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  • Writer's pictureTomCorby

Materializing Data, Embodying Climate Change

Updated: Dec 18, 2019

How might our engagement with climate change differ if we could relate to it unhindered by digital screens, tablets and interfaces?

We know about our changing environment through the data that scientists collect. This material is highly significant as it shows how our climate is changing, but tends to be communicated to the public in technical visualisations and numeric diagrams that are highly abstract in form and difficult to understand for non-specialists. Studies have shown that people respond poorly to these information-heavy approaches, and in recent public polls climate change was mentioned by only 20% of respondents as an issue of concern. This has important implications for us all because understanding of climate change is vital to generating both required policy initiatives and personal changes in society at large.

Our research proposes that just as we experience our climate physically through immersion in landscapes and weather, our engagement with climate change might change if we similarly encountered its information and data in physical forms. As such, our project seeks to develop entirely new ways to represent climate change by taking its data (geological, atmospheric, biological) off digital screens and translate it into physical objects, artworks and environments. Research in computer science has shown that when we look at physical 3D prints of data, our ability to understand and engage with it increases. This is because when we touch or walk around real objects of dimension and scale, we involve more of our human senses. Physical representations of data not only enable better understanding of information, but also generate new kinds of insights and experiences.

We pursue our research through a unique combination of practice-based art and design enquiry in conjunction with science, public workshops and theoretical studies. Our team brings together experienced researchers from Central Saint Martins, University of the Arts London, the British Antarctic Survey, design studio Proboscis, and computer scientists from Birkbeck, University of London.

Using 3D printers, we translate climate data into physical structures, objects and environments, which involves writing software for data analysis, designing objects in 3D programmes, and experimenting with a range of sustainable materials (wood, resin, ceramics). Research develops in three phases exploring differences in scale, material and concept:

  1. Touch – small hand-held objects will examine how climate data can be made tactile, intimate and mobile

  2. Connect – larger component-based sculptures mirror the way that the Earth's climate is composed of interacting elements

  3. Immerse – spatial, environmental installations develop ideas around inhabitation and shared responsibility for our climate

We aim to produce new public understandings of climate change by:

  • Developing new representations and public experiences of our changing environment

  • Producing new models of enquiry between art and science to communicate shared issues of concern

  • Developing new physical approaches/techniques for the use of significant climate data


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