“how does data feel, taste, sound, look, smell?” Roger Malina, Leonardo, keynote speaker, Lovely Weather art and climate change conference, LetterKenny RCC, Nov 2010
I was briefly in Oxford this week and I had a little time to pass so I wandered into one of the oldest Museums of the History of Science in the world. They had a display of early Islamic scientific instruments, many were for searching and understanding the skies. They were astonishingly beautiful as well as functional and were later adopted and developed through the middle ages and renaissance in Europe. Many instruments made for understanding the heavens were made in metal, some in ivory (I couldn’t help thinking they looked like antique iphones as some were a similar shape, colour and size to our recent technology). The industry and intent to know the world by all methods has long been with us. I was thinking about this in reference to a recent Lovely Weather Culture and Climate Change conference that I attended in north-west Donegal last November. An excellent 2 day event celebrated the Lovely Weather climate artists residency project; an innovative Per Cent for Art Irish Public Art programme across 5 electoral areas, co-led by the local Donegal County Arts Office and the Letterkenny Regional Culture Centre and co-curated by John Cunningham (Letterkenny RCC) and Annick Bureaud of the long established Art & Science publication, LEONARDO/Olats. This was to my knowledge the first substantial culture and climate event in Ireland and the projects were in the main very thought-provoking, detailed and most importantly most had a deep connection to Inishowen and its communities (a catalogue of the projects with accompanying CD can be obtained from the Donegal Arts Office).
Roger Malina, editor of Leonardo, was the keynote speaker. Roger is also an astronomer and Director of Astronomy Centre in Marseille, France. A point he made in his talk, while referencing his own experience in astronomy which has seen an explosion in technical instrument development, data production, now further accelerating with data sharing through online networks, is that over the centuries, scientists no longer use their senses but their instruments to understand the world. He argued that in reference to climate change, that artists have such an important role… ‘in making science intimate….not just translating science or making science pretty.’ He spoke of many artists who were attempting to engage with science, from many diverse practices, who were taking scientific data and using it in their creative practices transmuting it into something engaging, tangible and intimate for general audiences. He sees that we have moved from a world of ‘data scarcity to data plenty but today, while we are data rich, we are meaning poor’. He described this as an epistemological (a branch of philosophy that investigates the origin, nature, methods, and limits of human knowledge) inversion. I was particularly interested how Roger described that we are in a ‘data flood… but artists can work successfully embedded in data, where data becomes an element (material) to use.” He concluded by asking us, “how does data feel, taste, sound, look, smell?”
There was an excellent example of weather data embedded centrally in one of the Lovely Weather residencies. Carbon Footprint: Inishowen wool is made of Inishown wool is a multi-disciplinary work by Canadian born (now settled in Ireland) artist in residence Seema Goel. The piece uses local wool, spinning and knitting as a metaphor to explore climate change, carbon capture, and micro-economies in Inishowen, County Donegal, Ireland. This project worked on many levels – making hurricane data intimate in the creation of knitted items (see the knitted hat above whose pattern relates to hurricane weather data), bringing together local people of all ages to use local materials and forgotten skills (a working example of ‘social sculpture’), making visible the loss of previous local industries to global, unsustainable supply chains (while Donegal has a rich history in wool products, this has almost entirely disappeared and local wool items are surprisingly imported from afar – this a surprise to many Irish in the audience as Donegal is famed for its fibre heritage), and creating a legacy of community craft activities in the region. It’s delightful to think of the climate data discussions, mixing with knitting patterns discussions and cups of tea (it reminded me of the global crochet coral reef project that came to Ireland’s Science gallery that I discussed last year. Both projects interestingly show the huge upsurge in interest in local materials and fibre craft. To me this craft renaissance is a part of sustainability ideas made real, a return to valuing the intrinsic wealth in communities natural environments (just a reminder: 2011 is also the International year of Craft, as well as Forests).
The success in this project are the climate conversations made tangible in the community and unlike many ‘climate and art and science projects that I’ve encountered, the legacy of the project continues: knitting and spinning workshops continue for every skill level, from people with an interest that want to get started to those who want to share skills. For more information please contact firstname.lastname@example.org
To follow is a guest post by Margaret Mc Laughlin on another of the Lovely Weather residency projects – all about dead zones (Marbh Chrios) off the coast of Ireland – a fantastic audiovisual, data come community sound project.