A report on Germany's international broadcaster, Deutsche Welle Radio, on Futuresonic 2009 festival highlights, focusing on the Environment 2.0 projects and the relationship between people and the environment - by Cheryl Northey
(Text from radio programme supplied by Cheryl Northey)
In urban environments we are often insulated from both nature and the consequences of our actions. But, at the recent Futuresonic Urban Festival of Art, Music & Ideas in Manchester, artists, environmentalists and scientists explored the interfaces and complex relationships between technology and our environmental footprint.
The result is an exhibition of playful artworks that make visible or tangible complex statistics or issues about environmental sustainability in order to provoke and inspire everyday people.
At the CUBE gallery in Manchester potted plants are suspended from the ceiling. As people pass-by or touch the plants the small hanging garden of plants performs a kind of symphony. This whimsical interactive garden produces sound when touched by people or when it registers changes in light and heat.
French artists Gregory Lasserre and Anais met den Ancxt call this garden Akousmaflore because it instantly sonifies data flow and the plants act as natural sensors says Anais met den Ancxt:
Anais met den Ancxt - “When we touch plants they react and sing because they are very sensitive to our energy. Each body has a kind of energy and when we touch plants she catch our energy and she sings because there is different kind of energy fields.”
The Urban Prospector combines a Do It Yourself aesthetic by using basic electronics to re-invigorate urban exploration and at the same time highlights our dependence on oil.
It developed from an oil spill mapping project Cohrs was working on. He was investigating the Greenpoint, Brooklyn spill where 17 million US gallons of oil and gasoline leaked into the ground.
Jon Cohrs - “I became more interested in the fact the leak happened in the late 50’s and continued on through the mid 80’s. So we’re talking 25 years of continual leakage that lead to a spill three times the size of Veldez but they haven’t been able to clean it up, it is so large that nobody knows where to begin.”
Cohr shocks passers-by as he leads a group of urban prospector along the disused canal ways of Manchester with his conceptual art objects:
(Jon Cohrs out in the field urban prospecting: Here’s a spot...so we got something here...it’s good, it’s good... you gotta go real slow...I’m guessing that this is another run off spot, maybe between this crack right here we are getting run off from the street, probably from you know automobiles that are leaking oil or gasoline and the rain water is bringing it down and its just running down into this pocket... fade under)
Andrea Polli’s audio-visual installation, Sonic Antarctica, is the result of seven weeks of field recordings, sonifications of science data and interviews with weather and climate scientists.
The recordings are from the ''Dry Valleys", some of the driest and largest relatively ice-free area on the continent completely devoid of terrestrial vegetation.
Ruth Fenton, Arts Projects Coordinator at the Science Museum in London, says artists can offer new ways of thinking about the impact of science, medicine and technology on culture and society:
Ruth Fenton - “It presents a way of looking at such a huge topic as climate change in a far more accessible way than dry statistics. Art works bring an experience that is an expression and an interpretation. We can tackle some of those issues through art work I think more effectively to some degree.”
Drew Hemment, Associate Director of ImaginationLancaster, a major creative research lab at Lancaster University is also Director and founder of the Futuresonic Urban Festival of Art, Music and Ideas.
He established Futuresonic over 14 years ago, and says it now engages with more people outside the digital arts community by staging more ambitious projects than ever before.
Drew Hemment - “Futuresonic staged the world’s first exhibition on mobile and locative arts, so that’s artists and technologists who are doing creative and imaginary stuff with online mapping, mobile location aware technologies.”
Hemment wanted to see how the innovative digital art might open new pathways to address global climate change and brought the two communities together of arts and science together. The result is collaboration with senior scientists at the UK’s Meto Office and the Hadley Centre, the world’s oldest meteorological office:
Drew Hemment - “We’ve devised these really simple accessible games, the bubble chase and the bubble race. One of them you blow a bubble make a mental note of where you are so you can identify yourself on an online map, and then chase after the bubble where ever it stops or pops, you repeat that five to ten times make a note of where you end up and then on the map you draw a line from the start to end and that gives the Met Office a vector for wind direction.”
By sharing the results of the bubble games online, the Met Office can get a snapshot of Manchester air flow circulation which helps its investigation of the Urban Heat Phenomenon. And in a way these playful artworks and games represents how the Futuresonic Festival brings together art, web technologies and citizens all in the name of science.