I already mentioned the exhibition Strange Weather: Forecasts from the future in a number of posts (in particular this one which focused on clouds) so i won't bore you with repeating myself too much. The artworks on show invite the public to think about today and tomorrow's weather with the gravity that befits the topic but also with lightness and humour, asking questions such as:

Should human culture be reshaped to fit strange weather or should we reshape weather to fit our strange culture? Who is going to take advantage of climate chaos and how will strange weather benefit me? How will you choose to work, celebrate, live and die when weather gets weird?

Since so many pieces in the shows got my attention, i thought i should write on last post about Strange Weather. This one will include plastic flowers modelled on the alien species that have started to invade the Arctic, an instrument that monitors 'space weather', HazMat Suits for kids and more.

'Raindrop' by Alistair McClymont as part of STRANGE WEATHER at Science Gallery at Trinity College Dublin. dublin.scinecegallery.com 1.jpg
Alistair McClymont, Raindrop. Photo Science Gallery at Trinity College Dublin


Alistair McClymont, Raindrop

'Raindrop' by Alistair McClymont as part of STRANGE WEATHER at Science Gallery at Trinity College Dublin. dublin.scinecegallery.com 5.jpg
Alistair McClymont, Raindrop. Photo Science Gallery at Trinity College Dublin

Inspired by a machine invented in the 1970s by two physicists from the University of Manchester, Alistair McClymont built a machine which sole purpose it to allow a drop of water to float mid air.

The Raindrop machine works like a mini open wind tunnel and it is both a continuation of the scientists original experiment and an artwork exhibited in a very different cultural context.

'Occupy II' by Tania Kitchell as part of STRANGE WEATHER at Science Gallery at Trinity College Dublin. dublin.sciencegallery.com 3.jpg
Tania Kitchell, Occupy II. Photo Science Gallery at Trinity College Dublin

'Occupy II' by Tania Kitchell as part of STRANGE WEATHER at Science Gallery at Trinity College Dublin. dublin.sciencegallery.com 2.jpg
Tania Kitchell, Occupy II. Photo Science Gallery at Trinity College Dublin

Scientists and ecotourists visiting the Arctic are bringing in thousands of seeds that were attached to the sole of their shoes or are falling off from their pockets. It wasn't a problem until a few years ago but temperatures are warming up and the seeds are now taking root, potentially disrupting the ecosystems.

Tania Kitchell 's Occupy II is a representation of alien and invasive plant species that have been sighted in Arctic regions.

In Occupy II the plants are made of ABS plastic that have been formed with 3D modelling software and formed on a 3D printer. Photos were used as references to reproduce plant forms; there is an intentional disregard for a precise likeness as sizes and proportions are not adhered to, but there is a strong connection to the existing plants.

Does this disconnect between perception and reality in any way parallel our misconceptions about the Arctic?

This was one of my favourite works in the show. It is simple and elegant. Yet, there is something slightly disturbing in this assembly of 3Dprinted plants. Even before you even read the text that explains what they represent.

'Solar Wind Aeroscope' by Jonas Hansen and Lasse Scherffig as part of STRANGE WEATHER at Science Gallery at Tirnity College Dublin. dublin.sciencegalelry.com.jpg
Jonas Hansen and Lasse Scherffig, Solar Wind Aeroscope. Photo Science Gallery at Tirnity College Dublin

The Solar Wind Aeroscope is another subtle, unassuming but fascinating work.

Jonas Hansen and Lasse Scherffig built an instrument that monitors 'space weather', the environmental conditions created by the Sun and the solar wind and that ultimately influence our own atmosphere.

The system relies on global network of amateur HAM-radio stations known as WSPRnet to measure radio signal range. The signals from this network can travel for thousands of kilometers, by bouncing off of the ionosphere. Because the ionosphere and its reflectivity is affected by the solar wind, the activity of the WSPRnet echoes space weather conditions.

By monitoring radio signals and their origin, the Solar Wind Aeroscope can 'see' the current atmospheric conditions caused by the solar wind. To make these measurements perceptible, the instrument translates the solar wind into actual wind--transforming the gallery into a terrestrial weather station for extraterrestrial weather. The effect is actually very subtle, you need to place your hands on the Aeroscope to perceive the strength of the wind.

'Archive of Old and New Events' by Jodi Newcombe and Tega Brain as part of STRANGE WEATHER at Science Gallery at Trinity College Dublin. dublin.sciencegallery.com 5.jpg
Jodi Newcombe and Tega Brain, Archive of Old and New Events'. as part of STRANGE WEATHER at Science Gallery at Trinity College Dublin

'Archive of Old and New Events' by Jodi Newcombe and Tega Brain as part of STRANGE WEATHER at Science Gallery at Trinity College Dublin. dublin.sciencegallery.com 2.jpg
Jodi Newcombe and Tega Brain, Archive of Old and New Events, as part of STRANGE WEATHER at Science Gallery at Trinity College Dublin

'Archive of Old and New Events' by Jodi Newcombe and Tega Brain as part of STRANGE WEATHER at Science Gallery at Trinity College Dublin. dublin.sciencegallery.com 1.jpg
Jodi Newcombe and Tega Brain, Archive of Old and New Events, as part of STRANGE WEATHER at Science Gallery at Trinity College Dublin

Archive of Old and New Events, by Jodi Newcombe and Tega Brain, imagines what festivals and gatherings will be like after climate change has seriously messed up with the seasonal cycles and local climate conditions that were at the origin of these revelries. Strange new cultural phenomena could take their place.

This speculative project, set in 2030, brings side by side two collections; The Collection of Lost Festivals holds materials from events that have fallen into oblivion. The other is The Collection of New Festivals which documents recent cultural phenomena that have emerged in response to new weather and climate.

How could anyone not covet these stunning 'Toboggan shorts' worn by 2028 race winner worn for the 5th Ave Toboggan Race in New York City:

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N2.01: Toboggan shorts worn by 2028 race winner. Region: USA. Event: 5th Ave Toboggan Race

Or this container of dried jellyfish snack that will be a staple of our diet when jellyfish overpopulates seas that are getting increasingly warm.

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N1.01: Takeaway container with jellyfish snack. Region: China. Event: Sea Moon Jellyfish Feast

'Hazmat Suits for Children' by Marina Zurkow as part of STRANGE WEATHER at Science Gallery at Trinity College Dublin. dublin.sciencegallery.com 1.jpg
Marina Zurkow, Hazmat Suits for Children. Photo Science Gallery at Trinity College Dublin

Creepy children-size mannequins wearing HazMat Suits are loitering around the Science Gallery.

The corporation DuPont patents their Tychem cleanup suits for hazardous materials, these outfits are used in petroleum industry disaster response to mitigate ecological disasters. Cleanups are thus conducted with the same materials that potentially harm us. Marina Zurkow hand-sewn little HazMat suits for children. These suits, however, are sealed to prevent them from ever being worn by a child.

'Forecasts from the Future' by CoClimate as part of STRANGE WEATHER at Science Gallery at Trinity College Dublin. dublin.sciencegalelry.com 3.jpg
CoClimate, Forecasts from the Future. Photo Science Gallery at Trinity College Dublin

CoClimate invited artists and scientists in STRANGE WEATHER to produce scripts about what weather forecast will be like in the future. And then they had the brilliant idea of installing a fully functional weather forecast set, complete with green screen, teleprompter and camera. Visitors are invited to step in and play the television weatherman, recording the futuristic forecast of their choice and share it on YouTube if they want to.

More images from the show:

'SurvivaBall' by The Yes Men as part of STRANGE WEATHER at Science Gallery at Trinity College Dublin. dublin.sciencegallery.com 3.jpg
The Yes Men, SurvivaBall. Photo Science Gallery at Trinity College Dublin


Halliburton´s SurvivaBall from The Yes Men Fix the World

'SurvivaBall' by The Yes Men as part of STRANGE WEATHER at Science Gallery at Trinity College Dublin. dublin.sciencegallery.com 2.jpg
The Yes Men, SurvivaBall. Photo Science Gallery at Trinity College Dublin

STRANGE WEATHER at Science Gallery at Trinity College Dublin. dublin.sciencegallery.com 2.jpg
STRANGE WEATHER at Science Gallery at Trinity College Dublin

'Isobar Drawings' by Met êireann as part of STRANGE WEATHER at Science Gallery at Trinity College Dublin. dublin.sciencegallery.com 2.jpg
Met êireann, Isobar Drawings. Photo Science Gallery at Trinity College Dublin

'Climate Bureau' by CoClimate as part of STRANGE WEATHER at Science Gallery at Trinity College Dublin. dublin.sciencegallery.com 3.jpg
CoClimate, Climate Bureau. Photo Science Gallery at Trinity College Dublin

Strange Weather: Forecasts from the future was curated by artists Zack Denfeld, Cat Kramer from CoClimate and meteorologist Gerald Fleming. The show is open at the Science Gallery in Dublin until 5 October 2014.

Previously: Strange Weather: into the clouds, A People's Archive of Sinking and Melting and The Tornado diverting machine.

Sponsored by:





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Amy Balkin et al, A People's Archive of Sinking and Melting

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Amy Balkin et al, A People's Archive of Sinking and Melting

There's nothing remarkable about a can of tuna, an empty packet of candies, a plastic toy bird, or a battered video tape of a Queen concert. But stories and issues that affect us all can hide behind the most mundane objects.

These items and many others are part of A People's Archive of Sinking and Melting, a growing collection of objects "from places that may disappear owing to the combined physical, political, and economic impacts of climate change." Each time the project is exhibited in a new city, artist Amy Balkin calls for local people to contribute to the archive and donate items which constitute an evidence of rising sea level, coastal erosion, desertification and extreme weather getting more extreme. Each object is then catalogued and archived as if it were a rare historical artifact, because one day it may well be.

The materials in the archive mark the asymmetry of present or anticipated loss, standing in as proxies for the contributors' recognition of the geopolitical production (or spatial politics) of precarity and slow-onset dispossession. Together, the contributions form one material record among many; a collection of community-gathered evidence, a public record, a midden.

So far, the collection includes objects from the antarctic, items rescued from the floods caused by Superstorm Sandy, water from Venice, etc. And i'm looking forward to seeing what Dubliners will contribute to the project as the archive is now on view (and open for submissions) at the Science Gallery. In the meantime, i've contacted
Amy Balkin to learn more about the work:

'A People's Archive of Sinking and Melting' by Amy Balkin et al as part of STRANGE WEATHER at Science Gallery at Trinity College Dublin. 1.jpg
Amy Balkin et al, A People's Archive of Sinking and Melting. Photo Science Gallery at Trinity College Dublin

Hi Amy! The items collected come from places that may disappear owing to the impact of climate change. So how does Dublin fits into this? Are the effects of climate change already visible in the city and more generally in the country?

I hope your questions will be answered by people living in Dublin and across Ireland and its outlying islands, whose contributions to the archive, whether related to predicted increases in coastal flooding events along the East Coast, or other experienced or forecast climate impacts, will form a new Ireland Collection.

What kind of items have people in Dublin added to the archive so far?

None yet-the exhibition opened recently-the call for contributions is at https://dublin.sciencegallery.com/strangeweather/peoplesarchive

What were the most unexpected items that have been contributed to the archive so far?

It's hard to say, as each contribution is complicated by the circumstances and context of it's submission. Your readers can view the entire archive at sinkingandmelting.tumblr.com and decide for themselves.

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A bottle cap found on a beach outside of Dakar, Sénégal. Submitted by Matt Swagler. (Photo courtesy of A People's Archive of Sinking and Melting)

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The flag of Nepal, a nation experiencing more frequent flooding, landslides and soil erosion due to accelerated glacier melt. Submitted Sandhya Parajuli, of Nepal's New York City consulate. (Photo courtesy of A People's Archive of Sinking and Melting)

And which ones would you say are the the most representative of the climate change crisis?

Items contributed from places where people's ability to remain is difficult or becoming untenable, such those in the Kivalina (Alaska, USA) Collection.

The description of the project says that "Through common but differentiated collections, contributed materials form an archive of the future anterior; what will have been." Could you elaborate on this? Explain in more details what the 'future anterior' means?

The phrase "common but differentiated" is taken from Article 3 of the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change, which states "The Parties [which have ratified the convention] should protect the climate system for the benefit of present and future generations of humankind, on the basis of equity and in accordance with their common but differentiated responsibilities and respective capabilities.

In A People's Archive of Sinking and Melting, all contributions together form a 'common' archive, a coalition of items from radically varied situations. These are 'differentiated' based on the UNFCCC Party status/commitment category of the country each was contributed from, which is included on the museum label (Annex I, II, B, Non-Annex, No Status) for each item in the archive .

In the context of the archive the language of "common but differentiated" is taken to situate the archive against the inequity of present climate politics, including the UNFCCC treaty process, which as it politically constructs the atmosphere, influences the habitability of locations represented by objects in the archive, influencing the meaning of the archive, the individual items within it, and the lives of the archive's contributors.

The future anterior, which describes "what will have been," is a position the archive asks its contributors, audience, and users to take. I understand this as a political task demanding insight and the willingness to confront uncertainty and loss.

'A People's Archive of Sinking and Melting' by Amy Balkin et al as part of STRANGE WEATHER at Science Gallery at Trinity College Dublin. 2.jpg
Amy Balkin et al, A People's Archive of Sinking and Melting. Photo Science Gallery at Trinity College Dublin

'A People's Archive of Sinking and Melting' by Amy Balkin et al as part of STRANGE WEATHER at Science Gallery at Trinity College Dublin. 3.jpg
Amy Balkin et al, A People's Archive of Sinking and Melting. Photo Science Gallery at Trinity College Dublin

I think what strikes me the most about A People's Archives is how tangible it makes the issue of climate change feel. When i discovered the project at the Science Gallery, i suddenly visualized how much part of daily life it has become, even if we don't necessarily realize it yet. The fact that you left the archive in the hands of everyone played a big role in this feeling. But do you 'curate' the collection? Or do you accept anything people give?

One framing idea of the archive is that it is not 'curated,' and is always presented in its entirety, whether all the contributions are exhibited, as they are in Dublin, or available as a research tool in archived collections, as it was at the Prelinger Library earlier this year.

As of August 2014 the archive contains roughly 100 items, none of which weighs more than 1kg, so presenting all the contributions hasn't created any logistical problems. If the archive gets much larger, there may be a need to do things differently.

Everything contributed to date has been accepted, other than two items offered that misunderstood the parameters of the archive. More complicated is the question of including items contributed after specific weather events, such as materials sent from Germany after the 2013 European Floods or from New York and Cuba after Superstorm Sandy, or materials offered from places that are at risk but will have significant adaptation infrastructure built, like Venice, Italy, which is getting a $7 billion flood-protection system.

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A dollar bill found floating in the basement of the offices of Smack Mellon, a Brooklyn arts organization, after flooding due to Superstorm Sandy. Submitted by Adriane Colburn. (Photo courtesy of A People's Archive of Sinking and Melting )

Where will the objects go after the Dublin show? Because the project has been exhibited in several countries so far so i suspect that the collection is getting quite voluminous by now.

The archive will go to New York next for the exhibition Lenin: Icebreaker, which opens at the Austrian Cultural Forum in December. I'm currently working with Olga Kopenkina to solicit contribution from across Russia, with particular attention to the northern autonomous okrugs (administrative divisions) and Murmansk Oblast.

If your readers want to contribute to A People's Archive of Sinking and Melting, from Ireland, Russia, or anywhere else, how to submit is www.sinkingandmelting.org

Thanks Amy!

Strange Weather: Forecasts from the future was curated by artists Zack Denfeld, Cat Kramer from CoClimate and meteorologist Gerald Fleming. The show is open at the Science Gallery in Dublin until 5 October 2014.
Previously: Strange Weather: into the clouds and The Tornado diverting machine.

One of the thing that surprised me when i moved from Belgium to Italy all those years ago is that i suddenly found myself in a culture where the weather wasn't part of the conversation. The sky never changed much. Every day was mostly sunny and fairly dry. This is less the case nowadays. I'm living in London where the Summer has been boiling hot. Meanwhile, Northern Italy has been showered by torrential rains. The weather has decidedly taken a turn for the weirder.

Newspapers publish alarming and disconcerting articles about climate change and 'extreme' meteorological phenomena on a daily basis. It seems that no matter how much we cycle to work and recycle our trash, this is too little too late (becoming a vegetarian would have a bigger impact anyway.) Climate change is a phenomenon so complex and grim that most people feel powerless and inadequate even taking about it..

'SurvivaBall' by The Yes Men as part of STRANGE WEATHER at Science Gallery at Trinity College Dublin. dublin.sciencegallery.com 1.jpg
The Yes Men, SurvivaBall as part of STRANGE WEATHER at Science Gallery at Trinity College Dublin

The exhibition Strange Weather: Forecasts from the Future at the Science Gallery in Dublin gives a more human dimension to the issue. The show features 26 artworks that, each in their own way, act as springboards for new discussions and debates about the eccentricities of the weather.

The show goes from the very absurd (the Halliburton survivaball) to the very dark and dramatic. But the adjective that pervades the show is 'fun'. While visiting the exhibition, i've been drinking cloud, watched a 1959 film that speculates on how weather control departments would use satellites and met with little child mannequins in Hazmat suits in the most unexpected places.

Strange Weather is one of those rare shows that's never dull, never obscure, never preaching. A quick video walk-through of the exhibition will prove my point:

Given my enthusiasm for the exhibition, there's a lot i'd like to blog: all the ideas, all the works i've discovered. Being notoriously lazy, i'm going to bide my time and slowly publish stories about Strange Weather. Here's a first batch of artworks which explore clouds in the most poetical and critical ways:

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Karolina Sobecka collecting clouds near Dublin. Photo Jodi Newcombe

'Thinking Like a Cloud' by Karolina Sobecka as part of STRANGE WEATHER at Science Gallery at Trinity College Dublin. dublin.sciencegallery.com 3.jpg
Karolina Sobecka, Thinking Like a Cloud. Photo Science Gallery at Trinity College Dublin

'Thinking Like a Cloud' by Karolina Sobecka as part of STRANGE WEATHER at Science Gallery at Trinity College Dublin. dublin.sciencegallery.com 2.jpg
Karolina Sobecka, Thinking Like a Cloud. Photo Science Gallery at Trinity College Dublin

Karolina Sobecka climbed to the Sally Gap in the Dublin Mountains to harvest clouds, decant them into little tubes and invited gallery visitors to consume them.

The artist built her own Cloud Collector, a device that is sent into the atmosphere attached to a weather balloon. Clouds condense on its mesh wings and flow into a sample container. These cloud samples are analysed for microorganisms and ingested by experimental volunteers. By combining the cloud microbiome with their own, the volunteers become part cloud and keep a cloud journal reporting their transformation.

Thinking Like a Cloud owes a lot to Aldo Leopold's land ethics motto 'thinking like a mountain'. It describes an ability to appreciate the deeps interconnectedness of all the elements in the ecosystems. By ingesting clouds, clouds become part of you and you become part of the atmosphere yourself.

'I Wish To Be Rain' by Studio PSK as part of STRANGE WEATHER at Science Gallery at Trinity College Dublin. dublin.sciencegallery.com  1.jpg
Studio PSK, I Wish To Be Rain. Photo Science Gallery at Trinity College Dublin

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Studio PSK, I Wish To Be Rain

I was strangely moved by Studio PSK's proposal for the ash dispersal of your loved ones. I don't care whether it is speculative or art or whatever, i want this project to be real.

I Wish to Be Rain suggests that after their death, people could literally become part of the weather by having their ashes used for cloud seeding, the dispersing substances into the air to trigger rain.

Following a funeral and cremation of a body, the crematorium will give the bereaved an aluminium vessel that contains their loved ones remains and a dormant aerostat. When the family are ready, the encapsulated ashes are sent skywards tethered to a weather balloon, to be dispersed in the macroscopic structure of a cloud. The capsule becomes increasingly pressurised. At the point it reaches the troposphere, the highest point at which clouds form, the capsule bursts, dispersing the ashes into the clouds below. When dispersed into the clouds, the remains get enveloped into a macroscopic structure far beyond the most grandiose human experience. But this is short lived, again they enter the domain of the miniature, falling back to earth as raindrops, before eventually finding their way back into the sea.


Matt Kenyon, Cloud 2014 (Dublin version)

'Cloud' by Matt Kenyon as part of STRANGE WEATHER at Science Gallery at Trinity College Dublin. dublin.sciencegallery.com 1.jpg
Matt Kenyon, Cloud. Photo Science Gallery at Trinity College Dublin

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Matt Kenyon, Cloud. Photo University Times

'Cloud' by Matt Kenyon as part of STRANGE WEATHER at Science Gallery at Trinity College Dublin. dublin.sciencegallery.com 3.jpg
Matt Kenyon, Cloud. Photo Science Gallery at Trinity College Dublin

One thing i noted when i spoke to people who live or used to live in Dublin is that they all have something to say about the fluctuating prices of the houses in the city. Matt Kenyon's Cloud therefore feeds into two concerns: real estate and weather. The artist turned the last 10 year of housing market into a stream of small house-shaped clouds that fly to the ceiling of the gallery, stick there for a while, lose stamina (and metaphorically value) and then fall down to the floor.

The viewers witness common house-ownership dreams disappear as fast as they materializes -- just as many saw the false promises of their homes disappear as they were quickly foreclosed upon during this period.

Strange Weather: Forecasts from the future was curated by artists Zack Denfeld, Cat Kramer and meteorologist Gerald Fleming. The show is open at the Science Gallery in Dublin until 5 October 2014.
Previously: The Tornado diverting machine.

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The weather, that once innocent topic of conversation, now comes the bearer of fears and dark scenarios. Hurricanes, typhoons, flooding and heatwaves are more violent and frequent than ever and climate change has transformed our good old weather into 'extreme' weather.

An exhibition that just opened at the Science Gallery in Dublin brings together artists who investigate how this Strange Weather is intersecting with our daily life and culture.

One of the rooms in the gallery hosts a Tornado Diverter, a device built by artists Bigert & Bergström to intercept and stop a tornado. The sculptural machine radiates 100,000 negative volts and has the power to repel the positive charge of the tornado that causes twisters to touch down.

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Installation at the Science Gallery

The artists first read about such machine in a Wired magazine interview with Russian weather-modification scientist Vladimir Pudov. Bigert & Bergström met Pudov in 2007. He had then retired from his position at the the Institute for Experimental Meteorology and no longer had the means to develop his invention. The artists decided to step in, improve the scientist's drawings of the machine and "build it for him.'

In May 2011, the artists mounted the Tornado Diverter machine on a custom built trailer and, accompanied by Canadian meteorologist and storm chaser Mark Robinson, they traveled to the Midwest in the US to hunt down a tornado and place The Tornado Stopper in front of the approaching twister.


The Weather War, 2012, official trailer

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The Science Gallery is also screening The Weather War, a film in which the duo documents the increasingly hostile weather patterns and man's attempts to control them. I couldn't watch it until the end alas (i needed to take the bus to the airport) but 20 minutes of it were enough to convince me that the film is simply brilliant.

The documentary takes us on a historical and geographical journey into climate-management. The artists look at how the science of meteorology has advanced in line with military goals throughout history. They also interview people who build concrete shelters that can protect up to 50 (squeezed) people from violent tornadoes, Chinese scientists from the Beijing Weather Modification Office who fired rockets into the sky to seed clouds and make sure that it wouldn't rain over the 2008 Olympic opening ceremony, etc.

What makes the work so fascinating is that it gives a vision of how scientists are now attempting to control the weather. Should we put our trust into their hands? Or should such experiments be undertaken by governments? Are we sure they can also control the socio-political consequences of their experiments in climate control? Are we even entitled to modify the weather? And in the background of these questions lies the issue of global climate change:

How do we behave to meet those challenges? Do we adapt? Or do we wage war against increasingly aggressive weather phenomena? Bangladesh is building protective walls against coming floods. China shoots rockets into threatening clouds. And in Italy, anti-hail cannons are fired to protect the year's wine harvest.

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Tornado Protection Bunker. Image Bigert & Bergström

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Tornado Protection Bunker. Image Bigert & Bergström

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Joplin, Missouri, USA. On May 22nd, 2011, a FE-5 tornado destroyed large areas of the city. Image Bigert & Bergström

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Still from Bigert & Bergström's The Weather War, 2012. Courtesy of the artists

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Still from Bigert & Bergström's The Weather War, 2012. Courtesy of the artists

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Still from Bigert & Bergström's The Weather War, 2012. Courtesy of the artists

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Bigert & Bergström's The Weather War, 2012. Courtesy of the artists

Check out The Weather War , part of the exhibition Strange Weather. The show remains open at the Science Gallery in Dublin until 5 October 2014.

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Sketches for an Earth Computer, installation view in Riga. Image courtesy of FIELDS

Yet another post about a work i discovered in RIga when i visited Fields - patterns of social, scientific, and technological transformations, a (fantastic and still open) exhibition featuring works by artists who have adopted an engaged, critical and active role in society.

Sketches for an Earth Computer is an ongoing series of living "laboratory" studies that explore the links between the earth, code and the human psyche of the viewer.

Over the past few years, Martin Howse has been investigating the possibility to build a computational device that would not only be constructed solely from the earth but would also be embedded within the earth as a critical monument to human technology.

The computer enters a feedback loop with the environment itself as geophysical, biological and electro-chemical elements can both encode and be modified by the computational structures.

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Sketches for an Earth Computer, installation view in Riga. Image courtesy of Martin Howse

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Sketches for an Earth Computer, installation view in Riga. Image courtesy of Martin Howse

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Sketches for an Earth Computer, installation view in Riga. Image courtesy of Martin Howse

Questions to Martin Howse:

Hi Martin! Could you explain the setting of the installation at the FIELDS exhibition?
What each elements stands for? Its role in the system?

As background it's important to understand that all of these elements are simply fragments of sketches towards the working out of what could be described an earth computer. The images in the background show elements of the installation operating within a forest environment in Germany. So the elements of the installation are designed as pointers towards these functional aspects of the earth computer, which may or may not operate correctly within an exhibition environment.

For example, the hanging sealed earth container references the potential recoding of electrochemical earth elements using a primitive solar cell constructed between copper, copper oxide plates and forest earth.

The large, floor-situated earth container (using forest earth dug one hour away from Riga in the "magic forest", and gypsum from a nearby quarry), refers to potential chemical changes in the earth induced by water passing through this stack of minerals above the earth. At the same time all of these containers draw attention to the drawing of a boundary for the earth, and the disconnection from the deep forest setting for which the earth computer is intended.

The last, most complex earth computer demonstrates several parts of the earth computing system; a display based on early telegraphy technology, the mirror galvanometer, transduces and makes visible signals from the earth using a moving mirror, fixed coil and small laser light beam. This is the interface to the earth computer. Forest earth in this container is also seeded with oyster mushroom mycelium and doped with silver nitrate, attempting to form over time a processor for the earth computer.

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Sketches for an Earth Computer, installation view in Riga. Photo by RIXC, The Centre for New Media Culture

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Sketches for an Earth Computer, installation view in Riga. Photo by RIXC, The Centre for New Media Culture

You developed an earthboot that 'enables almost any computer to boot straight from the earth'. How reliable is the system exactly?

The system is far from reliable, given that the earth has no interest or intention in correctly coding an operating system. Most of the time the computer crashes silently; a blank unresponsive interface. In perhaps one out of twenty sessions there are more colourful (see image on: http://www.1010.co.uk/org/earthcode.html)

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earthboot

Would any kind of earth do? or is it like a plant, responding better to certain types of earth (drier, more acidic, etc.) than to other?

Dry earth presents more problems for the flow of signals so is not so well suited for the earthboot device. I also prefer to use more active soils, with plenty of mycelial or insect/worm action. I modified the earthboot device towards the production of worm coded sound performance and worm poetry recitals. This came directly from work with Shu Lea Cheang focusing on links between code or data and the composting process.

The project puts the computer in direct contact with the Earth which at first doesn't sound very eco-friendly. What about all the mercury and other polluting chemical elements leaking into the soil?

Well the earthboot operates on a very small scale and there are no polluting chemicals directly in contact with the earth or soil, but other projects such as The Crystal World with Jonathan Kemp and Ryan Jordan have explored the techno-ecological cycle of extraction (of minerals) and return of polluting elements to the earth. I'm very interested in less direct parallels between such cycles and computation itself.

In an interview with Motherboard, you say: "One question I'm very interested in which you could say fuels my research is to ask where exactly software executes. In other words, where exactly do these seemingly abstract coded processes which seriously effects our lives, where do these take place?" Could you explain in more details what you mean by that and how the earth fits into this?

Software is viewed as a more or less invisible, obscured or blackboxed process which is situated, if at all, in computer hardware. Yet the exact place of the transition from physical, material flows or changes to symbolic structure is hard to pin down. So I was interested in speculating where that place of transition might be located, also in moving it away from this black-boxed laptop, phone or PC. These new locations I viewed as sites of execution, of where that thing called software enacts on the physical. One site could be the earth, as code runs predominantly on silicon substrates which have been synthesised from sand/earth.

And concerning the literal impacting of software on humans, I considered skin as another potential site of execution, relating this to computer virus and pornography. I also created a work called Pain Registers which explored very literally this connection; in this piece minute software changes operating under the interface surface of say an app like Firefox are literally painstakingly translated (by code) into the movement of a needle tattooing the hand of the user.

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Pain Registers (two days after two minutes firefox activity)

The work in the FIELDS exhibition is called Sketches for an earth computer', does it mean that this is just the beginning, that you are going to push the project further?

Sketches forms the background of a range of works and performances over the years and definitely the central idea of an earth computer or earth interpreter (in the software sense) will be pushed further. I'm interested now in looking at how software processes coded by the earth instead of being simply observed can equally re-code or impact on the earth. Parallels could be established with certain mining practices and I've recently explored these possibilities with Jonathan Kemp during our Stack, Frame, Heap residency in Lueneburg which also aimed to see how this exploration can mesh with historical land art, or large-scale alterations to the landscape.

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Stack, Frame, Heap (in collaboration with Jonathan Kemp.) Image courtesy of Martin Howse

Thanks Martin!

Check out Sketches for an Earth Computer at the Fields exhibition, produced by RIXC and curated by Raitis Smits, Rasa Smite and Armin Medosch. The show remains open at Arsenals Exhibition Hall of the Latvian National Arts Museum (LNAM) in Riga until August 3, 2014.

Other posts about the Fields exhibition: Ghostradio, the device that produces real random numbers, On the interplay between a snail and an algorithm and FIELDS, positive visions for the future.

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Peter Cusack, Bibi Heybat Oilfield, Baku, Azerbaijan

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Ferris wheel in Chernobyl exclusion zone. Photo Peter Cusack

Peter Cusack is a field recordist, musician and researcher who has traveled to areas of major environmental devastation, nuclear sites, big landfill dumps, edges of military zones and other potentially dangerous places. He has been to the Chernobyl Exclusion Zone; the Caspian Oil Fields in Azerbaijan; 'London Gateway' the new port on the River Thames where massive dredging severely damages the underwater environment; the Aral Sea, Kazakhstan, which is now being partially restored after virtually disappearing due to catastrophic water misuse.

While most of these locations have been extensively discussed in articles and documented in images, we don't know what a day in any of these places sounds like. With his field recordings, however, Cusack gives us an idea of what a radiometer with a cuckoo in the background in Pripyat sounds like. Or what it is like to hear the wind whistling by the Sizewell nuclear power stations. These recording belong to a practice that the artist calls sonic journalism. The discipline is an audio complement and companion to images and language. Using field recordings and careful listening, sonic journalism provides valuable insights into the atmosphere of a particular site.

You can listen to some of the field recordings online (Sounds from Chernobyl + Caspian Oil and UK Sites.) Some are very moving. All made me want to contact Peter Cusack and ask him a few questions:

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Hi Peter! The public is now used to seeing images of dangerous places. Focusing on sound recordings from these same places, however, is less banal. What can sound communicate that an image cannot convey?

Field recordings are very good at communicating the atmosphere of places. They also give a good sense of space (distance, position, how things are moving) and timing of any events happening. I think this is important because it gives a sense of what it might be like to actually be there and allows you to think about what you might feel, or how you might react if present. I don't really agree that images are more banal (some recordings are also). It depends on the image. For me a better impression is given when images, sounds and language are working together. Most reportage uses images and language but not the sounds, which means we are usually missing the aural information. This is a pity because it can be very informative and expressive.

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Peter Cusack, Ship's Graveyard, Aral Sea, Kazakhstan

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Bibi Heybat oilfield. Photo Peter Cusack

Some of the sounds you collected are seducing and fascinating. The ones you recorded in the Chernobyl exclusion zone are particularly charming, even the Cuckoo and radiometer has some poetry in it. So how do you suggest the sense of danger to the listener?

Yes, sometimes they are a complete contrast to a sense of danger. However they are part of the the larger whole. Most dangerous places are very complex. For me it's important to suggest the complexity and the contradictions that are present. That way one gets a more complete picture, e.g it may seem a contradiction that the Chernobyl exclusion zone is now a wonderful nature reserve. That is definitely to be contrasted with state of human health there.

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Shoes in the Chernobyl exclusion zone. Photo Peter Cusack

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Photo Peter Cusack

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Photo Peter Cusack

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Photo Peter Cusack

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View of Pripyat. Photo Peter Cusack

Is it easier to get access to these locations as a sound artist than as a photographer? I imagine that people in charge of a military site or a particularly environment-damaging oil field will be wary of a photographer but might underestimate the strength of a sound recording. Do you find that you face the same resistance and restriction when you record ambient sound than when you take photos?

The only place where i had access to a place where photographers cannot not go was the Jaguar car factory in Liverpool, where they are paranoid about industrial espionage from rival car manufacturers. At Chernobyl they give anyone access if you can pay the entry fees.

In places where you don't get permission it depends on how obvious you are. Large microphones are as visible as large cameras. I often use small equipment which is not easy to see. However, it's true that security guards don't know about recording equipment compared to cameras.

The UK now is very security conscious. I've been stopped at places for recording and for just standing in the wrong place not recording or photographing.
These days it helps to know the law regarding recording of any kind.

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Bradwell, UK. Photo Peter Cusack

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Lakenheath runway. Photo Peter Cusack

The first recordings of the series dedicated to the oil industry were made in 2004 at the Bibi Heybat oil field, in Azerbaijan. Why did you start there? Was it a conscious decision to start in that location or did you find yourself there for another reason and the idea emerged then to start a new body of work?

i was in Azerbaijan for a holiday. i did not know the oil fields were there, so it was a very lucky accident from which the project grew.

You see Sounds from Dangerous Places as a form of 'Sonic Journalism'. Yet, you are a sound artist, so what makes your work an artwork rather than merely a 'sound reportage'?

My interest is to document places as best i can (audio recording, photography plus any other kind of material or research) so that anyone listening/reading can get an idea of the place itself and the relevant issues. this material gets used for a variety of purposes - sound art, cds, radio, education, talks, installations. whether it is art, documentary or journalism is not so important to me.

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Oil field. Photo Peter Cusack

Are there dangerous places you wish you could go to or sounds you wish you could capture, only they are out of reach for some reason?

Yes, many. most military areas are completely impossible to get into. So are a lots of industrial sites, nuclear power stations, etc. Sometimes official tours are organised but usually these are useless for recording, which takes time to do properly without other people talking or getting in the way all the time. However it's sometimes possible to make interesting and valuable recordings from outside the fences.

Other places are really, and personally, dangerous like war zones. My project concentrates on environmentally dangerous place. War zones are not part of this and i've no wish to get killed.

After this exploration of the energy industry, you are planning to explore global water issues. Can you tell us a bit more about this project? Your website states that the work will include the dam projects in Turkey. Why do these dams strike you as representative of the global water problems? Where else will the project take you?

The Aral Sea in Kazakhstan. the aral sea was once the 4th largest lake in the world. today it has almost dried up because the water flowing into it is diverted into major irrigation schemes far up stream. The disappearance of the sea has been disastrous for the local climate and huge fishing industry that once supplied the Soviet Union with 25% of its fresh water fish.

The Kazakhs are now trying to restore a small part of the sea with support from the world bank. This has been quite successful and the fishing industry has re-started bring the economy back to some of the fishing villages. the wildlife has returned and so has the climate. I have travelled there twice so far - very interesting.

Thanks Peter!

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Check out the CDs and accompanying book that bring together extensive field recordings, photos and writing from the work in Chernobyl, Caspian oil, and UK sites.

Sounds From Dangerous Places is part of HLYSNAN: The Notion and Politics of Listening at the Casino de Luxembourg until 7.9.2014.

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