Nathalie Miebach Weaves Data and Anecdotes into Expansive Sculptures to Raise Awareness of the Climate Crisis
For Boston-based artist Nathalie Miebach, art is a way to translate scientific data into a visual language of patterns and relationships. In 2007, when she first began to make works that explored weather and climate change, she wanted to better understand the science. “Each piece began with a specific question I had and then the sculpture would attempt to answer it. Over time, I began to be more interested not in how weather instruments record weather, but how we as a species respond to it,” she tells Colossal. “That’s when I began to look at extreme weather events such as floods, storms, and fires.”
Basketweaving plays a central role in Miebach’s practice as it both physically and metaphorically weaves together materials and information. The type of data she collects is both statistical and anecdotal, combining scientific inquiry with personal experiences. “Harvey’s Twitter SOS,” for example, translates 2017 data maps about Hurricane Harvey published by The New York Times. “The inner quilt is made up of shapes that map out income distribution in Houston and uses the city’s highway system as a visual anchor. Various types of information related to Harvey are stitched onto the quilt, including Twitter messages that were sent out during the storm,” she says. Each piece contains numerous pathways, repetitions, and connections, redolent of Rube Goldberg machines in which cause and effect play a central role.
During the past three years, the artist’s work also collates Covid-19 data alongside climate information. “Spinning Towards a New Normal,” on view currently at Staatliche Museen zu Berlin, translates Covid-19 infection, death, and vaccination rates for Germany, Italy, and Spain into the form of a spinning top with a plumb bob, representing the struggle of communities and economies to find stability. “We are not invincible, and neither is this planet,” she warns. “For the first time in human history, we have all experienced how vulnerable we can be as a species. The recent work I have been doing is trying to look at these broader environmental changes we are now seeing through this lens of vulnerability.”
You can see Miebach’s work in All Hands On: Basketry at Staatliche Museen zu Berlin through May 25, 2023, and Climate Action, Inspiring Change at the Peabody Essex Museum in Salem, Massachusetts, through June 25, 2023. Explore more of her work on her website and follow updates on Instagram.
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Photographer Levon Biss Illuminates the Strange, Otherworldly Chrysalises of Butterfly Pupae
A photographer known for using the macro to investigate the micro, Levon Biss (previously) continues his explorations into the vast world of entomology. His recent butterfly pupae series centers on “the diversity of design and form” through illuminating portraits of approximately 30 specimens as they undergo metamorphosis and complete the final, most vulnerable stage of the transition from adolescence to adulthood.
Otherworldly and bordering on the bizarre, many of the chrysalises have evolved to be deceptive in appearance, acting as necessary camouflage from potential predators by impersonating nearby plants and surroundings: some mimic the natural, like those that imitate a rotting plantain or mossy hunk of bark, while others are more artful, like those spotted with Kusama-esque dots or cloaked in a mirrored gold coating. The photographs are “intended to be both entertaining and educational,” Biss shares, “allowing the viewer to appreciate the diversity in the subject whilst appreciating the intricate details that evolution has created.”
Pick up a print of the unearthly images, and find more from the collection on Biss’s site and Instagram. If you’re in New York, you can also see his Extinct and Endangered series at the American Museum of Natural History.
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A Five-Meter Magnifying Glass Uses the Sun’s Immense Power to Melt Metal
Anyone who spent time outside with a magnifying glass as a kid is aware of the instrument’s power to generate a staggering amount of heat and even start a fire when hit with sunlight. Designer Jelle Seegers harnesses that practice in a new project he presented as part of the Design Academy Eindhoven student show at this year’s Dutch Design Week.
“The Solar Metal Smelter” uses a square polycarbonate sheet that Seegers carved with circles to mimic the convex lens of a magnifying glass. Extending about five meters wide, the material is embedded in a frame made from upcycled stainless steel, with an attached hand crank that needs to be turned every ten minutes to keep the sun focused on the correct spot. Once heated, the smelter reaches up to 1,000 degrees Celsius and can liquefy zinc, aluminum, and other metals that are then poured into various sand molds. The designer estimates that the device generates about four kilowatts of energy.
In a conversation with Dezeen, Seegers shares that he produced the machine to reduce the reliance on electricity and to better utilize the sun’s power. He says:
Electrical solar panels, they never have an efficiency of more than about 20 percent. Only 20 percent of the sunlight gets converted into electricity, so we need a huge amount of solar panels to create a huge amount of electrical energy. But if you just take the sun’s heat, and you only bend it and direct it, you don’t need to do this complex conversion to electricity. And for that reason, you can achieve an efficiency of about 95 percent.
Seegers plans to scale up the project in the coming months and has been working on a variety of carbon-neutral machines, including the pedal-powered tool grinder shown below. For a similar solar-powered design, check out this sinter that uses sunlight and sand to make glass.
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Unseen Cosmic Forces Inspire Otherworldly Photographs of Magnets and Metallic Particles
A fascination with nature, science, and the vast mysteries of the cosmos has inspired Alabama-based photographer Zac Henderson’s series Dark Matter III, part of an ongoing project that transforms magnets and metallic grains into spectral and unearthly forms. As its name suggests, the works are inspired by dark matter, a form of matter thought to be abundant in the universe, integral to its structure and evolution, and yet difficult to detect. Henderson describes it as “what keeps galaxies glued together,” and he’s influenced by the interaction of unseen forces on the world around us.
Dark Matter II explores the nuances of physical power and challenges perceptions of size and depth, creating otherworldly forms that can be interpreted in enormous galactic proportions or at a microscopic scale. “I like for there to be a reward for looking closely at the work,” Henderson says. Around forty photos taken at different focal points are layered into one composite, giving each image immense clarity with emphasis on detail and texture.
You can find more of Henderson’s work on his website and Instagram.
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Documentary Food Science
Wrought: A Mesmerizing Short Film Coaxes the Beneficial and Beautiful Sides of Rot and Decay
Decay is sometimes an unsightly signal that it’s time for last week’s leftovers to be expeditiously trashed, although not all spoiling leads to the compost bin or garbage. Bubbly juice and veins of mold are responsible for common fare like beer, cheese, kombucha, kimchi, and bread, and although our reactions of disgust tends to mask the more fruitful features of the decomposition process, spoiling can provide health benefits and also be visually stunning—we’re continually fascinated by Kathleen Ryan’s ability to blur the line between the beautiful and grotesque.
In the short film “Wrought,” directors Anna Sigrithur and Joel Penner of Biofilm Productions highlight the intriguing and alluring qualities of mold and rot. From wispy spores sprouting atop a surface to liquifying cabbage to shriveling slices of fruit, the documentary timelapse flashes a variety of substances as they wilt and wither and ultimately questions our perceptions of the natural process.
Watch the trailer for “Wrought” above, and find the 22-minute film on Vimeo.
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NASA’s James Webb Telescope Captures an Astounding Photo of the Gaseous Pillars of Creation
Back in 1995, NASA’s Hubble Space Telescope documented the now iconic Pillars of Creation, a photo of a celestial area known for its staggering number of star formations. That initial image offered an illuminating glimpse of the interstellar stone-like columns made of gas and dust, although a composite recently released from the James Webb Space Telescope uses near-infrared light to highlight the region in even more detail.
This new 122-megapixel photo features a deep-blue expanse studded with light, and the pillars themselves appear less opaque than in the earlier shot. When cropped, the new image shows the Eagle Nebula, located 6,500 light-years away. The bright red fiery orbs apparent from this view are new stars, which are formed “when knots with sufficient mass form within the pillars of gas and dust… begin to collapse under their own gravity (and) slowly heat up.”
Some of the incandescent bodies still in the early stages of life also produce undulating, lava-like ejections, which NASA describes:
Young stars periodically shoot out supersonic jets that collide with clouds of material, like these thick pillars. This sometimes also results in bow shocks, which can form wavy patterns like a boat does as it moves through water. The crimson glow comes from the energetic hydrogen molecules that result from jets and shocks. This is evident in the second and third pillars from the top–the NIRCam image is practically pulsing with their activity. These young stars are estimated to be only a few hundred thousand years old.
Researchers say the new photo will allow more accurate counts of new formations and their development.
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