The Weather: Analog Experiences of/and Digital Objects
The Weather is a project dedicated to exploring and visualizing the weather as a topic and phenomenon that is a unique meeting space between dualities: reality/representation; local/global; analog/digital; human/machine; nature/culture; self/other. Even as a conversational topic, the weather is one that is characterized by another duality: it is simultaneously meaningful and meaningless. We talk about the weather with those we know well and with those we do not know at all; we talk about the weather when we are making decisions about our day-to-day activities and when there is nothing else to talk about; we talk about the weather because it represents something that is at once ever present and of shared concern, but that is at the same time sufficiently objective that it promises to garner no controversy. A topic of immediate importance, constant novelty, and sufficient banality that discussing it promises to raise no objections, the weather is a perfect set piece for conversation: one that is ever evolving yet truly common.
But the weather today is changing, both in reality and as a conversational topic. There is new scientific research published everyday indicating that anthropomorphic climate change is occurring at a rapid rate. International government bodies have signed treaties related to controlling carbon emissions, national government bodies have convened councils to study the affects of climate change on food production and living conditions, and local government bodies are actively planning and preparing for the consequences of severe weather caused by climate change. Yet, despite the overwhelming scientific evidence and various government actions, there is no general public consensus that climate change is actually occurring. As a result, though people can still talk about the weather, underneath this apparently banal set-conversation piece is a highly fractious debate rooted in political and economic beliefs and assumptions.
The Weather project allows viewers to engage in what appears to be a vernacular and very common experience of watching and experiencing the weather. However, because the images that are being viewed are made up of the text from various live data streams, the weather that viewers are watching is actually composed of comments and statistics about the weather generated by individuals on social media, by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, and by other government agencies. Observing the comments and statistics about whether, which are projected onto the screen and shaped into weather patterns, viewers are literally “reading” the weather as they watch it go by. They are also hearing the weather go by as the data streams they are viewing are being converted to speech sounds. Finally, as a public art project that viewers can interact with, viewers are invited to share their own reflections on the weather via Twitter and these are fed back into the data feed for the project. This then allows a final duality—artist/viewer—to be explored and deconstructed as the comments the viewer makes are integrated and fed into the artifact they are viewing. One aim of the project is to contrast the weather as something humans are always experiencing and processing experientially and the weather as data, which various machines and networks are tracking and assessing to bring attention to the various things that the weather represents and to some of its unique characteristics as a social, cultural, medial, and natural phenomenon.
The hardware for the project includes a digital projector, a speaker, and a computer. The software for the project includes three separate applications: one for harvesting the data from various live data streams; one for formatting, feeding, and shaping the data, which move across the screen; and one for converting the text of the data stream to speech, which is projected by the speaker.
This project is one that is ongoing and adaptable depending on the specific context (time and space) for the installation. Based on the technologies available at any one point in time and on the location of the installation, the data streams used can be altered and customized.