During November 1995 while driving a taxi on the streets of Sydney, listening to the radio was among other distractions, a common activity to pass the drudgerey of a shift. The actual date is now unclear to me, and was not documented, but while listening to ABC 2BL Radio (702am), my attention was taken by the then director of The Earth Exchange Museum. The museum was located in the Rocks, Sydney and had been a financial disaster and was closing down with the existing exhibits being re-located to other museums around the country. The director was describing the various exhibits at the museum which had not at that time found a home. An earthquake simulator was one of these such exhibits, my ears pricked up and a mental note was made.
I phoned the museum and made a general enquiry about the simulator, requesting the possibility of a visit and an inpection of the machine. Visiting the musuem I was taken by the share size of the simulator and the fact that all this hardware consisting of a high delivery air compressor, hydraulic powerpack, hydraulic actuators and solenoids, programmable logic controller built into an almost five ton structure suspended on the second floor of the building located in Hickson Road, The Rocks.
In many ways I was in awe, "All this stuff up for grabs", and no one wants it! The catch, logistically it would be difficult to remove, suspended on the second floor on four vertical steel columns and the fact that to remove the machine it had to be cut into sections to get out. Having only recently been be-friended by Ben Blakebrough in setting up a workshop in Leichhardt, and now with space available to locate it, the decision was made to offer the museum a tender for removal. My offer was to remove the simulator at no cost and that the simulator would over time be re-commissioned and in some way in the future be used in some kind of "artistic"presentation. The submission for removal was approved two days later
Absurd basically, the simulator was completed in 1991 and cost the NSW taxpayer approximately $750,000 and I was getting it for nicks. The original simulator design for the musuem was for a completely pnuematic system which a Sydney based company, Latitudes did the design work for. This pnuematic system was a failure in that it did not generate enough movement quickly enough throughout the platform. Consulting engineers Gardener Willis and Associates then modified the design of a pnuematic system to run almost exclusively by hydraulic actuation. Tysci Industries became involved in completing the work in implementing the hydraulics for the simulator.
I spent as much time as possible at the museum during February and March of 1996, familiarising myself with the device, tagging the unit and planning how I would remove it. Systematically I slowly stripped it down, removing the rubber floor covering, lifting the floor pieces out, removing hydraulics then marking up how it would be cut out of the structual support structure. I had to hire a crane to lift out the hydraulic powerpack and air compressor, unfortunately I had to sell the compressor to subsidise costs and that was an action I have regretted many time since, letting go a 10 Bar, high delivery compressor for next to nothing.
The last thing out was the structural frame of the simulator itself. I had at the time never used an oxy torch let alone much welding, I marked it out and Ben cut it up. Borrowing block and tackles it was swung out of the floor cavity over a couple of days without injury. The simulator was cut up into sixteen pieces, squeezed into the lift and craned onto a five tonne truck then dumped in the yard in Leichhardt. This was now April 1996. There it stayed for most of the next two years. The hydraulics and programmable logic controller were stored in the workshop and somehow avoided being pilfered.
With no engineering skills I set about planning how I would go about using all this hardware and whether I would recommission the device or use it for engineering something completely different. The argument was fairly straight forward in that I had aquired this unique machine which at the time of removal was a going concern and the most likely outcome was to use it as a tool for the development and learning of skills that in most cases would be very difficult to have access to otherwise. So the decision was made to return the simulator to its original state of operation with the new design being a modular configuration enabling the simulator to be moved and installed in various possible future locations.
What exactly and how this machine would be used in an installation / performance context has since the removal of the machine remained a secondary concern. The primary focus of the whole project has been to concentrate towards the whole project being a learning and research tool enabling for a solid base for future works and collaborations that attempt to re-direct the tools, techniques, and tenets of science and industry away from their typical manifestations in practicality or production.
Recomissioning of the earthquake simulator finally began around April 1998, a small development grant was received from the Australia Council For The Arts and subsequently followed up in 1999 with a "Scientific Serendipity Research Grant" from the Australian Network For Art And Technology (ANAT). Culminating in close to 3000hrs to recommission the simulator, work was finally completed in March 2000.
Systematically the following research, design and fabrication
work was undertaken;
* Redesign of 3-Phase start up unit for the hydraulic powerpack
* Laying out a working model to test all hydraulic rams and solenoid valve actuators
* Reconfigure Festo Programmable Logic Controllers (PLC) and eliminate existing hardware problems
* Learn to operate Festo Software Tools (FST) operating system
* Redesign driver board unit, eliminating malfunctional relays communicating to solenoid valves
* Design for a new modular structural sub frame and a modified top frame.
* Actual engineering fabrication of the design has been implemented and realised
From the outset in taking on such a large work I believed that eventually the conceptual concerns of the project will explore notions of presence and absence in researching the future possibility of remote automation using minimal bandwidth data transmission, and widely available, low cost components enabling for the surveillance and remote operation of the earthquake simulator in a performance/installation context.
Currently my work with the simulator is concentrated towards the research, design and implementation of a real-time embedded control system, enabling the earthquake simulator to interpret and conceptually output the variable effects of globally monitored earthquakes by means of real-time, remote data transmission. This research has been supported by the Australia Council For The Arts, New Media Board and I am hopeful to achieve real-time results by mid 2001. For detailed information see "Seismonitor Project".
D V Rogers