Art of Science: Time and Ice Melt Away at COP21


If you‘re hosting a big gathering, you can always count on Olafur Eliasson to bring the ice. Two years after he brought chunks of an Icelandic glacier to MoMA PS1 in New York, Danish-Icelandic artist Eliasson has trucked 80 tons of Greenland glacier to Paris, where the UN Climate Summit (COP21) is being held.

The installation, now melting slowly in front of the Panthéon , is called Ice Watch. The twelve boulders of ice are arranged like a watch, or clock face, to indicate the passing of time. Visitors can see the ice dwindle over the course of the summit, observing for themselves the disappearance of ice which has endured for centuries. You can see photos and video of the gradual melt on Studio Olafur Eliasson’s Instagram account. (So far they seem to be holding up pretty well.)

Eliasson, who created the work in collaboration with geologist Minik Rosing, specifically chose calved chunks of icebergs made of compressed snow for the installation, to highlight the importance of ice in preserving history.  As Rosing explained to the New Yorker, “Inside the iceberg, you see snow layers in sequence as you go back in time. Because it is compressed, the air between the snowflakes that fell thousands of years ago is trapped in tiny bubbles.”

Besides watching the melting, visitors to Ice Watch can hear the ice cracking as it releases air that is thousands of years old. Says Eliasson, “It is a little pop that has travelled fifteen thousand years to meet you in Paris, and tell the story of climate change.”



The Art of Science: Nathalie Miebach’s Woven Weather

Nathalie Miebach, Changing Waters, 2011
Nathalie Miebach, Changing Waters, 2011

I’ve featured several artists here who incorporate weather data in their work, but nobody who does it with quite the mix of over-the-top exuberance and scientific rigor as Nathalie Miebach.  As Miebach explains, “My work focuses on the intersection of art and science and the visual articulation of scientific observations. I translate scientific data related to astronomy, ecology and meteorology into woven sculptures.”

Yes, woven – the material basis of her art is basketweaving, a highly traditional form not usually used in data visualization.

Miebach hopes that her artwork expands the visual vocabulary of scientific data, moving far beyond charts and graphs.  She says that science teachers were among the first to embrace her work.

“On one side, my work is very didactic, almost like a graph that tells exactly the relationship between variables, a very scientific representation. On the other, it’s a fanciful, magical, crazy expression of weather that still uses data as a source of material, but has crossed a boundary.” (source)

The piece shown above, part of a show called “Changing Waters” looks at the meteorological and oceanic interactions within the Gulf of Maine. Using data from NOAA and GOMOSS buoys within the Gulf of Maine, as well as weather stations along the coast, it explores the seasonal variations of marine life through a colorful swirl of carefully plotted pieces of weaving.

Some of Miebach’s more recent work has incorporated whirling structures that evoke the fairground rides destroyed by Superstorm Sandy, and her latest pieces are accompanied by original music, which is also based on weather and climate data.

You can see more of Nathalie Miebach’s artwork in a number of current and upcoming shows as well as at her website.

The Art of Science: Ghost Food


Is “Ghost Food” the food of the future? Climate change threatens our continued ability to harvest many of the foods we take for granted now. So will we simply say goodbye to the tastes of today, or find ways to replicate them with technology? An innovative art project takes a look at one possibility.

GhostFood, created by Miriam Simun and Miriam Songster of STEAMworkPHILLY, along with the Monell Center and NextFab Studio, is a participatory installation based on the concept of a food truck. The GhostFood truck, which debuted in Philadelphia this month and then traveled to New York City and Newark, NJ, serves substitutes for chocolate, peanut butter and cod, three foods at risk from climate change.

The “ghost foods”, made of climate-change resilient ingredients (including algae and vegetable protein), are meant to look like the real thing. But the flavor is delivered via a mask with a fragrance bulb which delivers the scent of the real food as you eat the substitute. The combination is not supposed to exactly replicate the experience of eating the original food, but give participants a sense of what that experience might be like in the future, when the “real” food is just a memory.

It sounds a little sad, but who knows? It might work. Lots of people who have given up meat prefer tofurky to plain tofu, so why not fish-scented algae instead of plain? In any case, it’s an interesting experiment that combines practical responses to climate change with leaps of artistic imagination.

More information about the project is here.

The Art of Science: Building on Sand



Masterplan, an installation by Chad Wright, is a subdivision of sandcastles based on typical American postwar houses, like the one he grew up in. By allowing his sand suburb to be washed away by the ocean, Wright comments on the death of the American dream, particularly the damage done by the real-estate bubble and bust. But the piece also brings to mind a consequence of climate change: rising oceans and eroding beaches that may force thousands, even millions, of coastal dwellers out of their homes in the years to come.

Photographs by Lynn Kloythanomsup (via ThisisColossal)

The Art of Science: The Exbury Egg

exbury-egg-designboom-01Living in a pineapple under the sea is so 2010. Artist Stephen  Turner recently took up residence in a wooden egg on the River Beaulieu in England, where he will stay for about a year.  The Exbury Egg, Turner’s new home, is a solar-powered wooden pod which is tethered like a boat in an estuary, rising and falling with the tide.

The main idea of the Egg is to explore “a more empathic relationship with nature” linked more closely with the rhythms of natural life.  However, the project does not reject modern technologies but rather seeks to use them in the most effective possible way.  For instance, Turner has a computer and phone powered by solar panels. Continue reading “The Art of Science: The Exbury Egg”

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