My work with NOAA climate data has inspired an interested in the non-human origins of climate data and the embodied experience of scientists collecting that data in the field.
I have been particularly struck when learning about sources of paleoclimate knowledge. Bee pollen, tree rings, ice cores and sediment are a few of the proxies we rely on to construct our understanding of climate change. These proxies are a vital source of knowledge. They are storytellers and geologic timepieces, not to mention beautiful. Bees are vital to sustenance. Forests are vital carbon sinks. But all of these proxies are also vulnerable bodies, subject to the violence of climate change, from bee colony collapse to forest fires and melting glaciers.
Science, rather than a fully human endeavor, is a collaboration between the human and more-than-human world. Climate science is not only the abstraction of numbers and charts on a page and on a screen. It is organic and material. It is, in the right hands, a practice of close attention and a practice of care.
I am looking forward to my first conversation with Oscar this week and learning more about his process of collecting and interpreting data. What is the experience of being in the field and moving through a landscape as a researcher? What is the feeling of collaborating with the non-human world? How does one know what to look for and where to look?
Data visualizations are often used to convey information. But how might we convey the feeling behind that information? How can we encourage others not so much to understand the changes taking place in our world, but to truly, fully, sense them – to feel the care and love and attention and urgency - the reason that scientists spend the time that they do collecting and interpreting data in the first place? How do we connect people in the most deeply personal way so that they can see themselves and their own experiences within the science? How can we re-see relationships that are often obscured in contemporary life?
Grasses, shrubs, and sparse pines of dark green grow on the coast of El Maestrat (eastern Spain) where flatlands alternate with mountain ranges of browns and greys. The intense fall rains and prolonged summer droughts create a landscape where riverbeds remain dry during most of the year and the Mediterranean Sea dominates the blue spectrum. Small towns and villages in the area rely on tourism, fishing, industry, and transform the land with agriculture practices that combine greens and citrus trees with almond and olive trees.
At a similar latitude across the Atlantic, perennial forests of green (during spring and summer), yellow, and red (during fall) maples, birches, and oaks in the flatlands of the Great Lakes region in southern Ontario (Canada). These forests share the natural landscape with the numerous lakes, streams, and rivers fed by the spring snowmelt and fall rains. This area is also highly populated, with relatively large urban centers and intensive (corn!) agriculture.
These distant landscapes (like all landscapes) are composed by physical, biological, and cultural elements that interact to construct the visual forms and colors and influence our lives in many ways. The Mediterranean landscapes taught me how to think, speak, and grow. The North-American landscapes taught me how nature works, and how humans interact with it. And while I am still learning (how to study) their functioning, the Bridge Residency opens a new perspective on these complex networks. After some years dissecting landscapes, I now collaborate with an expert on constructing landscapes.
Tali uses data to construct woven landscapes that represent change. While some of our methodologies may overlap (selecting variables, organizing data, exploring changes), the decision-making process may be different (how is the data used? Is part of the data discarded? Why? How is the data represented?), and so are the techniques we use (instruments, materials…), and even how our work reflects who we are or our relationship with the audience.