Groundswell, Rundle Mall, Tarntanya (Adelaide)
Adelaide Festival
Reflecting on our out of kilter world

When it feels as though the world is turning on its axis, it seems serendipitous in timing for the public art installation Groundswell, located in Rundle Mall during this year’s Adelaide Festival.

It is the third of Adelaide Festival’s interactive public art works in the mall, following on from Tatzu Nishi’s A Doll’s House and Robin Frohardt’s The Plastic Bag Store.

Created by Melbourne artist Matthias Schack-Arnott, it is a beautiful auditory sculptural and interactive experience that prompts a mediation on our relationship with the earth and one another.

The rocking and rolling of the platform with its auditory vibrations does indeed makes one feel very unsteady while the 50,000 steel balls that roll underneath its clear surface and the accompanying atmospheric music provides a juxtaposition that reflects the anxiety one feels when things feel out of kilter.

While the world starts to emerge out of the pandemic, crisis is still around. The threat of climate change remains very real and with the Adelaide Festival now occurring against the backdrop of the Russian invasion of Ukraine and the east coast floods, it seems this work provides you with permission to acknowledge just how wobbly the world is.

“With the low frequency waves of vibration I wanted to create a sense of flux”

Matthias Schack-Arnott

Following its premiere during the 2021 Sydney Festival, this Adelaide Festival season is only its second outing, a planned installation for the 2021 Melbourne Fringe cancelled due to the Victorian Delta outbreak.

While the work has been out in public against the backdrop of COVID, Groundswell is not a pandemic work.

“I actually started working on the piece about a year before the pandemic and the conceptualisation had well and truly already been done when COVID struck,” said Schack-Arnold.

“However it is a work influenced by crisis, in particular the climate crisis. I was wanting to reflect on our collective responsibility and decision making, to provide a sense on the impact that each of us have on the spaces we inhabit. Of course what was really interesting was that we ended up totally aligning with the pandemic. We have now all found ourselves in situations where our choices have repercussions on each other in so many different ways.”

Schack-Arnott said one of the best things about the Groundswell experience was how multiplicious the responses has been to the work.

“People draw the own individual conclusions about the meaning of the work. Because it is a physical experience it provides for a different kind of thinking – when you engage with the work you think through your body. The work therefore speaks to people in vastly different ways which I like. I was a bit nervous coming to Adelaide as the Sydney run had been impacted by COVID so this was the first time it really was being experienced to its full potential.”

Groundswell is a family friendly experience. For all its intentions as a reflective piece on crisis, there is a lightness to the work with the giggling joy of children running around the platform clearly enjoying the roller coaster ride. Their exuberance very much adding to the soundscape, providing a reminder that while things might be topsy turvy, we can still find silver linings or rays of hope.

“It’s been nice to see how positive the reaction from children has been,” Schack-Arnott said. “I wanted to make it a very engaging interactive experience even for two year olds – that was my aim – however I didn’t undertake much testing with kids on it beforehand so I was quite nervous when we first installed it.”

“However to see how consistently kids have reacted to it has been great. They seem to love it and respond to it in different ways, particularly physically. They are also prepared to engage with it differently either by lying on their back, putting their ears to the surface or just rolling across it.”

For Schack-Arnott, simplicity was key in its design. The work is based on an ocean drum (a small drum with ball bearing inside and used by musicians to create wave like sounds). As a percussionist and improviser its natural for him that the experience of visceral sound is at the heart of the work.

“With the low frequency waves of vibration I wanted to create a sense of flux,” he said.

Migratory patterns, climate crisis or even COVID, all these things exist in a state of flux. Nothing is permanent. I wanted to capture this sense that even when we think things are in our control, they’re probably just on the edge of chaos. And there’s a beauty to that.”

– Fontella Koleff

Groundswell, Adelaide Festival
Gawler Place, Rundle Mall, Tarntanya (Adelaide)
Runs until Sunday, 20 March
Monday*-Thursday:10am-5pm
Friday: 10am-9pm
Saturday: 10am-5pm
Sunday: 11am - 5pm
**except public holiday Monday, 14 March: 11am-5pm

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