“David’s art installation brings the earthquakes that happen under California every day to the surface and makes them visible for all to see. His work has the potential to give viewers a deeper appreciation for how the earth works and why they need to accept and prepare for the inevitable large and damaging earthquakes. As scientists we can tell people about earthquakes and show graphs, but not everyone learns in the same way.” Andy Michael, USGS
Photo of shake table
Shake Table at dusk.
Photo of D.V. Rogers
Artist D.V. Rogers stomps on a geophone to trigger the shake table.

This art installation, known as the Parkfield Interventional EQ Fieldwork (PIEQF), used earthquake waves recorded by the USGS seismic network in California to trigger a hydraulic shake table which was installed in an excavated trench. The shake table was activated in near real-time as earthquakes occured throughout California. 10-foot tall steel rods attached to the table would oscillate and resonate when activated, reflecting the dynamic nature of the Californian landscape.

The shake table was installed in Parkfield, California, which is situated right on the San Andreas Fault midway between San Francisco and Los Angeles. It is sometimes referred to as the “earthquake capital of California”, due to the large number of M6.0–6.5 earthquakes that have occurred over the past 150 years. The most recent Parkfield earthquake, a M6.0, occurred in 2004.

The shake table exhibit envisioned promoting earthquake awareness and preparedness for Californians by merging earthquake science and art in an innovative, interactive display. It was a collaboration between USGS seismologist Andy Michael and Australian artist, D.V. Rogers. According to the artist, the Parkfield installation embodied the extra dimension art brings to science, helping to visualize what’s going on below the surface in a way that science can’t on its own.

Interactive 360-degree panorama of the shake table exhibit.

The conceptual basis behind the earthwork was to bring all seismic events to a hypothetical epicentre. Each time a seismic event was reported, the horizontal motion of an earthquake was triggered on the shake table, providing a feedback loop between California quakes and a physical and mechanical representation of the events. According to David, “PIEQF is a seismic art work designed to introduce human interaction within geological time. Conceptually PIEQF is a blip on the geological radar, an interactive earthwork which connects, maps and creates a temporary reference point within the scale of geological time.”

An array of vertical motion sensors called L10 Geophones surrounded the shake table and were buried within the excavation. These Geophones are excited when walked over or jumped on, and they triggered the vertical motion of the shake table. Visitors to PIEQF could engage interactively with the earthwork.

PIEQF “slept” at night between 9:30 PM and 6:30 AM. But the control system kept polling seismic events overnight, then replayed them at 6:30 AM every morning. Following the morning replay sequence, PIEQF switched into “live” mode and was triggered by near real-time earthquakes which were reported between 30 sec–3 min after actual earthquakes occurred.

Photos taken from a kite-lofted camera, showing the shake table and control bunker (left) and the earthwork in context of the small town of Parkfield, CA (right).

The Art-Science of Earthquakes

Lecture by D.V. Rogers
November 23, 2009 (video)

Rogers presented the history, conceptual premise, and documentation of his work. He also suggested that early 21st century cultural practices could be used to encourage earthquake awareness and preparedness.

See Also

Parkfield Shake Table
YouTube video interview with the artist and a short video shot from the kite-camera.

parkfield photo
D.V. in the "Bunker," the control center for the project. Real-time earthquakes are received via satellite internet.
Parkfield Shaketable Parkfield Shaketable Parkfield Shaketable

Looking straight up from the center of the Shake Table (top) followed by two nighttime shots showing the hydraulic actuators that created vertical movement on the shake table.

All photos by Scott Haefner, USGS.