• Art & Science Research Group


Based on earlier presented maps and explorations of visualisation of the ongoingness and historical dynamics of weather and meteorology, I have created textile representations of those maps and illustrations. The tension between the material, the “real” in a physical sense, and the digital has been central to explore in this project - how do you work around the fact that weather is ever changing, technology to record it is ever changing, but the image to record these movements has to be still yet reflective of them? I have tried, and the materials have responded in their own ways. It has been a terrific learning curve and a great starting point for a continuous project in exploration of visualisation, weather, and movement. The piece is titled “I remember that storm”, reflecting upon the individual experience of individual instances of weather, the ability to recall and depict, and the relationship between small/big, individual/collective, rain cloud/climate change development.

Throughout this course, I had the pleasure to be in conversation with Thomas Spengler, professor at the Geophysical Institute, University of Bergen.

Nina: For me it’s been really useful to talk about your work with you, because you work with mesoscale meteorology. What drew you to that scale?

Thomas: (Laughs), well, because I can see it. As a teenager, in Münich where I’m from, in the summer we get a lot of big thunderstorms and lightning. There’s a lot of energy in the atmosphere - you see this big thunder storm, you see the lightning, you feel the gusts, you feel the hail, you see the weather. It’s very fascinating, and that drew me into meteorology. You feel it. And I like to be in the mountains as well, and the mountains have their own weather.

I read Vilhelm Bjerknes’ son Jacob’s paper that you sent me this morning - it was this meticulous description of this cyclone moving and where the rain would fall and so on. It was really beautiful.

It is quite beautiful, yeah. The Bjerknes paper that you just mentioned - that was based on observations. So Vilhelm Bjerknes (meteorologist, scientist, 1862-1951) famously walked up and down Fjellveien to observe. Because you’re higher up and the fronts come in from the Atlantic, they really had a perception of what these fronts look like and work. So that’s mesoscale, the scale you see and feel. If you go very small scale, you still feel it and it is easy to grasp, but once you go very large scale it becomes difficult to relate to.

The illustrations in those [Bjerknes] papers are very angular and they’re very expressive in their own right. It was one of them that had this big black sort of body like shape in the middle of the drawing. It was just very compelling and I can imagine that it could have been visualised in a much less impactful way. So clearly it’s not like a sign of the times, although the technology today is.

That’s right, especially with those papers that you mention now: A lot of people were not convinced, so they had to make a very compelling argument, and it has to be bulletproof, extremely convincing.

It was very clear, because they were very intriguing as well. You want to know how all of these things can be represented in this drawing, and strengthens the case for a demand for more weather stations.

They did a good job, right?


Why do you think it’s important for artists and scientists to work together?

Saying “working together” is kind of funny, because it implies that we are very different. I know colleagues who think that art and science are inherently different. I differ, I think we’re extremely similar. What drew me to science and what I believe draws any good scientist to science is this need to think creatively and to push the boundary. You have to be the kind of person who wants to dig and wants to find and wants to explore. To me that’s a good scientist, and it’s the same with a good artist. We are very similar in the quest that we pursue, finding new things, being creative, because without creativity there is nothing new. So for me it’s very natural, it’s an inspiration. There might be new ideas, new ways to be creative about something. I believe that it goes both ways.

How does visualisation of data relate to your work?

I find it very challenging, visualisation of data, because I mean, you mentioned Bjerknes before - they didn’t have much data and they were also very limited in terms of ways of visualising this knowledge.

They had these illustrations of the steering line...

They made their own kind of visualisations. They had no computers of course, so they had to get others to make pictures. The internet was just coming up when I started studying. It’s unimaginable, it was a very different time. A lot of the illustrations were hand drawn still when I started studying. So you would use millimeter paper, put everything in, and then you would draw. The research institutions at that time had professional drawers. They would basically just stand there and every day they would draw these plots. It’s unthinkable today, now you have a program that does everything for you.

But even when you have a program that does all the contours and shadings and god knows what for you, you still have to make choices about what data to show and how to show your data, because of course you want to convey your message. That’s the most important part in your paper, how to best emphasise that with a visualisation and the data that you have. So this is again where I think the scientist has to be very creative. You can immediately see that if you open some papers of some scientists. You look at some of their images and they don’t quite work, while others immediately speak for themselves.


Artwork by Nina Eriksson:

I remember that storm; I remember its past, weave with printed viscose appliquées, 100x70cm, 2020

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