"Mutatis Mutandis" Installation Featured In Spooner Hall


By Shawn Schaller
Spring 2011

The power and enormity of the topic was palpable from the moment the doors opened.

Thunderous cracks and massive splashes of sound brought color to the grayscale imagery of “Mutatis Mutandis,” a special sensory exhibition that represented two natural occurrences spanning hundreds of thousands of years: glacial movement and melting.

The installment, funded by The Commons, ran in Spooner Hall at the University of Kansas from Saturday, April 16, 2011, until Saturday, April 30, 2011. The exhibit made a strong statement about the state of the world we live in, but also intended for observers to discover its meaning for themselves.

“I wanted it to be primarily about the data,” co-artist Nolan Lem said. “Hopefully the glaciological position will be implicit by the way we represent the data.”


Photo 1: A speaker played accelerated sound bites of glacial movement recorded over several years while guests observed a glacial echogram.


Black and white banners of detailed glacial radar echograms lined the sides of the exhibit, while a projector screen centered on the back wall of the large room played a continuous stream of echograms to represent actual glacial movement. These glacial X-rays, so to speak, literally gave viewers a look inside the physical composition of a glacier.

Accelerated sound bites of glacial movement sounds recorded over several years composed the natural symphony of cracks and splashes that filled the room. A vast space in the center of the exhibit sat bare; during weekend showings, a large block of ice slowly melted away for visitors to observe, adding yet another dimension to the piece.

Together, these facets of the installment combined nature, technology and the human mind and body into a single exhibit, simply titled “Mutatis Mutandis.”

“It means ‘by changing those things which need to be changed’,” Lem said of the exhibit’s Latin title. “We’re just representing the data in a manner that suits our respective mediums.”


Photo 2: The exhibit’s logo represented the meaning of Mutatis Mutandis, “by changing those things which need to be changed.”


Lem, an electrical engineering undergraduate student at the University of Kansas, was referring to data collected over the Greenland ice sheet using technology developed by the Center for Remote Sensing of Ice sheets. The data-intensive exhibit specifically targeted the auditory and visual human senses.

Tristan Telander, the graphic designer for the Spencer Museum of Art, used raw data to create the visual art by way of programming. Lem, with the help of Kip Haaheim, an associate professor of music, converted sound bites of glacial movement into the audio stream. The collaboration of the two elements, Telander and Lem said, resulted in a stronger project overall.

Thanks to Haaheim, Lem and Telander, what started out as a discordant set of numbers and letters was transformed into a sensory enclosure that quickly lured visitors into its natural rhythm. Even the slightest change in picture or sound provided a jolt back to reality, as if the natural order of the world had momentarily halted.

The raw data was far more complex than the average human can process, but the art of “Mutatis Mutandis” sent the message loud and clear.