LANDSLIDE (resilience in instable times)

By Tiny Domingos

Tiny Domingos Landslide model sails
Draft for “THE PRICE OF VOLATILITY”, A long boat sail banner fixed to a cable structure to recreate a 3D chart representing the 10 years evolution of maturity bonds of PORTUGAL, SPAIN and ITALY. Boat sail and metallic/cable structure, 4 x 26 x 3 m. Tiny Domingos 2019


A landslide is the gravitational movement of a mass of rock, earth or debris down a slope. Landslides are usually classified on the basis of the material involved (rock, debris, earth, mud) and the type of movement (fall, topple, avalanche, slide, flow, spread). Thus, the generic term landslide also refers to mass movements such as rock falls, mudslides and debris flows. Volcanic mudflows and debris flows are also called lahars. (,,,)

JOINT RESEARCH CENTRE
European Soil Data Centre (ESDAC)

 

LANDSLIDE : /ˈlan(d)slʌɪd/ noun

1.
a collapse of a mass of earth or rock from a mountain or cliff.

synonymes: landslip, rockfall, mudslide, earthslip, earthfall; avalanche

"the road was blocked by a landslide"
"floods and landslides killed several hundred people"

2. an overwhelming majority of votes for one party or candidate in an election.

synonymes: decisive victory, runaway victory, overwhelming majority, grand slam, triumph, walkover, game, set, and match

"they won by a landslide"
"the 1906 election produced a Liberal landslide"

Oxford dictionary

 

panta rhei: Greek quotation attributed to Heracleitus
Definition of panta rhei: all things are in flux

Merian-Webster dictionary

 

"Qual è quella ruina che nel fianco
di qua da Trento l’Adice percosse,
o per tremoto o per sostegno manco,

che da cima del monte, onde si mosse,
al piano è sì la roccia discoscesa,
ch’alcuna via darebbe a chi sù fosse: (...)"

"Just like the toppled mass of rock that struck
—because of earthquake or eroded props—
the Adige on its flank, this side of Trent,

where from the mountain top from which it thrust
down to the plain, the rock is shattered so
that it permits a path for those above: (...)"

THE DIVINE COMEDY BY DANTE ALIGHIERI, 1320
CANTO 12, Inferno (4-12)
English translation by Mandelbaum

 

"cerco un centro
di gravita’ permanente
che non mi faccia
mai cambiare idea
sulle cose
sulla gente"

"I'm looking for a center
of permanent gravity
that doesn't make me
never change your mind
about things
about people

in "centro di gravità permanente" by FRANCO BATTIATO, Lyrics by FRANCO BATTIATO and GIUSTO PIO

 

„Zurzeit gerät etwas ins Wanken“

"Something is shaking at the moment"

ANGELA MERKEL in the Bundestag, 04.07.2018

 

I. Background

The SciArt project Landslide combines contemporary art, econometrics and geomatics. It is based on a metaphorical analogy between the risks of natural disasters and the increased instability of the current international socio-economic and political system, marked among others by the climate crisis, international humanitarian, economic and financial crises, the rise of populism, nationalism and authoritarian regimes. Like in a landslide or an earthquake, the very base of liberal democracies seems to be wavering.

"The sound of a system that will collapse"

The word “collapsology” is a neologism (...) composed of the word “collapse”, from the Latin collapse, “which fell in one single block” (originally from the verb to collapse in English, “to fall, collapse, collapse “) and the suffix” -logy “, forming the name of a science, of the scientific study of a subject.

https://www.archeos.eu/collapsologie/

Signs of time: prophecies of "imminent system rupture", catastrophic theories and works of fiction are multiplying. In 2015, Pablo Servigne and Raphaël Stevens published the book Petit manuel de collapsologie à l'usage des générations présentes, with the intention of "addressing the big issues of the current situation" that the best seller Collapse: How Societies Choose to Fail or Succeed (2005) by Jared Diamond would have left out. In their handbook, the authors define colapsology as follows: "Transdisciplinary exercise to study the collapse of industrial civilisation and what could succeed it, based on reason, intuition and recognised scientific work". Several voices have risen, questioning the scientific legitimacy of colapsology. Critics point out the "fatalistic resignation", the use of a "scientific patchwork" that drags the reader "on the slippery slope of catastrophism". However this petit manuel has turned into a striking editorial phenomenon in the francophone countries, having definitely contributed to establish the term colapsology in public discourse.
As for the field of apocalyptic fiction, Jean-Paul Engelibert stresses in "Fabuler la fin du monde : la puissance critique des fictions d'apocalypse" the fact that these works are very revealing of our times. The completion of the disaster (from Italian disastro, dis-astro: bad star) can have a liberating effect by pulling us out of contemporary passivity in the face of the anthroposcene era and by opening the doors to utopia.

II. Rocks in the surf

In all the current turmoil, the EU continues to guarantee peace and stability for its citizens and to stand for its democratic values. Its combined Member States rank first as world economic power and international aid donor. Meanwhile at the Joint Research Center of the European Commission, thousands of scientists continue their research in the concentrated atmosphere of their laboratories and offices. The list of the scientific areas developed in this science hub is broad. Many benefits for practical life in Europe are indebted to the work developed there. For example, food safety, Valentina Paracchini's special research area. Her task is to develop DNA control standards to ensure food security standards, combating increasingly sophisticated fraud in the food sector. Her special focus: olive oil, fish, wine grape and wheat, the very basis of the Mediterranean diet, which became the very symbol for health & life longevity bringing together values and traditions above religious, linguistic and national frontiers on both sides of the Mediterranean.
 

III. Lisbon Earthquake

Having studied in Lisbon, I am naturally aware of the issue of seismic and tsunami hazards. The 1755 earthquake, considered the first major disaster of modern times, hit the city centre and the entire surrounding coastline. It inspired authors such as Voltaire, Immanuel Kant, Wolfgang Goethe, Walter Benjamin, or Theodor W. Adorno. In 1807, the German writer Heinrich von Kleist published his famous novel: "Earthquake in Chile" in which a great earthquake totally changes the fate of its protagonists.

Because of its particular geographical situation close to the fault in which the Euro-Asian and African plates find themselves, the hypothesis of a new and disastrous earthquake is suspended, such a sword of Damocles on the majority of the Lisboners. In the meantime at the European Laboratory for Structural Assessment (E.L.S.A.), within the Joint Research Centre in Ispra, earthquake-resistance tests are carried out on a large metal structure that represents a multi-story building - the largest of its kind in Europe - earthquake-resistance tests are carried out on a large metal structure on a scale close to a multi-story building. As in the case of the reconstruction of Lisbon, one of the great challenges is to achieve a more resistant static to earthquakes and other disasters (for example terrorist attacks and bombings) in today's buildings. The conclusions that these experiences allow, captivate by their simplicity and efficiency. The know-how of E.L.S.A. has been directly used in the many works of art and infrastructures that are built every year throughout the European continent.

Seismology was therefore one of the possible starting points for this project. The term "Landslide" - which was mentioned several times during scientific presentations of the 2018 Resonances Summer School and which is part of the designation of a JRC working group dedicated to the prevention of earthquakes, tsunamis, landslides and floods - aroused my curiosity. The word was indeed suggestive because of its polysemy. I often work based on words and concepts. I knew I had an inspiring and multipurpose term here. I wrote a first proposal in which two opposing time lines intersected: the millenary time of Mediterranean culture, resilience based on science and technology and the immediate time of natural disasters. The inspiration behind it was the curiosity to know and make known how theoretical and mathematical science and geotechnics can deal with a natural phenomenon so destructive and difficult to predict and contain as the landslides with their multiple forms: mudslide, rockfall, debris and earth flow. The project was approved and I started to dialogue directly with Francesco Mugnai, coordinator of the SciArt projects of the JRC and graduated in Geotechnical Engineering, specialised in Geomatics that became the partner scientist of the Landslide work.

 

IV. Italy: land of landslides

LANDSLIDE : “the movement of a mass of rock, earth or debris down a slope”

Cruden, D. M. (1991).
A simple definition of a landslide. Bulletin of the International Association of Engineering Geology, 43 (1), 27–29.

Land of historic earthquakes such as the Calabrian earthquakes of 1783 and famous volcanoes such as Stromboli, Vesuvio, Etna and the lesser known but no less relevant Phlegraen Fields, Italy is also the European country where the risk of landslides is highest. This is the most frequent natural disaster in the country and the second most deadly after earthquakes. There are about one million people who could potentially be affected by this phenomenon.
Landslides have been known and feared by public opinion for centuries in Italy. There is indeed a long history of this phenomenon that has been mentioned in various historical documents and
in several artworks. The great Italian poet Dante Alighieri already mentions this natural phenomenon in his 'Comedia Dell'Arte' (see first above) in 1320. The list of large landslides is long and includes the deadliest of these hazards in Europe: in 1963, the Vajont landslide killed 2000 people but these phenomena of large and enormous proportions are rare when compared to small landslides that often come to threaten buildings and infrastructure, damage and even cut road or rail access routes. The physical impact of landslides has a considerable economic impact. Martin Klose identifies Italy (US$3.9 billion) and Japan (>US$3.0 billion) among those countries that experience the worst economic impact of landslides worldwide. With 0.19% loss percentage of GDP, Italy should be at the top of the world in terms of impact in proportion to its economic performance.
The causes and triggers of landslides are: intense or prolonged rainfall, earthquake shaking, volcanic eruptions, rapid snow melt, slope undercutting by rivers or sea waves, permafrost thawing and anthropic activities "such as slope excavation and loading (e.g. road and buildings construction, open-pit mining and quarrying), land use changes (e.g. deforestation), rapid reservoir drawdown, irrigation, blasting vibrations, water leakage from utilities, etc, or by any combination of natural and/or man-induced processes."  The Istituto Superiore per la Protezione e la Ricerca Ambientale (The National Institute for Protection and Environmental Research) in Rome  points out "a significant increase in the human pressure on the country since the Second World War with the expansion of urban areas and road and rail infrastructures, often in unstable areas. (...) and concludes that "In this context, landslide phenomena have become a major problem with regard to the safety of the population and damage to residential areas, infrastructures, service networks, and environmental and cultural heritage."

Domingos Landslide Sails Model
Draft for “THE PRICE OF VOLATILITY”, A long boat sail banner is fixed to a series of flagstaffs to recreate a 3D graphic representing the 10 years evolution of maturity bonds of PORTUGAL, SPAIN and ITALY. Boat sail and metallic/cable structure, 4 x 26 x 3 m. Tiny Domingos 2019


The Vajont disaster was caused by human activities linked to a new hydroelectric dam. It is precisely the fact that human activity can be one of the triggering factors that differentiates this phenomenon from other geo-hazards.

Another unique feature of landslides is their large diversity of sizes, velocities, and lifetime. Its speed goes from slow (mm/year) to extremely fast (m/s). The variety of terrain typology in which landslides occur in mountainous and flat terrains and their sometimes indirect relationship with other geomorphological and anthropic factors are elements that contribute to the great complexity of this phenomenon that requires a global approach, involving various disciplines and sources for its understanding. An interdisciplinary perspective that fits very well in the SciArt perspetive followed since the beginning of this project.

Tiny Domingos Landslide sails
Design for “THE PRICE OF VOLATILITY”. The banners in the middle are the final version for the outdoor sculpture. The material is a light boat sail. Each banner: 50 x 2800 cm. Concept and editing, Tiny Domingos 2019

 

Domingos Sculpture structure Landslide
Structure for “THE PRICE OF VOLATILITY”, Gerlando Errore, 2019


Introduction to Earth Sciences

During my stay at the JRC, I was able to focus on the various types of landslides, the issue of monitoring and mitigation as well as the great challenges of geotechnics and geomatics. I learned about some in situ field studies and the sophisticated technology used - among others: hyperspectral sensors, electromagnetic waves, 3D modelling, sensors processed by interferometry techniques, satellite radar data, laser beams, thermal images, inclinometers with which these scientists study and measure the landslides evolution. Equally interesting in terms of relation between theory and practice: the use of mathematical formulas to develop landslide susceptibility models.
 

Occurrences of landslides

Discussions with Francesco Mugnai were intense and focused on a number of specific cases: Canossa, with a history of landslide occurrences from at least the 14th century to the present day, the quick landslide of Montaguto that was reactivated in 2010 - due to the occurrence of rain - with the interruption of a railway line. Volterra, one of the most important Etruscan settlement and medieval city affected by landslide and soil erosion; the villages of Calitri, San Mango sul Calore and Conza della Campania severely touched by the 1980 earthquake that caused landslides, with the village of Conza being completely rebuilt 4 km from its original location. Also addressed: the San Leo rockfall, the erosion landslide of Orvieto, Pitigliano and the case study Civita di Bagnoregio. In 2010, a landslide forced the displacement of 1500 inhabitants of San Fratello, Sicily, a place that had already been devastated by this phenomenon in 1754 and 1922. Craco, in the province of Matera, was the target of several landslides between 1959 and 1972 that almost completely destroyed the city. Following an earthquake, the historic centre was abandoned in 1980. On May 4th - 5th , 1998, 150 landslide movements succeeding in 10 hours and spread over 75 km2 devastated large areas of the city of Sarno (near Naples) as well as the neighbouring towns of Quindici, Siano und Bracigliano, leading to the death of 161 people. This event has had a great media echo due to its alarming proportions.

Risk management and civil protection

Taking into account the events and impacts mentioned above, it is clear that landslides represent a major challenge in terms of risk management, civil protection policy, urban planning, relocation and reconstruction, stabilisation and revitalisation. All areas where considerable efforts are made in Italy (and which also include ambitious restoration programmes for artworks damaged by natural disasters) and where there is a great deal of technical and scientific know-how. Nicola Casagli, Professor of Applied Geology at the Department of Earth Sciences of the University of Florence, currently head of the Department of Civil Protection's centre of competence at the University of Florence, member of the Major Risks National Committee, Founder and Chair Associate of the UNESCO Chair on the Prevention and Sustainable Management of Geo-Hydrological Hazards, University of Florence and Claudio Margottini, Scientific and Technological Attaché at the Embassy of Italy in Egypt and Professor at the UNESCO Chair in the University of Florence are good examples. Both are authors of many hundreds of publications and books about landslides. In February 2019, I had a conversation with these 2 experts, of which I retained two important points: Nicola Casagli advocates the establishment of a European landslide regulation, like the one already existing in Italy, and Claudio Margottini underlined the importance of the relationship between landslide and cultural heritage as well as the positive aspect that landslides can also represent. In fact, the transformation of a given area by landslides can make new uses possible, for example, by allowing agricultural projects in areas resulting from landslides. This phenomenon therefore cannot be reduced to a negative factor. In a more recent conversation, Mr. Margottini mentioned the relationship between geology and art (especially in Leonardo's works) and the largest Landslide database in Europe located at ISPRA, Rome. He also referred to his reflections in order to create a new scientific discipline: "cultural geology" that would combine engineering, conservation of cultural heritage, sustainability and the social reality of local populations. In other words: how to preserve cultural heritage with simple, ecological and economic resources that can also help the local populations. It is interesting to note the humanist dimension of this new discipline, which recalls the interpenetration of art and science in the Renaissance.

Landslides and cultural heritage

The landslides are a threat to cultural heritage, whose density and quality contribute to Italy's international fame and which attracted 58 million foreign tourists in 2018 according to the World Tourism Organisation. In contrast to Spain, which receives even more people (82 million), but has more concentrated tourism on its beaches and islands, tourism is spread throughout Italy. Outside the great magnets that are Venice, Florence and Rome, the historic sites and typical villages received 23 million foreigners in 2018 (without counting the many national tourists: 80% of Italians take holidays in their country). Like in other South-European countries, the tourist industry is a very important source of wealth for Italy.
Many of the most picturesque historical sites such as Pitigliano, Civita di Bagnoregio, Volterra and Craco are also landslide areas. Built on beautiful promontories that were ideal at the time in terms of military defence and symbolism, as they dominated their geographical area, but these highs rest on more fragile geological layers that move with the passage of time and erosion. The result: rock falls, slope instability, flank collapses, debris flow. And it is here that Earth science specialists (such as Claudio Margottini, who has followed Civita di Bagnoregio for a long time) come into play using their know-how, the available historical data and various sophisticated equipment to stabilise the flanks, delay the ongoing landslide processes, and mitigate the already existing negative effects, trying to prevent future occurrences, and preserve these sui generis historical sites that constitute the soul of the country.

Revitalisation and overload

Civita di Bagnoregio is an emblematic case of intervention and revitalisation. The advanced process of erosion and loss of inhabitants has led to a special programme for this picturesque town, involving the construction of a pedestrian bridge and the introduction of an entrance fee in addition to the efforts made to slow down the landslide process.

Outside these endangered historical sites, the geomatics and geotechnical teams are regularly at the service of cultural heritage conservation, namely through structural health monitoring and geotechnical inspections on a high cultural value heritage (churches, bridges and monuments) as for example in the case of the Pontasieve bridge (medieval bridge built in the 1500’s under the Medici dynasty over the river Sieve, close to Florence) in which Francesco Mugnai also participated.

 

V. Art and geology

Perspective, democracy and badlands

The science of perspective was introduced into painting in Florence following the rediscovery of Greek and Arab mathematics and geometry by artists such as Paolo Uccello (1397-1475), Piero della Francesca (1416-1492), Andrea Mantegna (1431-1506), Antonio Pollaiolo (1432-1498), Sandro Botticelli (1445-1510), Pietro Perugino (1450-1523), Giovanni Bellini (c. 1430-1516), Marco Palmezzano (c. 1459-1539), and Raphael (1483- 1520).

The perspective introduced for the first time the unity of time and action in the pictorial domain and the very notion of space. A revolution for art and science that would mark the birth of many disciplines (including Geology itself in the 17th century in Tuscany). A pivotal moment in the history of western culture whose consequences would extend to the Enlightenment. In fact, this new window to the world represents not only a great scientific and technological step (of which the resolution of the static problems - judged irresolvable - of the Duomo of Florence by Brunelleschi is just one example) but also brings with it a great democratic advance as the broad public could understand this ground-breaking innovation. Even today, a layman can perfectly enjoy the three-dimensional illusion suggested by the perspective on a two-dimensional surface. The attention given to landscape in painting will stimulate the visualization of geology. These backgrounds are nowadays a precious source for the study of various geological typologies. Famous Renaissance masterpieces such as Piero della Francesca's "diptych of the Dukes" (Galleria degli Uffizi, Florence) are now part of a vast historical iconography that Earth Science experts reconstitute in order to understand the geomorphological evolution of the Montefeltro region. The study of the past may bring important clues to the understanding of the present and the anticipation of the future. Taking the example of the San Leo cliff, under scientific monitoring due to its important process of rockfall, these detailed landscapes allow experts to discover the shape of this cliff before the historical landslides have occurred. I would like to draw your attention here to the work of Rosetta Borchia and Olivia Nesci, self-styled "landscape hunters", whose conclusions - published a.o. in "The invisible landscape" – led the Montefeltro region to set up a Renaissance view circuit, which allows the visitor to have access to the painter's presumed perspective and "to move within the work of art". St. Jerome and a donor, The Nativity, The Baptism of Christ and The Resurrection are other works by Piero Della Francesca whose landscapes these authors claim to have identified.

The first known work by Leonardo da Vinci (Vinci 1452- Amboise 1519) is a drawing of a landscape using the perspective dated 5 August 1473: Il Paesaggio con fiume (Paesaggio del Valdarno). This is the first time that the landscape is not treated as a backdrop but as a central theme of a work. Another eternal object of research is the landscape behind Mona Lisa, which the authors claim to have fully identified in the same region. There are two other paintings by Leonardo that deserve to be cited here for their link with geology: The Virgin of the Rocks, which exists in two versions (one at the Musée du Louvre in Paris and the other at the National Gallery in London and Annunciation (Uffizi gallery of Florence, Italy). On the background of these two Calanchi (Badlands) are clearly visible. The surreal lunar appearance of these eroded formations were a reason of predilection for Leonardo.

Calanchi: in English Badlands. "Badlands are areas in arid regions that are cut by deep, narrow erosion channels. (...) The surface of the earth in Badlands is characterised by slightly weathered rocks and open soils. The effects of water or wind quickly erode slate clays, claystones and loams, leading to the formation of typical surface forms. (...) A Badlands area consists mainly of constantly widening gorges and valleys, between which sharp ridges remain." (Source: Wikipedia).

Curiously, this suggestive typology also had aroused my interest when analysing the surroundings of Civita di Bagnoregio. It is curious to see how many themes are interlinked in this project. Many of the landslides mentioned above are also Calanchi areas: Craco (Basilicata), Canossa, Volterra and Civita di Bagnoreggio.

I end this tour of Renaissance painting with Leonardo, who took a keen interest in geology. A fact clearly illustrated by as his drawings and writings on geological phenomena and typologies and in his contribution to a staircase with a landslide mitigation effect in Florence. Last but not least: his drawing "A rockfall in a mountainous landscape" c.1512-18, Black chalk (sheet of paper) on display at the Queen's Gallery, Buckingham Palace, London represents in an expressive way the explosive collapse of a rock wall.

For more information on the link between art and geology, please see the article The Scientific Revolution and Nicholas Steno's twofold conversion by Gian Battista Vai.

 

VI. Panta rhei

“All things are in flux; the flux is subject to a unifying measure or rational principle. This principle (logos, the hidden harmony behind all change) bound opposites together in a unified tension, which is like that of a lyre, where a stable harmonious sound emerges from the tension of the opposing forces that arise from the bow bound together by the string.”

Heraclitus

Chiara Del Ventisette is a researcher in Structural Geology, Geography, Geology, Remote Sensing and analogue modelling at Dipartimento di Scienze della Terra, University of Florence whom I had the pleasure to visit. She was kind enough to show me the laboratory where landslide simulations are performed using coloured sand layers and models. Here we discussed about landslides, flank collapses and the study case of Vajont. Her expertise will be invaluable for the realisation of a landslide simulation experiment that we want to carry out at the Ispra JRC that is called "Flank collapse".

Domingos Landslide pantha rhei
Everything flows: “Lago Maggiore by nightfall”, digital photography, Tiny Domingos 2019


At the time of our conversation, it had already become clear that the concept of PANTA RHEI would be at the heart of this project. The above-mentioned cases of landslides near historic sites underline the contrast between the need for stability (and conservation of heritage and landscape) and the instability inherent to landslide kinetics, surface displacements, slope instability and geomorphologic evolution. After all, everything is in motion on earth: water, soils, tectonic plates and the planet itself rotating on itself and around the sun and so on.

« Le diagramme ne fonctionne jamais pour représenter un monde préexistant, il produit un nouveau type de réalité, un nouveau modèle de vérité. Il fait l’histoire en défaisant les réalités et les significations précédentes. Il double l’histoire avec un devenir. »

"The diagram never works to represent a pre-existing world, it produces a new type of reality, a new model of truth. It makes history by undoing previous realities and meanings. It doubles the story with a future."

in: Gilles Deleuze, Foucault, Paris, Les Éditions de Minuit, 1986, p. 43.

 

VII. Econometrics + geomatics = Landslide

Econometrics, the statistical metric for economics, can be regarded as one of the main innovations which turned twentieth century economics into an engineering, or tool-based science, in which each application of economic theory requires special shaping to circumstances, whether for scientific purposes or in the policy domain (see Morgan 2001). The development and use of statistical tools for economics emerged in the early part of the twentieth century and, by mid-century, problems had been defined, solutions approached and usable concepts developed, so that one could legitimately refer to a distinct body of knowledge embracing both theory and practice. After 1950 econometrics became a mature field and the dominant method of applied economics.

Econometrics, History of, M.S. Morgan, D. Qin, in International Encyclopedia of the Social & Behavioral Sciences, 2001, Elsevier Ltd.
 

Domingos Landslide sculptures
Sculptures for data landscape (Mirror table). Analogy between data from European institutions and from the landslide research. Various sizes. Mixed media. Tiny Domingos 2019


Luca Tiozzo-Pezzoli and Luca Barbaglia are two researchers of the Centre for Advanced Studies (CAS) project Big Data and Forecasting Economic Developments that I met at the JRC. In recent past, Luca Tiozzo-Pezzoli was a researcher and professor at the University of Paris 1 Panthéon-Sorbonne, and a researcher at Banque de France and CEPII. He has a PhD in Management Sciences (with specialization in Financial Econometrics) from Paris Dauphine University. His colleague Luca Barbaglia worked as a data science consultant until 2018. He holds a PhD in Applied Economics at KU Leuven (Belgium) and his main interests are time series analysis, large data sets and commodity markets.
 

"Working with Tiny has been an enriching experience. We benefit from the off-topic discussion on the LANDSLIDE project we had during our meetings. Tiny is not an expert in the field of econometrics, but he proved to be a very curious person and extremely interested in the field: his numerous questions challenged us to explain in an accessible way economic concepts and statistical methods that econometricians might take for granted. Not only he was interested in understanding such concepts and methods, but also he wanted to re-interpret them under a new light: financial and geological collapses can, indeed, be linked! With no doubt, the most exciting part of our collaboration was seeing him transforming a financial time series into an earthquake or a graph into a sculpture."

Statement by Luca & Luca


From the beginning of my reflections, I have tried to reflect on this SciArt project to integrate the economic dimension that I find fundamental for the description of the contemporary reality. In my artistic practice, my interest in economic statistics and data visualisation is evident. So I started conversations with Luca Tiozzo-Pezzoli that proved to be very fruitful. More recently, Luca Barbaglia came to join us. With the participation of these two researchers, the Landslide project has integrated the econometric aspect, enriching and extending its scope and leading to the design of new works that we will mention below. I invite you to read their explanatory texts for their contribution.

There are numerous analogies between economy and geotechnics, like the human impact of their crises or in the use of equal or very similar vocabulary: "collapse" (of the markets) remembering "flank collapse", "stability" in the "European Financial Stability Facility" and "Stability Pact", "instability" (of the markets) that resembles "slope instability", "securitisation" (that resembles "slope stabilisation" and civil protection), "risk management", "high frequency economy" that resembles "high frequency earthquake", etc.. In both fields there are mechanisms to improve stability and mitigate negative effects as well as instruments for monitoring and prevention using Big Data but the most important common point for this project is the already mentioned Panta Rhei, the idea that everything flows, everything is in motion. That instability can happen at any time and therefore need to be considered.

Special focus: South of Europe

Cradle of Western culture, known and appreciated worldwide for its unique cultural heritage, its climate, its gastronomy and hospitality, having experienced great eras of social, scientific and economic development in the past, the South of Europe and more precisely the countries ingloriously called PIGS assemble the most exposed populations to the Eurozone Debt Crisis (2011-2012): Portugal, Italy, Greece, Spain and Italy. Precisely the same countries that are more exposed to geo-hazards such as earthquakes, landslides, volcanic eruptions and tsunamis. A double coincidence of risks on the entire region that became the special focus of this project.

Eurozone Debt Crisis as seismic shake

The Eurozone Debt Crisis, which has threatened the stability of the European currency, unsettled the economy of the whole continent - even endangering the very future of the European Union - had many similarities with a natural catastrophe, and can be seen as a major earthquake with serious consequences for the populations of these countries who had to face sudden rising taxes, large wage cuts, loss of purchasing power, rising unemployment and emigration, housing loss (due to inability to continue paying off bank loans) and budget cuts in key sectors such as health, education, transportations and culture.

Flank collapse

After finding the analogy between crisis and seismic/landslide, the idea of conducting an innovative experiment arose: to trigger a landslide with data from the Eurozone Debt Crisis. How to do it? By translating these economic data into sismic data that will be transferred to the mono-axial table of the ELSA, JRC to trigger an earthquake and subsequent landslide. Francesco Mugnai is taking care of the data translation and transfer with the kind support of Pierre Pegon (ELSA, JRC). This scientific experiment received the title Flank Collapse for the reasons given above, and because the crisis was seen by some as a concerted attack against the most vulnerable economies in the Eurozone (the weakest flank). The experience will be presented to the public in the form of a short video.

The exchange of ideas continued and we moved on to a debate on the visualisation of economic data. The Mathlab program allows us to obtain three-dimensional images that enable us to visualise the evolution of the Eurozone crisis in perspective as if it were a mountain landscape with high peaks and hollow valleys. After observing the graphs of 10 years evolution of maturity bonds for each country, it was decided to gather the data from Portugal, Spain and Italy in order to create a chart that shows the PIGS. Unfortunately, Greece, which was at the heart of the storm, cannot be considered due to a lack of available data. It would be interesting to know why. Looking at the graphs in which Greek data are available, we see that they "burst the scale", making it difficult to read them together when they are mixed with data from other countries. Undoubtedly, a shortcoming, but it facilitated the joint visualisation of data from other Southern European countries and their subsequent materialisation in a sculptural form. The imagination of the viewer will have to complete this non-available data.

Blurring the frontier between digital and analogue

Inspired by the "3D landscape" obtained in this new graphic - which resembles a large moving wave or a mountain landscape, I immediately thought of its physical materialisation. Thus was born "The price of volatility": an outdoor sculpture with a 28 meter long sail boat to be seen as an artistic interpretation underlining the analogy between financial and seismic stress and not as a mere visualization of the data (although strongly inspired by it). The title, taken from a 2D chart seemed to fit perfectly with the notion of constant flows and the (un)predictability of economic and seismic risks. The wind will bring its own dynamics in this data landscape and change its perception. The outdoor location and the choice of lightweight materials correspond to the curators' directions. A challenge that meets my concerns.

Other works blurring the frontier between digital and analogue:

- "Average houses price" based on a chart - specially created by the two researchers for this project - showing property price developments from 2000 to 2018 in 7 northern and southern European countries (with naturally diverse flows). The houses price is a standard reference that allows checking the financial health of each country.

- "3 lines“ (Indicator of Systemic stress) based on a chart of the European Central Bank: "Composite indicator of systemic stress in euro area sovereign bond markets (Jan. 2004 - Apr. 2018)" showing the stabilisation of markets after the Euro crisis

- "Mirror table", data landscape formed by sculptures related to data from European institutions and from landslide research
 

Domingos Landslide Graphs
Double vulnerability: Earthquake statistics in the PIGS countries. Source: sismologue.com


VI. DATAMI

"Chaque époque rêve la suivante"

Michelet: Avenir! Avenir!

“Each epoch dreams the one to follow, creates it in dreaming”
Michelet: Future! Future!

in: Walter Benjamin, Das Passagen-Werk, erster Band, Edition Suhrkamp, Frankfurt am Main 2015

 

Datami

Datami is the place where the complementarity and increasing interpenetration of the digital and physical world becomes clear. Everything flows up and down in both dimensions. Big Data allows a better understanding of the complexity of the unstable territories we inhabit. Democratic action and the appropriation of the digital space will allow resilience in times of rapid changes. As in geomatics and econometrics, the challenge is Monitoring / Resist / Mitigate / Prevent.

This project defends the inviolability of independent artistic and scientific research and calls for a new digital revolution based on respect for human dignity and individual freedoms, for a new digital humanism based on dialogue and curiosity but also the rejection of defeatism and of the erosion of democratic values such as freedom of expression and the right to difference.

As opera (collective work), Landslide is a hospitable SciArt work, simultaneously plural and singular, that builds its own space/time and unfolds in multiple ways, creating bridges with a variety of epochs and disciplines and aiming at a new awareness beyond personal, cultural, professional and academic boundaries.

Datami is the ceramist's lathe where it is possible to shape the future with one's own hands.

 

VII. LANDSLIDE PROJECT PROPOSAL:

1. A scientific experiment entitled Flank Collapse presented to the public in the form of a short video. Description of the experience: Translation of economic data of the Euro Zone Debt Crisis into seismic data that will be transferred to the mono-axial table of the ELSA, JRC to trigger an earthquake and a landslide. Data translation by Francesco Mugnai with support of Pierre Pegon (ELSA, JRC)

2. A film essay entitled On Landslide about landscape, geology, art history, resilience to geo-hazards, their implications for populations and cultural heritage.

This film intends to be a reflection on the notion of panta rhei (everything flows) and how science deals with it in the concrete example of landslides in terms of prevention, monitoring, mitigation. Focus on Italy: Civita di Bagnoregio and the Valle dei Calanchi, the Geological Museum and France and significant landslide locations.

3. Public art sculptures:

  1. The Price of Volatility. A long boat sail banner is fixed to a series of flagstaffs to recreate a 3D graphic representing the 10 years evolution of maturity bonds of PORTUGAL, SPAIN and ITALY
    Boat sail and metallic/cable structure, 4 x 26 x 3 m

  2. 3 lines (Indicator of Systemic stress)

Based on a graphic of the European Central Bank: Composite indicator of systemic stress in euro area sovereign bond markets (Jan. 2004 - Apr. 2018) showing the stabilisation of markets after the Euro crisis.
Square metal tube sculpture, 7 x 2,19 x 1 m

  1. Average houses price: based on a graphic by Luca Tiozzo-Pezzoli and Luca Barbaglia, Econometrics, Center of Advanced Studies, JRC
    Square metal tube sculpture, 6 m x 3 m x 1 m


4. A mirror table with a data landscape formed by sculptures related to data from European institutions and from the landslide research, 0,90 x 1,10 x 6 m

 

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