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Making Waves in the Arctic Circle

Art Professor Brittany Ransom awarded Arctic Circle residency

Rough conceptualization of installation building over time. The scale of this is changeable but is intended to be the size of a 20ft x 20ft space.

Brittany Ransom, assistant professor of digital/hybrid media and art, is one of 10 people from around the globe accepted for The Arctic Circle residency program in the summer of 2014.

The residency brings together international artists, scientists, architects and educators who ultimately explore remote destinations aboard a sailing vessel traveling around Svalbard, a mountainous Arctic archipelago located 10 degrees from the North Pole. The expedition provides the opportunity for artists and innovators to pursue their personal projects while exploring collaborations with fellow participants. Their ice-class ship, a traditionally rigged three-masted Barquentine, is equipped with workspace, common areas and ample room for privacy and creativity.

Ransom will be part of the two-and-a-half-week Summer Solstice Expedition in late June and early July of next year.

The work she will be doing on the trip builds on her artistic focus, which probes the lines between human, animal and environmental relations through emergent technologies, particularly social media. Over the past year she has explored the notion of “pest” as it applies to both insects and humans. Several projects have looked at the similarities of termites and humans; to Ransom, the termites’ use of pheromones and vibrations to build their networked societies parallels humans’ use of social networking. Another project, “Tweet Roach,” allows humans to use Twitter to control the movements of a cockroach outfitted with a special electronic backpack. For her Arctic Circle project, Ransom hopes to further explore how the human “pest” sculpts the earth physically, socially and rhythmically through social networking and Twitter, comparing it to how waves sculpt the coasts.

Expedition project: mapping wave trends and Twitter trends

“I am currently creating an interactive installation that over time builds physical, topographical wave-like forms using sand,” she says. As top trending hashtags and phrases are tweeted collectively throughout the world, the tweets will be parsed using custom computer code. As trends begin to form, the information will be sent to tubes attached to the ceiling that are filled with blue sand. When specific popular topics are tweeted, sand will be released from the tube that is associated with that topic and the sand will drop to a platform below. The waves of sand will begin to build, becoming a literal topography of the collective social networked mind via Twitter data. The topography of blue sand will yield a literal representation of trending over time.

Ransom hopes to compare the Twitter-created sand waves to the changes caused by actual ocean waves. She plans to survey wave data and collect audio recordings of the water on the expedition. “The waves created by Twitter will ultimately exist as an always-growing and shifting topography of the collective social mind that connects us all as ‘pests,’” says Ransom. “It has a metaphorical reference to the way the ocean also physically connects us all.”

Ransom is elated by the chance to join an Arctic Circle expedition. “I feel very honored and excited to be chosen for such a unique research opportunity, as this is something I’ve aspired to participate in for years,” she says. “I’m thrilled to have the opportunity to work with international researchers in a natural environment that will yield an unparalleled experience and research results.”

For more information about Ransom’s work, visit, or read more in ART Ukraine

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