Saltwatch: Pleiades

Artist’s Statement

Saltwatch: Pleiades is a time-based installation by Elvira Finnigan.

It begins with the daily ritual of immersing objects in a bath of warm salt brine in seven ceramic bowls. The bowls recreate the form of the Pleiades constellation.

After immersion, the evaporation process is set into motion and determines the final outcome of the installation. The process is tracked by a web camera. Viewers see the progress of the installation over the Internet in real time.

As salt brine evaporates, it forms crystals of different sizes, always a perfect cube, marked with an X. These crystals create formations that encrust, obscure or are repelled by the objects they encounter.

Objects immersed in brine on the same day in the same location, create similar size crystals and similar patterns. When the process is delayed a day or two, the size of crystals and the patterns change. Temperature, humidity, air pressure – and maybe the pull of the moon affect the process.

Saltwatch grew out of photos seen in The New York Times during the aftermath of the 9/11 attacks. The images, beautiful and horrifying, were of people and objects covered by white ash. Race, age or the value of the objects under the film ash became indeterminate. I tried to replicate this effect and began a five-year exploration with salt brine evaporation. I joined a world of “salt users” that included ancient Egyptian embalmers, healers, cooks, cattle, and contemporary artists.

I am baffled by my own compulsion with this process. Within the predictability of the outcome – always a coating of salt crystals – I see transformed objects or unsettling images. They are metaphors for entropy, the passage of time, and the limitations of my all-too-human interventions.

Elvira Finnigan, February 2006