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Eco Data – Eco Media – Eco Aesthetics

The significance of technologies and techno-scientific methods in the arts for the perception and aesthetics of things ecological

This research project studies the role that artistic sensory techniques play in the perception of non-human modes of existence. It attempts to bridge the issues of technology and the ecological arts. The research project is application-oriented and consists of a theoretical and a practical part, which are presented here.

The three artistic researchers Marcus Maeder, Rasa Smite and Aline Veillat, in close co-operation with the WSL (Swiss Federal Institute for Forest, Snow and Landscape Research, are developing an individual aesthetic approach to the Alpine “Pfynwald”. This forest in the Valais is one of the few forests in the world from which relevant data on the effect of global warming on forests have been collected for more than 25 years. The Pfynwald is old, its pines have colonized this region after the last ice age. However, since 1908 the local aluminium industry and the extreme drought caused by global warming have damaged it to such an extent that 50% of the pine trees are already dead. Nevertheless, it is still the largest contiguous pine forest in Central Europe. It is not clear whether the forest will be deserted or whether the pines will be replaced by downy oaks (Quercus pubescens), which are resistant to drought and migrate here from the south. The future is uncertain. What is certain, however, is that the Pfynwald is a globally unique, long-term, outdoor laboratory in which future scenarios are being explored. Our questions are as follows: How do the data affect us? What does it take, aesthetically, to promote moments of care, solidarity, and empathy with the many species on planet Earth?

All artist researchers use an interdisciplinary method. Marcus Maeder already worked together with the WSL before this research project. He was able to show that eco-acoustics and the sonification of measurement data provide science with a helpful category of analysis. Certain patterns become more rapidly recognizable through hearing than through other methods of data recognition, such as visualization. Rasa Smite learned that trees not only convert CO2 into oxygen, but also produce volatile gases that affect the atmosphere. One of her methods of approaching this phenomenon is to get her hands “dirty” and work with and through these materials, such as resin. Aline Veillat began with the conceptual deconstruction of the “forest” and the question of “nature” in the Anthropocene. She is now developing an artistic form that reflects this conceptual approach: How can an entanglement of signs be transferred to art? And how can signs be tracked down, recognized, and reacted to?

All artists-researchers have an interdisciplinary approach. Marcus Maeder has been working with the WSL scientists already before this research. He was able to show that eco-acoustics and the sonification of measurement data produce useful analysis categories for science. Certain patterns become recognizable more quickly through hearing than through other forms of pattern recognition from data, such as visualizations. In the course of her research, Rasa Smite found out that trees are not only transformers of CO2 into oxygen, but also emitters of volatile matter who affect the atmosphere. One of her ways of approaching this phenomenon is to get the hands “dirty” and to aesthetically work with and through these materials, like e.g. resin. Aline Veillat started with the conceptual deconstruction of “the forest” and the question of “nature” in the Anthropocene. Now, she is elaborating an artistic form that would reflect her conceptual approach: How to translate an entanglement of signs into aesthetic realms? How to detect, recognize and potentially respond to signs?

Project partners:
Eidgenössische Forschungsanstalt für Wald, Schnee und Landschaft WSL (Swiss Federal Institute for Forest, Snow and Landscape Research; Institute for Computer Music and Sound Technology ICST/ZHdK; Haus der elektronischen Künste HeK (House of Electronic Arts); Rixc, Riga.

Team:
Yvonne Volkart (lead), Marcus Maeder, Rasa Smite, and Aline Veillat Institute IAeP, SNF (Swiss National Science Foundation SNSF) research project 2017 – 2020

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