Axis Mundi


 Axis Mundi is a timelapse video of 24 hours at the South Pole, combined with a simultaneous sampling of data from the underlying IceCube Neutrino Observatory transduced into sound. Axis Mundi captures the rotation of the earth in space, the transient motions of the atmosphere, and the passage of subatomic particles through the polar ice, to provide a means for us to physically engage with these phenomena. 

This work results from a cross-disciplinary collaboration between Fortescue and Dr. Gwenhael de Wasseige, initiated during Fortescue’s US National Science Foundation funded Antarctic Artists and Writers Fellowship at the South Pole in the austral summer of 2016/17.


The IceCube Neutrino Observatory has 5,160 photosensitive Digital Optical Modules (DOMs) arrayed in eighty six 2.5 km long ‘strings’ frozen into the polar ice. The number of strings in the array and the fact that they are called ‘strings’ led Fortescue to think of IceCube as an enormous stringed instrument. This led directly to mapping the 86 strings of the array onto the 88 keys of a grand piano, and envisioning the photon ‘hits’ on individual DOMs as strikes on the strings of the piano. The choice to assign a particular note to a particular IceCube string highlights the physical movement of muons through the ice. 

The resulting audio piece 86 Strings #1 is combined with a video timelapse of 24-hour’s worth of visual data from the ice surface – marked by the presence of Fortescue’s sculptural work Instrument (90ºS) – to create the audiovisual work Axis Mundi. This pairing provided an appropriate constraint for the selection of muon events. As Axis Mundi is focused on the apparent movement of the sun it was decided to sample only muon events coming from the same direction as the sun for the accompanying sound work. A single muon event at the beginning of each hour of the day was transduced to sound resulting in 10–20 seconds of sound for each event.