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Credit:
Matt Kenyon and Adam Fure

Project Team:
Michael Turvin
Ramon Hernandez
Olivia Kempf
Jaime Rivera
Shane Darwent

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The water is on fire.

In 1969 Time Magazine published an arresting image of the water of the Cuyahoga River engulfed in fames. The river, polluted from years of industrial waste, caught fire on a Sunday morning in June. However, this was not the first time the river burned. Over a dozen fires have been recorded on the Cuyahoga River, with the first dating back to 1868. The burning river photo Time Magazine published was not even from 1969; it was in fact a photo of the river burning 17 years earlier in 1952. The media attention in 1969 helped galvanize public support for a series of ambitious pollution control activities eventually resulting in the Clean Water Act and the establishment of the federal Environmental Protection Agency.

The image of a contemporary kitchen sink spouting forth flames has become synonymous with “Fracking” a method of horizontal drilling into shale formations known as hydraulic fracturing. Across America, residents have experienced a slew of chronic health problems that can be traced back to the contamination of their air, water wells, or surface water resulting from nearby oil and gas fracking.

“The flame,” gestures Dr. Cattaneo, “is the sound system’s loudspeaker.”

The same year as the Cuyahoga fire, Dr. A. G. Cattaneo, manager of United Technology’s Physical Sciences Laboratory, invented the flame speaker quite by accident while trying to duplicate in the lab the jet-flame exhaust of rocket motors. The flame speaker uses a specialized high-voltage electrical arc to distort a high-temperature plasma flame. The flame expands and contracts generating sound in much the same way as the surface of a traditional speaker.

A vintage kitchen sink is sunk vertically into the gallery wall. Instead of water, yellow and blue flames pour from the faucet initiating color shifts in an encrusted frame made from fused bits of discarded ceramics. As the flames spill out a faint voice can be heard. The source of the sound can be traced back to the flame—the flame itself is speaking.

Its voice is actually a shifting collection of media coverage and individual stories relating to fracking. Stories range from property owners debating the merits of allowing their land to be mined to truck drivers employed to haul the 2-8 million gallons of water needed to fracture a single well.
The flow of flame and personal narratives set within a thermochromic frame seeks to fuse the complexities of iconic imagery, exploitation, and domestic objects.