A Voice of Nature

By Carla Rapoport December 7, 2018

When artists who can work with technology turn their attention to science, incredible things can happen. One of those incredible things is pictured above, Voice of Nature, created by 2016 Lumen Prize Gold Winner Thijs Biersteker for our recent show in Chengdu, China. An ambitious outdoor work and the first of its kind, Biersteker’s installation creates a flowing series of stunning images, reflecting the life and health of a real tree, using real time data from the tree itself.

Why did he do this? To accelerate discussion about the dangers of climate change, he says. “Trees and their tree rings are data capsules showing the change in climate happening over the years. Environmental changes and the impact of pollution is indicated by the yearly growth levels shown in the rings. With these accelerating shifts taking place we don’t have time to wait years for this data” says Biersteker. “It’s time to speed up the process to a human pace and show with data what nature is trying to tell us.”

Using real time data coming from sensors attached to a tree, Thijs and his team can generate a tree ring every second, indicating the tree’s well being and the impact of the environmental changes as they are happening at that moment.

Data with a human touch

Visualised on a giant aura like screen behind the tree the viewer can see the tree rings appear in an almost meditative way. The sensors measure,  among other things, the soil  temperature, moisture levels, air quality and CO2 levels. With this data, it generates a ring that indicates the growth levels of the tree, second by second. As a result, an increase of polluted air or decrease of light coming in is directly visible on the giant screen.

The value of this became evident during the installation in Chengdu last month. “During the build of the installation, it had not been raining for a while so we asked if someone could water the tree, but everyone was busy. Once we connected our moist level sensor to the tree and showed the data indicating the tree was thirsty. There was someone with a waterhose within 15 minutes. I think that was a good demonstration of how we trust data more than our eyes these days” says Biersteker.

With the tree responding to human touch, Voice of Nature shows in a poetic way that humanity has a big influence on the changing climate. By touching the tree the artwork calms down or has its energy levels grow, leaving the spectator with an empowering message instead of the depressing idea of being powerless.

Natures net worth

In the face of the COP24 and the latest climate change report released by the US White House, data, investment and economic impact on GDP is driving the conversation. All attention goes to the economical impact of climate change, but, asks the artist, what is the value of nature itself? “Extracting data from nature will not only provide an insight in this wonderful world, but can also play a big role in raising the understanding of our most valuable resource.”

Collaboration with Technical University Delft

Commissioned by Here Your Art in cooperation with Lumen Art Projects Ltd,  Voice of Nature is the kick-off of a collaboration with the Technical University Delft and its Plantenna research group. Goal is to finding ways to gain more data and amplify the voice of nature in an artistic way. “We are happy to being part of the research programmes and while our work shouldn’t be confused with the scientific research on plants taking place right now, we used as much real time data and sensors as possible in this artwork.” says Biersteker

Indeed, Biersteker is known for his installations about the world’s most pressing issues. His kinetic installation Plastic Reflectic, a basin with 601 pieces of plastics originating from all oceans of the world, won the coveted Lumen Prize Gold Award in 2016. Standing in front of the installation the spectators movement was reflected by real pieces of plastic, showing the impact a single persons act has on the ever growing plastic problem in our oceans.

At Lumen, we are so proud that Thijs was able to create something beautiful that also comments on the state of our fragile environment. Artists who engage with technology provide something unique to the contemporary art world today. This kind of multi-discipline work, drawing on cutting-edge academic work, is at the heart of what’s compelling about artists working with technology. ”

Voice of Nature premiered during the art festival Light Up Bashu in Chengdu China last month, commissioned by Here Your Art (CN) and curated by Lumen Art Projects Ltd (UK).

Light up Bashu was initiated by Xing Guang Hua City Construction (CN), produced by Here Your Art (CN) and curated by Lumen Art Projects Ltd (UK). Voice of Nature is produced by Woven Studio

Voice of Nature Credits:

Artist: Thijs Biersteker

Production: Woven Studio

Local Production: Here Your Art

Partner: TU Delft

Enabler: Xing Guang Hua City Construction (CN), Lumen Art Projects Ltd (UK), Here Your Art (CN)

Motion Design: Jurriaan Hos

Creative Coding:  Mickey van Olst

Electronics: Bas van Oerle

Music: End of Time

Producer: Sophie de Krom

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