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TEDGlobal 2011

Nathalie Miebach: Art made of storms

July 11, 2011

Artist Nathalie Miebach takes weather data from massive storms and turns it into complex sculptures that embody the forces of nature and time. These sculptures then become musical scores for a string quartet to play.

Nathalie Miebach - Artist
Nathalie Miebach is a Boston-based artist who translates weather data into complex sculptures and musical scores. Full bio

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Double-click the English subtitles below to play the video.
(Music)
00:20
What you just heard
00:39
are the interactions of barometric pressure, wind and temperature readings
00:41
that were recorded of Hurricane Noel in 2007.
00:44
The musicians played off a three-dimensional graph of weather data like this.
00:48
Every single bead, every single colored band,
00:52
represents a weather element
00:54
that can also be read as a musical note.
00:56
I find weather extremely fascinating.
00:59
Weather is an amalgam of systems
01:01
that is inherently invisible to most of us.
01:03
So I use sculpture and music
01:05
to make it, not just visible,
01:07
but also tactile and audible.
01:09
All of my work begins very simple.
01:11
I extract information from a specific environment
01:13
using very low-tech data collecting devices --
01:15
generally anything I can find in the hardware store.
01:18
I then compare my information to the things I find on the Internet --
01:21
satellite images, weather data
01:24
from weather stations as well as offshore buoys.
01:26
That's both historical as well as real data.
01:29
And then I compile all of these numbers on these clipboards that you see here.
01:31
These clipboards are filled with numbers.
01:34
And from all of these numbers,
01:36
I start with only two or three variables.
01:38
That begins my translation process.
01:40
My translation medium is a very simple basket.
01:42
A basket is made up of horizontal and vertical elements.
01:45
When I assign values to the vertical and horizontal elements,
01:49
I can use the changes of those data points over time
01:52
to create the form.
01:55
I use natural reed,
01:57
because natural reed has a lot of tension in it
01:59
that I cannot fully control.
02:01
That means that it is the numbers that control the form,
02:03
not me.
02:05
What I come up with are forms like these.
02:07
These forms are completely made up
02:09
of weather data or science data.
02:11
Every colored bead, every colored string,
02:13
represents a weather element.
02:15
And together, these elements, not only construct the form,
02:17
but they also reveal behavioral relationships
02:19
that may not come across
02:21
through a two-dimensional graph.
02:23
When you step closer, you actually see
02:25
that it is indeed all made up of numbers.
02:27
The vertical elements
02:29
are assigned a specific hour of the day.
02:31
So all the way around, you have a 24-hour timeline.
02:33
But it's also used to assign a temperature range.
02:36
On that grid, I can then weave the high tide readings,
02:38
water temperature, air temperature and Moon phases.
02:41
I also translate weather data into musical scores.
02:44
And musical notation allows me a more nuanced way
02:47
of translating information
02:50
without compromising it.
02:52
So all of these scores are made up of weather data.
02:54
Every single color, dot, every single line,
02:56
is a weather element.
02:58
And together, these variables construct a score.
03:00
I use these scores to collaborate with musicians.
03:03
This is the 1913 Trio
03:05
performing one of my pieces
03:07
at the Milwaukee Art Museum.
03:09
Meanwhile, I use these scores as blueprints
03:11
to translate into sculptural forms like this,
03:14
that function still in the sense
03:18
of being a three-dimensional weather visualization,
03:20
but now they're embedding
03:22
the visual matrix of the musical score,
03:24
so it can actually be read as a musical score.
03:26
What I love about this work
03:28
is that it challenges our assumptions
03:30
of what kind of visual vocabulary belongs in the world of art, versus science.
03:32
This piece here is read very differently
03:35
depending on where you place it.
03:37
You place it in an art museum, it becomes a sculpture.
03:39
You place it in a science museum,
03:41
it becomes a three-dimensional visualization of data.
03:43
You place it in a music hall,
03:46
it all of a sudden becomes a musical score.
03:48
And I really like that,
03:50
because the viewer is really challenged
03:52
as to what visual language
03:54
is part of science versus art versus music.
03:56
The other reason why I really like this
03:58
is because it offers an alternative entry point
04:00
into the complexity of science.
04:03
And not everyone has a Ph.D. in science.
04:05
So for me, that was my way into it.
04:07
Thank you.
04:09
(Applause)
04:11

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Nathalie Miebach - Artist
Nathalie Miebach is a Boston-based artist who translates weather data into complex sculptures and musical scores.

Why you should listen

Nathalie Miebach's work focuses on the intersection of art and science and the visual articulation of scientific observations. Her woven sculptures interpret scientific data related to astronomy, ecology and meteorology in three-dimensional space. Her pieces simulatneously function as works of art, aural embodiments of data (musical compositions) and instruments that illustrate environmental change.

By utilizing artistic processes and everyday materials, Miebach questions and expands the boundaries of traditional science data visualization -- and provokes expectations of what visual vocabulary is considered to be in the domain of science and art. Miebach is a TEDGlobal 2011 Fellow.

The original video is available on TED.com
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