Visualizing Energy Data or Visceralizing Energy Transitions

I’m stealing a moment from my weekend to put up a few in progress images and a short intro to a collaborative project that I’m really excited about. Titled “Energy Pools,” this piece was first conceived in late 2019 with Nikki Stevens. Imagining and prototyping began in earnest in January of 2020 and included Dartmouth undergraduate Caroline Casey. Then, as with so much research and work in 2020…Covid-19 transformed everything. Caroline and I have just been able to return to the project this March (2021).

Energy Pools uses recycled or renewable textile strands to represent U.S. energy consumption in 2018 (1013 strands to represent the 101.3 Quadrillion BTUs of energy consumed). Embedded in the interior are an addition 400+ strands representing what we need to do to transform our energy supply to meet the IPCC goal of keeping anthropogenic global warming at +1.5 C by 2030. In a sense, the piece invites our audience to pull the future into the present by braiding out the energy sources that we need to downscale and replace with renewable energy sources.

Given Covid restrictions, we have had to use the last three weeks to bring what was supposed to be an on-site, interactive installation to a place where we could video document the project for sharing. On installation day, Caroline and I were joined by Rachel Florman and Colin Goodbread who helped us enact the collaborative and communal transformation of the piece.

Info on the project as proposed is below the images and I’ll return to write more, but for now – enjoy a few images! Brinker Ferguson is helping us create a video of the work for sharing…so more soon!

From our initial pitch:

“Energy Pools” places viewers in space with a large embodied tactile, touchable demonstration of the current balance of energy sources in the United States in 2020, along with elements that allow viewers to explore the shifts that will need to be made for sustainable energy futures.  

Our work is influenced by large-scale textile artists like Sheila Hicks and Andrea Browder. Their work force viewers to engage with questions of scale, security and sustainability as the pieces distort the scale of common objects and everyday life.    

We are also inspired by interactive works like those done by Alexandra Kehayoglou. Kehayoglou takes discarded fabrics to make textile landscapes and encourages viewers to touch, step on, and change her work noting that the transformations make each piece “a register of lives lived” (source).  We draw on the tactile nature of textiles, selecting materials that invite touching, pulling, “destroying”, and otherwise transforming our piece from something remote, to something immediate and experienced.  

Finally, in talking about this work as “data visceralization” I’m drawing on the work of Kelly Dobson’s Data Visceralization group at RSID from 2012-onward and Luke Stark’s Atlantic piece in 2014. This work is also informed by work that Jessica Rajko and I did as part of the Vibrant Lives collaboration, in particular our Living Net piece.