Weaving baskets from weather data

By Duncan Geere |06 September 2010
Weaving baskets from weather data

An artist named Nathalie Miebach has some unusual inspiration for the sculptures and music that she creates -- data from meteorological and astronomical instruments and ecological surveys.

The chosen medium for Miebach's work is basket-weaving, because it presents a three-dimensional grid on which to plot raw numbers. The dimensions, shape and orientation of the basket also depend very much on the data. "I never know what the shape will be beforehand, which often leaves me scratching my head," said Miebach, in an interview with the Peabody Essex Museum.

Miebach likes to collect the data herself, spending hours and days in the field trying to understand complex, dynamic relationships between different variables in an environment. The key, she says, often isn't to examine the numbers on the instrument -- it's to observe the different things that are going on around you.

Keeping an eye on things like cloud cover, animal behaviour, water currents, and even less tangible factors like the smell of the air and feel of the ground below your feet, can give a clue to how hundreds of systems can interoperate in one place. "I keep describing this as a type of visual ‘listening’ with my peripheral vision, though I am still learning what that actually means," she said.

Once the data is recorded, Miebach searches through it for patterns that indicate that something interesting is happening. "Numbers function a bit like Lego pieces in that I assign each value a physicality that gets integrated into the basket. I never change the value of the numbers to conform to some sort of aesthetic preference. This allows the sculptures to exist as sculptures in space but also as actual devices that could be used to read data from a specific environment."

Then construction begins. Miebach uses reed, which can be difficult to work with, but its internal tension helps to dictate the shape of the finished basket. Once it's done, material is used to construct more axes to plot data on, with colour and shapes of different beads used to indicate different variables. All the information is encoded into a key that's displayed next to the artwork.

Stormy Weather

More recently, Miebach has begun turning the data into sheet music too: "These pieces are not only devices that map meteorological conditions of a specific time and place, but are also functional musical scores to be played by musicians.

"While musicians have freedom to interpret, they are asked not to change the essential relationship of the notes to ensure that what is still heard is indeed the meteorological relationship of weather data."

Miebach will be exhibiting her work between now and next year, at various US galleries. It's also included in a book titled Data Flow 2: Visualizing Information in Graphic Design, which is available now from Amazon.

Photo Credit: Nathalie Miebach
Online Editor: Nate Lanxon

Love the idea of someone crafting something solid based on weather data. And also intrigued by it becoming a music score - if you follow this link you can hear the sounds that the weather data makes when interpreted (click on the names).