Sculpture based on climate change data unveiled in Alice Holt Forest

News from Forest Research - October 2014

Jarwood sculpture CosmosForest Research have worked with artist duo, ‘Semiconductor’, to see their climate change data translated into a 2m high spherical wooden sculpture.

The sculpture, Cosmos, is permanently sited in Alice Holt Forest near to the research station and to the 26m tall Flux Tower from where the data were collected. Semiconductor (artists Ruth Jarman and Joe Gerhardt) created the work as part of Jerwood Open Forest, a partnership between Jerwood Charitable Foundation and Forestry Commission England with additional support from Arts Council England.

The sculpture was produced using data from two instruments: an infra-red gas analyser that measures changes in carbon dioxide and water vapour concentration, and a high-speed anemometer that measures turbulence and air temperature. Semiconductor looked at how the scientists were using a technique called a Polar Plot, which allows a year’s worth of the Flux Tower data to be plotted visually in a circular form. Subsequent data from other instruments are overlaid on the plot in the same way, leading to the formation of visually interesting patterns and forms.

To reveal the visual patterns and shapes inherent in the data, Semiconductor developed custom digital techniques to translate the data from strings of numbers into three-dimensional forms. The overall shape of the sculpture became spherical, with the surface taking on the complex interference patterns produced by the waveforms and patterns in the data. The structure is made of a series of 180 hexagonal wooden tiles which fit together to produce a sphere and have been charred to give Cosmos its black charcoal appearance.

Speaking at the unveiling of the sculpture, the artists pointed out that:
“It is human nature to look for patterns; as humans our eyes and brains are continuously reading visual information, looking for patterns which allow us to make sense of the world. Science is driven by, and depends on, these patterns to be able to create an understanding of the world. There is a difference between the patterns we experience day to day and the patterns that science presents.”

Matt Wilkinson from Forest Research, who worked with Ruth and Joe, emphasised that the discovery process was two-way.

“Working with Semiconductor made us really think about the data we were collecting and the collaboration has suggested new ways for us to present data in future.”