music, or the act of speaking – is basically the physical movement of air. What we hear, is the motion of air molecules.’

To explain his latest project, Currents, Edinburgh-based sound artist Yann Seznec is rewinding to the first spark of an idea, which triggered a thought process, which led to an art installation and live performance, commissioned as part of Edinburgh Art Festival. He’s fascinated by the invisible forces behind the noises we react to, but particularly the noises that we are oblivious to; because we’ve trained our ears not to hear them anymore.

Computer fans, for example. There might be one within earshot right now. But it’s unlikely your ears are registering it, says Seznec. ‘Like the buzz from the fridge, we’re bombarded by these constant low frequencies around us, but we’ve developed the ability to block them out – so we don’t go insane.’

Seznec got hold of some discarded computer fans – 172 to be precise – from a UK computer recycling charity, and has installed them in a police box on Easter Road. They’re wired up to a computer which gets weather updates every ten seconds from six stations around the world – the often wind-slapped cities of Cape Town, Wellington and St Johns, Newfoundland, as well as Delhi – where the earliest report of a mechanical fan is believed to come from – plus one each in Thailand and China, as close as Seznec could get to the factories where the computer parts were originally manufactured. ‘Even a fan has interesting historical, political connotations. Colonisers who weren’t used to the heat got servants to fan them. I liked the idea that an Indian man invented a mechanical one.’

Seznec’s work is then presented as a walk-in installation, where three people at a time can allow mechanical winds to caress or pummel their faces (depending on what the winds are up to at that time in Delhi, Cape Town etc, Seznec has programmed the fans to react accordingly, turning on the requisite amount to produce a similar blast of air). The installation works in ten second bursts, as the fans need time to cool down in such a confined space.

Besides creating a sonic, sensory experience; maybe a sybarite frisson on a muggy Edinburgh day, or a fleeting sense of the giant, meteorological forces buffeting the globe in real time, it’s typical of Seznec to focus on the technology we are surrounded by, and how it colours and manipulates our environment. His work is often concerned with electronics; he’s a frequent collaborator with experimental musician Matthew Herbert and has created a mechanical, playable pigsty (for One Pig) and virtual piano (for Twenty Pianos) in the past for him. For the performance element of Currents, Seznec’s created his own miniature orchestra, from computer fans and mics. ‘It creates these wonderful clicky clicky sounds, and amazing dry, percussive sounds. And I had to call it the Yann Seznec Fan Club, because I’m basically a giant dork.’

Currents installation, Easter Road (corner of Albion Road), until 31 Aug, 10am–6pm, free; artist talk, Out of the Blue Drill Hall, 26 Aug, 6.30pm, free but ticketed; performance, Trinity Apse, 31 Aug, 6pm, free but ticketed.

Yann Seznec: Currents

New composition exploring ideas of distance, data, modern convenience and memory, created from hundreds of fans controlled by real-time weather data.