Eco-visualization technology offers a new way to dynamically visualize invisible environmental data. Eco-visualization can take many forms. My own practice of eco-visualization involves animating information typically concealed in building monitoring systems, such as kilowatts or gallons of water used. A public display with real time feedback promotes awareness of resource consumption. The long-term goal of most eco-visualization technology is to encourage good environmental stewardship through hybrid practices of art and design. The presentation will provide a critical survey of this emerging field.
Buildings breathe data. Our homes shelter technology that quietly counts in the background of our daily lives. We cook; we wash; we sleep. All the while, small electronic gadgets tally numbers. How many of us know how many gallons of hot water we use daily? Residential water meters are often hidden in dark basements. As a media artist, I design eco-visualization software that creates sounds and images from environmental information. My data could be concealed in local architecture or a nearby river.
Eco-visualization technology offers a new way to dynamically visualize invisible environmental data. Eco-visualization can take many creative forms. It is the purpose of this paper to provide a critical survey of this emerging field. My current practice of eco-visualization involves animating information typically concealed in building monitoring systems, such as kilowatts, gallons of water used, or water quality facts. A public display with real time feedback promotes awareness of resource consumption and offers a practical alternative to remote electricity meters or water meters concealed in utility closets. The long-term goal of most eco-visualization artworks is to encourage good environmental stewardship by either increasing conservation behavior or raising awareness. This paper will provide a critical examination of work made by artists working to picture ecologically significant and often hidden data using innovative visualization strategies made possible with new technologies.
My own artistic practice is inspired by conceptual artists of the 1960s like Hans Haacke who promoted environmental stewardship through the real time performance of water decontamination. After defining some key terms, this paper will first detail the history and context of eco-visualization. I begin with Hans Haacke’s influential installation Rhinewater Purification Plant (1972), and progress to a survey of contemporary media artists and designers working in the eco-visualization arena: David Birchfield and collaborators, the Static design collective, Natalie Jeremijenko, the FutureFarmers, and many others. This survey will end with an in-depth investigation of the successes and failures of one of my own recent projects, a public display that dynamically visualizes electricity loads. The survey is limited to an exploration of eco-visualization that raises awareness about resource conservation.
Building on the history of land art from the 1960’s, eco-visualization provides a much-needed link between scientific research and public education. This paper will suggest that media art–particularly the eco-visualization projects that focus on the imaging of hidden processes or the usage of key resources–can help redefine and strengthen our complex relationship to nature. Artists have a vital role to play in the representation of environmentally critical data that is secreted from public view due to either the inward focus of the scientific research community or the private practices of industry. Special attention will be given to eco-visualization software that involves collaboration or direct participation between any or all of the following groups: artists and scientists, scientists and the general public, and artists and the general public. Throughout the course of the paper, patterns of both pollution and consumption on the planet will be briefly summarized, as these are the forces driving both the scientific and artistic research. In the forthcoming survey of eco-visualization and other technology-driven art works that deal with resource conservation issues, I intend to demonstrate the following:
- Eco-visualization offers a new way to visualize invisible environmental data.
- Eco-visualization can provide real time visual feedback that can increase conservation behavior or environmental awareness.
- Dynamic visual feedback through eco-visualization encourages perception of linkages between the natural world and the built environment.
- Eco-visualization can encourage good environmental stewardship.