with Nathalie Miebach
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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Boston-based conceptual artist Nathalie Miebach (previously) weaves colorful, complex sculptures using rope, wood, paper, fibers, and data from weather events. Two of the artist’s recent series explore the impact of storm waters on our lives and on marine ecosystems, with variables like wind and temperature (and the harmony of the composition) often informing the rainbow of colors used to translate the data into a three-dimensional structure.
The “Changing Waters” series uses data from The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) and Gulf of Maine Ocean Observing System (GoMOOS) buoys as well as from coastal weather stations to show relationships between weather patterns and changes in marine life. Similarly, the artist uses meteorological data from recent storms including Hurricane Sandy, Hurricane Maria, and Hurricane Katrina to inform her “Floods” series, which looks at the events both from scientific and human experience narratives. Cut and woven elements are connected to form geometric shapes and patterns that are as layered and in flux as our understanding of the storms themselves.
Miebach tells Colossal that her exploration of the intersection of science and art began while taking continuing education astronomy courses at Harvard University and basket weaving courses at a nearby school. As a tactile learner, she found it easier to understand the abstract concepts and ideas of the former by using the latter. “I was lucky to have a very open-minded professor who accepted it without any questions. I’m not sure if it hadn’t been for his openness to this somewhat unconventional way of learning astronomy, if I would have continued.”
See Miebach’s work in two solo shows opening this fall, at the Houston Center for Contemporary Craft in Texas and the Cedarhurst Center for the Arts in Mt. Vernon, Illinois. Her work will also be exhibited as a part of group shows at Ruth Funk Center for Textile Arts at Florida Institute of Technology, at New Media Gallery in Vancouver, and at Fuller Craft Museum in Brockton, Massachusetts. Follow the artist on Instagram to see more of her sculptural work and for more details on upcoming exhibitions.
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Nathalie Miebach’s colorful sculptures look like children’s toys gone awry, as if the designer included far too many twists and turns for a child to possibly follow. It would make sense that these twisted routes would throw one off course, as they are modeled from scientific data pulled from wind patterns, often from storms, gales or blizzards. Miebach translates this quantified data into physical forms that mimic the twirling motions of the invisible weather they aim to imitate.
“The method that I use is basket weaving because basket weaving is a very simple three dimensional grid that I can use to translate data with,” said Miebach. “Everything in the sculpture, whether it is a colorful bead, a string, whether it’s a dowel or reed, represents a different data point. Nothing is put on there for purely aesthetic reasons.”
The Boston artist discovered this process while simultaneously taking an astronomy class at Harvard and learning basket weaving as an extracurricular activity. She yearned for a way to physically display the data she was learning about in class, and thus her 3D scientific models were born. In a field where one is not able to see the data they collect, her sculptures give a form to that which was previously only able to be felt, tasted, and smelled.
Not only do her pieces serve as aesthetic objects, but readable sources of concrete data. “It is important for me that these pieces are actually very accurate because I want them to live in the science world as much as in the sculpture or craft world,” said Miebach. “I still want you to be able to read the weather off of these sculptures.”
You can learn more about Miebach’s process while taking a peak inside her studio in the video from Great Big Story below.
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Highlights below. For the full collection click here.