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G o o g i t h w l l a b o r a t i o n c o i , i n i n

Ta r q u r i s t i n a



i fi c a t i o n i d a c f o c e a n e ff e c t s o t h e s u ff e r i n g i v a l v e b

: e l o n g a t e d

M u s s e l s to their actions and perhaps make slight, but considered, alterations to their diets, consumption habits and lifestyles.

All of the Heartbeat projects put emphasis on the data, but Tarquini and Oefner, in particular, have also created visually appealing work. Dark palettes are punctuated with neon flashes of colour. Bright dots coalesce as plants, animals or waste. Rippling blue lines trace the undulations of rock and ice. For both practitioners, making projects with strong aesthetics is just another strategy to help draw in viewers. Oefner notes: “The climate is such a complex topic; I didn't want to project the sole idea that everything is gone and the whole planet is going down. Lots of projects include photographs of glaciers side-by-side – one from the 1900s where it's completely visible, then one where it has disappeared. After a while, that gets to be very depressing. I thought it was important to keep the beauty of the planet as well as the issue.” For him, presence is more effective than absence – allowing for inspiration and hope.

The graphics are, in indeed, stunning. However, they weren’t just randomly selected for their appeal; both artists selected approaches that were intimately tied to the issue. Tarquini chose to show renderings of plants and animals that cohere together then fly apart for good reason. She was inspired by a study of the Pteropod – a small sea creature whose shell will dissolve in the pH conditions expected in 2100. “With code, we replicated the same dissolution of the study and brought it into the experience.” Oefner, meanwhile, reproduced the glacier’s contours with a drone kitted out with lights. He flew across the mountain at night, mapping the co-ordinates and photographing with a long exposure. Behind-the-scenes images of the painstaking work – both in flying the drone but also piecing together the information – are equally as compelling.

In addition to rendering the ripples of the landscape, Oefner also emphasised the importance of putting the information first. It was vital to make sure that the pictures were accurate – working with the Laboratory of Hydrolics, Hydrology and Glaciology at ETH Zurich, as well as getting the project validated by Dr Andreas Bauder. Similarly, Tarquini worked with the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration and World Meterorological Organisation, and had her work validated by Frédéric Gazeau from the Laboratoire d’Oceanographie de Villefranche.

Oefner says: “What makes the project more than just an image is inserting clear-cut scientific value. That was very important. To me, art and science are not so different, because both try to look at the world and comprehend it. But often people can’t make a connection, they just see numbers and data. I hope that, as an artist, I can explain what the data means and help them connect with it.” Tarquini agrees: “For non-scientists, sometimes it’s hard to really grasp the facts about the environment and really understand its cause–effect implications,” she adds. “The role of the artist is to bring audiences closer to understanding and empathising with important aspects of society. Interpreting issues is what creators can do to facilitate this process.”

Given that 71% of adults agree that, in the long term, the climate crisis is as serious as the Covid-19 pandemic (Ipsos, May 2020), we’re at a crucial crossroads. Every vote, action and lifestyle change matters if we're to tackle the climate crisis. To achieve this, people must not only understand the data, but connect with it and, ultimately, take action.

Right: Timelines - Trift Glacier ( 2019). © Fabian Oefner.

Words Diane Smyth

Heartbeat of the Earth was created in collaboration with Google Arts & Culture Lab and the UNFCCC

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