Data Soliloquies extract: Clouds

In their role as climate change canaries, clouds are both more prevalent and closer to home than Arctic ice-caps or polar bears. Cloud patterns have long been read as short-range weather indicators, but more recently they have begun to be seen as longer term climatic signals. Their messages are far from clear, however, and so far little is certain about the roles that clouds are likely to play in shaping future conditions on earth.

Will clouds turn out to be agents of warming, veiling us in an ever-thickening greenhouse of emissions, or will they end up saving the day by reflecting ever more sunlight back into space? These, it turns out, are far from simple questions, and cloud behaviour continues to offer serious impediments to understanding future climates, since a change in almost any aspect of clouds, such as their type, location, water content, longevity, altitude, particle size and overall shape, changes the degree to which clouds will serve to warm or cool the earth.

As is so often the case with climate science, research yields apparently contradictory results. On the one hand, for example, many climate scientists believe that continued surface warming will cause increased water vapour to rise from the oceans, leading to an overall increase in cloud formation — while on the other hand, particularly in warmer latitudes, an increase in the water vapour content of our atmosphere could see large convective cumuliform clouds building up and raining out far quicker than they do at present, thereby leading to a net decrease in the earth’s total cloud cover. Low-level stratiform clouds, meanwhile, tend to shield the earth from incoming solar radiation, but recent research has shown that such clouds are more likely to dissipate in warmer conditions, thus allowing the oceans to heat up further, and causing yet further stratiform cloud loss. Scientists currently have no idea which of these outcomes is the most likely, nor do they really know the kind of long-term influences that either is likely to have. Even if, for the sake of argument, it’s assumed that overall cloud cover will increase as the surface of our planet continues to warm, it remains unclear what kind of clouds (and thus what kind of feedback mechanisms) are likely to predominate.

For instance, high, thin clouds, such as cirrostratus, tend to have an overall warming effect, as they admit shortwave solar radiation in from above, while bouncing longwave back-radiation (reflected from the sunlit ground) back down to earth. Any increase in cirrostratus cloud cover would therefore add another warming mechanism to our climate. In contrast, however, bright, dense cumulus clouds serve to cool the earth by reflecting incoming sunlight back into space by day. At night, these same clouds tend to exert a slight warming effect, by absorbing or reflecting back-radiation, but their overall influence is a cooling one, especially when their summits grow dense and white. So, in theory, an increase in high, thin clouds would amplify the global warming effect, while an increase in low, dense, puffy clouds would have a contrary cooling effect — which is why cloud-whitening has recently been advanced as a geo-engineering idea for mitigating the effects of climate change, with salt water to be sprayed from thousands of ships in order to create brighter and more reflective clouds over the oceans. In reality, of course, things are never that simple, and clouds have always had an interesting habit of behaving in unpredictable ways.

For example, after the terrorist attacks of 11 September 2001, all commercial flights in the United States were grounded for several days, leaving the skies contrail-free for the first time in decades. The result, according to a comparison of nationwide temperature records, was slightly warmer days and slightly cooler nights than were usual for that time of year, the normal night/day temperature range having increased by 1.1 degrees C. According to the climate scientists who worked on the data, this was probably due to additional sunlight reaching the surface by day, and additional radiation escaping at night through the unusually cloudless skies. At first sight this might seem counter-intuitive, for surely the kind of cirriform clouds created by the spreading of aircraft contrails are straightforward warming clouds, the kind that allow sunlight through, while bouncing back-radiation down to the lower atmosphere? Surely an absence of contrails ought to have an overall cooling effect?

But contrails are a lot more complicated than that, because when they are in their initial, water droplet, stage they are denser than natural cirrus clouds, since they are created from two distinct sources of vapour: the moisture emitted by the aircraft’s exhaust, and the moisture already in the atmosphere, all of which is condensed into a turbulent mixture of large water droplets and ice crystals, seeded on the solid particulates present in the exhaust plume. At first, this young contrail behaves more like a fluffy low-level cloud, reflecting sunlight back into space, and exerting a short-term localized cooling effect. But if persistent contrails start to spread, they thin out into cirriform cloud layers, which can often cover large areas of sky. Their overall effect then reverts to a warming one, consistent with the known behaviour of natural cirriform clouds.

Image taken from NASA / Contrails over the southeastern U.S. January 2004

The picture is complicated yet further by the time of day that the contrails form and spread. If contrails spread during the early morning or late evening, they can exercise a slight cooling effect, due to the angle at which sunlight is reflected off the ice crystals into the upper atmosphere. At night, by contrast, all clouds, including contrails, can only exert a warming effect, since there is no incoming sunlight to reflect into space. Any increase in night flights is therefore likely to raise temperatures on the ground: and that increase is already well underway. In fact, the projected warming effects associated with the rise in night flights are in the region of a 0.2-0.3 degrees C hike per decade in the United States alone — and this figure does not include the other warming effects of aviation, such as increased CO2 emissions and local ozone formation. Of course, much about contrail science remains new and uncertain, and little about these man-made clouds is understood entirely, especially when it comes to the skies above the developing world, where flights are becoming increasingly prevalent. But the difference between the skies above busy flight corridors and those above sparsely flown areas is clearly visible from space. Whether aircraft of the future will need to change the altitudes or times of day at which they fly in order to modify their contrail formation is a matter of current speculation; as David Travis, the atmospheric scientist who led the post-9/11 contrail research, has pointed out, ‘what we’ve shown is that contrails are capable of affecting temperatures. Which direction, in terms of net heating or cooling, is still up in the air.’

Equally up in the air, albeit at a far greater distance, are noctilucent clouds (NLCs), the changing patterns of which have become apparent over the past two decades. First observed and named in the 1880s, NLCs were once the rarest clouds of all, but not only are they now appearing far more often, they also shine brighter than they did before, and are observable from increasingly lower latitudes. According to one hypothesis, NLCs are being formed from plumes of space shuttle exhaust jettisoned into the earth’s upper atmosphere, where neither water vapour nor dust nuclei are common natural occurrences, and therefore these clouds’ increased appearance (an increase of 8 percent per decade) is due to a proportionate increase in space shuttle traffic. Other research, however, points to the fact that extreme cold is needed to form icy clouds in environments as dry as the mesosphere, 50 to 80 kilometres above the earth’s surface, where temperatures as low as -130 degrees C are normal.

Image taken form NASA / Noctilucent clouds

Strange as it may seem, the increased concentrations of atmospheric greenhouse gases that have contributed to raising temperatures on earth are also serving to create colder conditions in the earth’s outer atmosphere. This is because greenhouse gases trap much of the longwave surface radiation that has started its return journey back out into space. With less thermal energy able to escape from the lower atmosphere, the upper atmosphere is thereby growing correspondingly chillier. So could the observed increase in noctilucent cloud formation be due to mesospheric cooling, the lesser-known counterpart to global surface warming; and might their increased brightness be due to larger ice crystals being formed from a high-altitude influx of water vapour from the warming layers below? After all, NLCs have only been in evidence since the 1880s, the heyday of the Industrial Revolution, so it is possible that they will turn out to be yet another anthropogenic phenomenon — if so, the visible impact of human activity will have extended much further into our fragile atmosphere than we could ever have previously suspected. Whatever the secrets of these mysterious clouds, it is hoped that the AIM (Aeronomy of Ice in the Mesosphere) satellite, which was launched by NASA in April 2007 on a mission to study NLCs at close range, will be able to provide some answers to these questions.

Viewed from ground level, clouds are short-lived localized phenomena, undergoing rapid alterations as they pass overhead; when viewed from space, however, their individual movements are subsumed into large-scale formations that range slowly across the earth’s surface, connecting vast tracts of land and sea through enormous geophysical processes. Seen from space, what from earth is merely an indistinct bank of stratocumulus cloud, becomes part of a visible planetary order. It was this dual perspective that led Martin John Callanan to produce a terrestrial cloud globe, entitledA Planetary Order, the many technical challenges of which were worked through and overcome during his residency at the UCL Environment Institute.

Image by Martin John Callanan / A Planetary Order (Terrestrial Cloud Globe), 2009

‘Unlike Richard, who’s got a huge fascination with clouds, I’m more interested in systems — systems that define how we live our lives’ (MJC). Showing the earth’s cloud cover from one second in time, the shimmering white cloud globe freeze-frames the entire operation of the global atmospheric regime, and highlights how fragile the environmental (and informational) systems are that operate across the world. For the globe is created from raw information, being a physical visualization of real-time scientific data. One second’s worth of readings from all six cloud-monitoring satellites that are currently overseen by NASA and the European Space Agency was transformed into a virtual 3-D computer model, which was ‘3-D drawn’, or rather, laser melted, at the Digital Manufacturing Centre at the UCL Bartlett Faculty of the Built Environment. It was the largest object ever created by the Digital Manufacturing Centre, and it took two full days to build, the delicate outlines and profiles of the clouds emerging slowly as the laser carved gently across the compacted nylon powder surface of the sphere.

Unlike most of NASA’s own data visualizations, the globe features no added colour, only the sculpted whiteness of the raw material that throws a maze of faint shadows across the structure. From out of these shadows, in the right angles of light, emerge the global cloud patterns taken on 2 February 2009 at 0600 UTC precisely, and, under them, the implied outlines of the continents below, seen as though glimpsed through mist, or rather, through the mystifying quantity of atmospheric data that is currently being collected from the silent fleet of satellites in orbit some 36,000 kilometres out in space — an increasingly hertzian environment, where an electronic Babel of satellites, radio signals, text messages and security frequencies vibrate with an invisible stream of man-made weather. Though far from earth’s surface, we have nevertheless made it back to something resembling Borges’s 1:1 scale Map of the Empire, for, by taking a single second’s worth of transmitted information, our entire world has been made anew, pristine, white, and wreathed in the haze of an artificial atmosphere, held aloft like the fossilized egg of a long-extinct species that is about to be brought back to life from a single rescued strand of DNA.

This Guest post by Martin John Callanan forms part of the discussion in the urbanTick series on Ecological Urbanism.
It is an extract from the book Data Soliloquies, commissioned by UCL Environment Institute

Digital, Interactive and Visual Arts: A Planetary Order

Digital, Interactive and Visual Arts

A Planetary Order written about by Iwao Haruguchi in DiVA issue 31 (PDF: Japanese)

第31号 (2012年冬号)
■SIGGRAPH2012 Art Gallery(春口巌)
■連載:3D CADを利用して
■論文募集:芸術科学フォーラム,NICO Int.

MARTIN JOHN CALLANAN: Martin John Callanan, Horrach Moyà, Palma de Mallorca

MARTIN JOHN CALLANAN: Martin John Callanan
Horrach Moyà, Palma de Mallorca
29 November 2012 – 17 January 17 February 2013 (extended one month)
Opening, 8pm, 29 November 2012

On May 16, 2008, Martin John Callanan changed his name to Martin John Callanan, by Deed Poll, sworn and sealed at the City of London Magistrate’s Court. On July 5, 2012, Martin John Callanan assumed the name of Martin John Callanan by Deed Poll, sworn and sealed by a Comissioner for Oath, and enrolled in the Supreme Court of Judicature. Through this action, at once absurd and totally in keeping with the laws of the United Kingdom, the artist Martin John Callanan (formerly Martin John Callanan) turns an administrative process into a reflexion on his own identity and the systems that validate the laws and institutions that govern our society.

We live in a multitude of systems: natural systems that affect our environment, social systems that define the possible actions in the framework of an established community, computer systems that enable and control the transmission and storage of data with which we create our memory and the image of our world. They shape our everyday reality, but we tend to ignore their existence or assume it as an indisputable fact: as the clouds floating overhead, these systems respond to a logic that is largely out of reach of the average citizen.

Through methodical and precise processes, Martin John Callanan explores the notion of citizenship in a globally connected world. The relationship between the individual and the systems that surround and affect our lives take shape in a series of works in which both the structures and the fragility of these systems are shown, sometimes by resorting to the absurd and the excess of information. The atworks in this exhibition at Horrach Moyà Gallery venture into the dynamics of natural, economic, administrative and mass media systems by means of an observation both on the cosmic and the microscopic level.

Inspired by the forms of scientific data visualization, the artist made in A Planetary Order (Terrestrial Cloud Globe) a globe that only shows the position of the clouds during a second in February 2, 2009. This ephemeral map, made from hundreds of photographs from NASA satellites, is embodied in a sculpture created with a 3D printer and shown as an unattended object, an ignored finding, a fragile piece containing an unusual vision of our environment .

The economic system, which has raised to such notorious prominence in recent years because of its obvious impact on our lives, is a complex structure whose functioning is increasingly necessary to understand and, as much as possible, to predict or even control. In this sense, and in response to the dominance of macroeconomics in the discourse of the media, the artist chooses a microscopic view of the world economy. The Fundamental Units, a series that begins with the works produced by Horrach Moyà Gallery for this exhibition, is an exploration of the lowest denomination coins from the world’s currencies using an infinite focus 3D optical microscope at the National Physical Laboratory in Teddington (UK). The images obtained with the microscope have been combined to form an extremely detailed large scale reproduction of the least valuable coins from Australia, Chile, the Euro, Myanmar and the Kingdom of Swaziland. In these images the humble metal acquires a planetary dimension and is displayed as the atoms that shape the global economy.

The reality shown by the media consists in turn of its own units, the news covering the front pages of newspapers and circulated by television and radio, websites, blogs and social networks. The speed and density of the information flow that is generated in every corner of the planet and invades all communication channels exposes us to a saturation that paradoxically makes data illegible. I Wanted to See All of the News From Today deals with this excess of information by means of a web site that automatically collects the front pages of hundreds of newspapers around the world and displays them in a grid. From these data, the artist has produced a series of prints in which the pages of newspapers form a totemic picture of everyday life in the information society.

Martin John Callanan completes this exhibition with Deed Poll, which is both the action taken in the process of change (or recovery) of his name on July 5, 2012 and the legal documents, canceled passport, letters and responses, official notice in the newspaper and other items related to this administrative procedure. Callanan thus adds to his analysis of the systems that determine the conditions of life in the societies and the planet we inhabit an action on a personal level, as an individual and citizen that participates (voluntarily and involuntarily) in the dynamics generated by these systems.

Pau Waelder, Curator

Texto en español (PDF)

Reviews in El Mundo, Diario de Mallorca and Ultima Hora: PDF (Spanish)

Art for science’s sake, UCL Lunch Hour Lecture, 1 November 2012

Art for science’s sake, UCL Lunch Hour Lecture, 1 November 2012
Dr Chiara Ambrosio, UCL Department of Science and Technology Studies

For centuries, scientists have sought help from artistic practice as a visual aid. This lecture will explore case studies from the 18th to the 21st century, to show that artists have often participated in the growth of scientific knowledge by disturbing and questioning concepts that scientists take for granted. Would current artist in residence programmes benefit from adopting a more sustained critical role, in light of this history?

Related post by Johanna Kieniewicz ‏from the British Library: Why scientists should care about art

A Planetary Order on the cover of Leonardo Journal (volume 45, issue 4, 2012)

A Planetary Order (Terrestrial Cloud Globe) article and on the cover of Leonardo Journal volume 45, issue 4, 2012.

Martin John Callanan

Leonardo is today’s leading international journal on the application of contemporary science and technology to the arts and music and, increasingly, the application and influence of the arts on science and technology. With an emphasis on peer reviewed writings by artists, the journal seeks to ensure that the artist’s voice is integral to the development of new technologies, materials, and methods.

Pointing at what isn’t there

This piece of writing by Diane Sims accompanies The Present is a Point Just Passed at the Stephen Lawrence Gallery, Greenwich (curated by Lizzie Hughes). The exhibition is open from Thursday 7th June to Wednesday 11th July 2012.

What if your passage through the world today was the only enduring evidence of what happened here? Would you change your route? Would you tread more purposefully, or more softly? Would you look up more often? Would you leave any breadcrumbs along the way?

I look for patterns in an infinite system of discrete events. As collectors, do we begin to restore the order of our measured universe, or do we endlessly accumulate a miscellany of stuff and nonsense? A catalogue may be more comprehensive than a memory, but is it any more true?

It’s there, just peeping out from behind the clock tower, in the black and white photograph of Church Farm in the 1960s (the one with the blurry figure standing on the roof of the dairy, which Carole thinks is probably her father).

They say we are awash with data. We keep it in pools. Data that is open flows in streams, but the data that we hide away festers in stagnant pools, becomes unconsumable, a story (or many stories) left untold. Can we ever step twice into the same data pool? Do we change it by casting our own reflection on the surface, just by looking?

We can weave stories from our data, like knitting fog, or leave it to drip through our fingers.

Was it there when I fell off my bicycle on Hart Street? I still have the scar. I know the exact spot. I remember the dip in the pavement, the green bicycle, the gravel that ended up in my knee, the torn trousers, but not that…

I try to pinpoint the moment when things changed – the fork in the path. But it’s like splitting photons. I am ill-equipped. But some things I am sure of.

I know that I slept soundly on the night of Wednesday 9th March 2011. I have a graph to prove it. A single flat line amongst months of turbulence, the peaks and troughs of many restless nights, recorded by a smartphone app. The data knows I finally slept that night, but it does not know why.

I know that it snowed on my seventh birthday, in the last days of April. This is beyond doubt, because I remember it. This year our local newspaper decreed it to be the first snowy April for 
so-many years, but I knew that the numbers didn’t add up. All my life I have been the girl who had snow for her seventh birthday. I’m not about to stop now.

It’s there on the wall of the dental surgery, where I ended up after losing half a tooth on my most recent birthday. I’m no longer seven years old, and I’ve been away a long time. But it’s there, sharing a photograph with White Hart Drive, which was still fields when I was a child. This suggests a date much later than I had presumed.

I know that there was a heavy storm on Jina’s journey from Boulogne to Paris. She saw magnificent lightning from the window of the train. I know this because she sent a postcard from Paris on 27th April 1909 to Mrs Kirley of County End, Lees, Oldham. “It seems years since I left”, she said. But the data doesn’t tell us when, or if, she returned home.

It was here when Cherry moved to Newsome in 1978. We talked about it on the way home from the allotment.

I know that there was torrential rain during the Armistice Day silence in 1982. I know the cloud formations at 6am Coordinated Universal Time (UTC) on 2nd February 2009. I know there were 19,126 planes in the sky over North America at 4.01pm Eastern Standard Time on 20th March 2005. I know where a particular gesture was made on Friday 9th May 1969. X marks the spot. 
I know what the California Earthquake of 18th April 1906 looks like, as recorded by smoke and pendulums – a fine wire inscribing a record of the earth’s motion onto a smoked glass plate.

I know that the first public exhibition of a Foucault’s pendulum (demonstrating the rotation of the earth) was in February 1851 in the Paris Observatory, 3 months before the Great Exhibition.

I know the acoustic shape of a particular person’s footsteps vibrating through a particular spiral staircase in a particular room on a particular day, perhaps in 1996. Again, the data is incomplete.

It should be there in my memory, but it isn’t. Long gone, yet not so long. Some of the bricks could be propping up a shelf in a nearby cellar, or be built into someone’s foundations, stepped over obliviously every day.

Does summer fall neatly either side of the solstice, the day when the sun stands still, or does it arrive on a day of its choosing, with the first smell of the elder blossom? The meteorologists say neither.

Our data has many moments. Today we measure earthquakes with the moment magnitude scale. Subatomic particles have magnetic moments, tiny magnetic fields generated by a particle’s spin. A mathematical moment is a way of measuring the shape of a set of points. The moment is also now.

Where did its shadow fall? Did it stretch as far as my mother’s house. Was it there towering over us when we walked up the garden path in the snow on my seventh birthday? Where was I when it fell?

Runners may be separated by a fraction of a second, yet the first man over the line knows in that instant that he has won the race. It is certain, quantifiable. Even before he breaks his stride. So how is it that we cannot even recall the year of momentous events? How is it that everyone knew the story of Joseph Beuys and the vanishing blackboard, but no-one could place it accurately in time?

Without the data, the story retains its weight. But data is smoke without the storytellers. So we must make our own records. Begin our explorations. Unearth the data. Stitch together a story from the fragments of each moment. We must look for the evidence (deliberate or accidental) and seek out the anomalies within it – and the gaps between it. That’s where the stories are.

Was there a day in 1909 when no-one sent a postcard from Paris?

Are the pencil marks still there in the margins of Four Quartets in the UCL Library?

Astronomers in search of the oldest galaxies in our universe are looking for light sources that disappear (or “drop out”) when recorded at a specific wavelength – they must look for what isn’t there in order to find out what has been here all along.

Why do galaxies huddle together across space and time? Why do we?

One day the chimney at Newsome Mill wasn’t there any more. We have lost the moment when it fell. Was it cloudy that day? Who felt the earth tremor as it hit the ground? Did anyone look up (or down) or make a gesture? Was there a thoughtful silence? Did anyone send a postcard or press record? Was there a smell of elder blossom in the air?

Maybe there is data out there somewhere, a pool of knowledge that can flow into the gaps and somehow make it all add up. The dark matter of memory.

Look away from the universe for a second then turn back. What’s missing?

(The moment has passed.)

Diane Sims {72prufrocks}
25th May 2012, 11.40pm & 27th May 2012, 11.11pm British Summer Time 
(Greenwich Mean Time +1hr)

Objetos hechos de datos: arte digital e impresión 3D

Post publicado en el blog Arte. Cultura e Innovación de LABoral Centro de Arte y Creación Industrial y la Universitat Oberta de Catalunya. Pau Waelder

Como afirma Deyan Sudjic en The Language of Things, vivimos en un mundo saturado de objetos: “nunca tanto habíamos tenido tantas posesiones como ahora, aunque las empleemos cada vez menos.” Nuestra compleja relación con los objetos que nos rodean ha sido determinada en gran medida por la industria que los produce y la publicidad que nos los ofrece, generando una continua necesidad de consumo que va ligada a una obsolescencia programada, tanto a nivel funcional como visual. Según afirma Sudjic:

“Hemos vivido un período en el cual, como en las grandes extinciones de los dinosaurios, se han eliminado las bestias que dominaban el paisaje de la primera era industrial. Y, en el curso de esas extinciones, el proceso evolutivo se ha acelerado salvajemente, fuera de control. Aquellos objetos industriales que han sobrevivido tienen un ciclo vital que se mide en meses, en lugar de décadas. Cada nueva generación es superada tan rápidamente que nunca hay tiempo para desarrollar una relación entre el propietario y el objeto.” [1]

Proyecto RepRap, modelo “Mendel”

Este acelerado ritmo de sustitución de unos objetos por otros sin duda se ha acentuado gracias a la irrupción del PC doméstico y otros dispositivos digitales que forman parte de nuestra vida cotidiana. Dispositivos que tienen una corta vida útil gracias a la rápida obsolescencia de sus prestaciones y compatibilidades, pero con los que, contrariamente a lo afirmado por Sudjic, desarrollamos una intensa relación basada en la personalización y el mantenimiento (compra de accesorios, fundas, recarga constante de las baterías, etc.). En este contexto, un nuevo dispositivo promete hacerse un lugar en nuestras casas en un futuro no muy lejano: la impresora 3D. De manera similar a una impresora tradicional, la impresora 3D crea objetos físicos aplicando capas de resina de polímero por medio de un cabezal en una superficie. La máquina desplaza dicha superficie o el cabezal para colocar las capas de plástico en función de un modelo 3D generado en el ordenador. Gracias a esta impresora, es por tanto posible “imprimir” cualquier objeto que se haya modelado previamente en 3D, siempre en plástico y con unas ciertas limitaciones de tamaño (que pueden sortearse construyendo un objeto por piezas). La tecnología de impresión 3D lleva desarrollándose desde hace casi tres décadas, pero ha sido en los últimos años cuando ha empezado a popularizarse y hacerse más asequible, primero a centros de investigación e universidades y posteriormente a particulares. Ya en 2009, Greg J. Smith, afirmaba en un artículo que las impresoras 3D eran más baratas de lo que eran las impresoras láser en 1985. Junto a la mayor accesibilidad de las impresoras, diversas iniciativas han facilitado la popularización de la impresión 3D. RepRap, un proyecto iniciado en 2004, opta por el modelo open source, facilitando la información necesaria para que cualquier persona con unos mínimos conocimientos pueda construir su propia impresora 3D y fabricar objetos a partir de sus propios diseños o de diseños disponibles en la Red. Por otra parte, la empresa MakerBot Industries fabrica objetos bajo demanda y comercializa también sus propias máquinas y complementos.

La tecnología de impresión 3D sin duda aporta grandes ventajas a todo tipo de sectores, desde el diseño industrial a la arquitectura, ingeniería y educación (por citar algunos), a la vez que anuncia una futura revolución en nuestros hábitos de consumo: como dicen muchos de los que apuestan por esta tecnología, de la misma manera en que descargamos música o películas, pronto podremos descargar modelos de objetos e imprimirlos en casa. Sin esperar a que esta predicción se haga realidad, algunos artistas han trabajado ya con impresoras 3D para crear piezas que sólo pueden generarse a partir de los datos procesados por un ordenador o bien objetos que plantean una reflexión sobre esta realidad futura.

En su proyecto Merrick (2010), el diseñador Daan van den Berg parte de una situación imaginaria, en un futuro en el que los clientes de IKEA en vez de comprar los muebles en la tienda, descargan el archivo CAD y lo imprimen con su impresora 3D. Un virus denominado “Merrick” se infiltra en la base de datos de la empresa sueca y corrompe los archivos, de tal forma que los objetos presentan las deformaciones que produce la elefantiasis en el cuerpo humano. De esta manera, plantea la posibilidad de alterar un objeto físico por medio de un virus informático, que se comporta en este caso como lo haría un organismo vivo. Van den Berg nos lleva así directamente al aspecto distópico de este anunciado futuro, suscitando una reflexión acerca de nuestra relación con los objetos y las posibilidades que se derivan de la creación de algo físico a partir de un archivo que puede ser modificado de maneras insospechadas. También sugiere un cuestionamiento de lo que conocemos por personalización de los productos y lo que consideramos defectuoso: ¿son objetos como esta lámpara deformada una aberración o bien son piezas únicas?

Si la pieza de van den Berg reproduce un objeto cotidiano que ha sufrido una mutación, en A Planetary Order (Terrestrial Cloud Globe) (2008-2009), el artista Martin John Callanan crea un objeto inexistente, una visualización de la posición de las nubes en la Tierra durante un momento de un día concreto. Un globo terráqueo que muestra únicamente lo que tiende a ocultarse para mostrar la superficie terrestre, su orografía y sus divisiones políticas. Realizada durante su estancia como artista residente en el UCL Environment Institute, Callanan obtuvo los datos recogidos por seis satélites de la NASA y la Agencia Espacial Europea, con los que creó un modelo 3D de la forma de las nubes en todo el planeta durante un instante concreto. Este modelo fue esculpido en el Digital Manufacturing Centre de la UCL Bartlett Faculty of the Built Environment por medio de un láser que extraía el relieve de las nubes de una bola compacta de polvo de nylon. El objeto resultante es una pieza única, la escultura de un segundo concreto que, si bien visualiza datos reales, parece irreal. Según indica el autor:

“El brillante globo de nubes blancas, al mostrar la capa de nubes que cubre la Tierra durante un segundo, detiene durante un instante toda la operación del régimen atmosférico global, y destaca cuán frágiles son los sistemas ambientales (y de información) que operan alrededor del mundo.” [2]

Martin John Callanan, A Planetary OrderMartin John Callanan, A Planetary Order (2008-2009)

Podría decirse que la función del arte a lo largo del tiempo ha sido en gran medida la de fijar un instante del tiempo en una forma física inalterable. La impresión 3D aporta una nueva dimensión a este objetivo, al ser una máquina la que puede generar esta forma física, incluso de una manera automatizada. Un ejemplo de esto lo encontramos en Growth Modeling Device (2009), de David Bowen. Un dispositivo escanea la hoja de una cebolla y recoge así su proceso de crecimiento cada 24 horas, generando una copia de dicha hoja por medio de una máquina de modelado que va creando esculturas de plástico en las que se pueden apreciar los cambios producidos en la planta. Un proceso orgánico queda recogido así en una serie de piezas sintéticas, creadas de manera totalmente artificial. Ambos procesos, el de la planta y el de la máquina, se enfrentan así planteando una reflexión acerca de lo natural y lo artificial.

David Bowen, Growth Modeling Device (2009)

Finalmente, el proceso de impresión 3D puede dar forma física a un desplazamiento en el tiempo y el espacio. Esto es lo que propone el colectivo ART+COM en su proyecto The Invisible Shape of Things Past (1995-2007): por medio del registro de la posición geográfica de una cámara en el momento de realizar una grabación, los artistas han creado formas tridimensionales generadas por la unión de los fotogramas de un vídeo, dispuestos en la localización exacta de la cámara en el momento de ser captados. De esta manera, surgen unas formas tubulares de sección rectangular que se extienden en el espacio siguiendo el mismo recorrido que en su momento realizó la cámara. A partir de 2006, ART+COM emplea impresoras 3D para crear esculturas a partir de los modelos virtuales que han generado en el ordenador. De esta manera, consiguen crear una pieza que une a su presencia física las referencias al tiempo y el espacio en que fue creada.

ART+COM, The Invisible Shape of Things Past – Foto: ISEA

La tecnología de impresión 3D ofrece por tanto la posibilidad de crear objetos cuya materia prima no es ya un material concreto, sino los datos procesados en un ordenador. Datos que pueden ser modificados de innumerables maneras y pueden dar lugar a formas que no responden a la intención de un artista o diseñador, sino a un proceso que obedece a unas reglas propias e irrumpe en la realidad física sin adecuarse a la lógica (estética o constructiva) de otras creaciones. Si el retoque digital de fotografías ha transformado radicalmente el mundo de la imagen, es de esperar que la difusión de la impresión 3D modificará nuestra concepción de la escultura y nuestra relación con los objetos que nos rodean.


[1] Deyan Sudjic. The Language of Things. Londres: Penguin Books, 2009, 21.

[2] Martin John Callanan. A Planetary Order (Terrestrial Cloud Globe). <>

In Search of the Miraculous

SIGGRAPH 2012 Art Gallery: In Search of the Miraculous presents exceptional digital and technologically mediated artworks that explore the existence of wonderment, mystery, and awe in today’s world of mediating technologies and abundant data. Of the nearly 400 submissions, 12 were hand-picked by a jury to be exhibited at SIGGRAPH 2012, 5-9 August at the Los Angeles Convention Center. The jury included a wide range of artists, designers, technologists, and critics hailing from academia, industry, and the independent art world.

Osman Khan, SIGGRAPH 2012 Art Gallery Chair writes of A Planetary Order:

In what at first may look to be a common Earth globe, Callanan’s A Planetary Order makes a poetic statement by shifting our attention from the usual geographic information by voiding the usual terrestrial markings, and instead presents an immortalized ephemeral instant, eternalizing a fleeting moment shared by the global whole, giving us pause to reconsider what really matters in this world.

The Present is a Point Just Passed

The Stephen Lawrence Gallery, Queen Anne Court, University of Greenwich,
Old Royal Naval College, Park Row, Greenwich, SE10 9LS

Private View: Thursday 7 June 6.30 – 8.30pm
Exhibition Dates: 7 June – 11 July
Opening hours Monday – Friday 10am – 5pm, Saturday 11am – 4pm

Martin John Callanan, Jan Dibbets, Lizzie Hughes, Aaron Koblin, Jonty Semper

The exhibition brings together works that record precise moments in time. Shown alongside the artworks are historical artifacts that could be seen as the raw data that the artists collectively share an interest in. Meticulously collating, analysing and visualising data are recurring themes and the singular objects, video and sound works are the result of the combined energy of a wealth of individual units of information.

The selected works deal with human endeavour and a desire to chart a world that often defines a comprehensible scale. Whilst firmly rooted within an analytical framework, tender moments and a delicate splendor inevitably surface from the rigor of systems and theory.

A text by Diane Sims will accompany the exhibition.
The exhibition is curated by Lizzie Hughes

Exhibition Information Sheets PDF

The Achive of Digital Art (Database of Virtual Art)

Screen shot 2013-07-26 at 12.12.42

Five works accessioned to The Achive of Digital Art (Database of Virtual Art) documents the rapidly evolving field of digital installation art. This complex, research-oriented overview of immersive, interactive, telematic and genetic art has been developed in cooperation with established media artists, researchers and institutions. The web-based, cost-free instrument – appropriate to the needs of process art – allows individuals to post material themselves. Compiling video documentation, technical data, interfaces, displays, and literature offers a unique answer to the needs of the field. All works can be linked with exhibiting institutions, events and bibliographical references. Over time the richly interlinked data will also serve as a predecessor for the crucial systematic preservation of this art of our time.

Kunst aus Bits und Bytes

Harald Welzer on WDR Fernsehen talking about ISEA and my work A Planetary Order (2 mins in)

Elektronische Visionen in Dortmund broadcast on
Dienstag, 31. August 2010, 22.30 – 23.10 Uhr
Montag, 06. September 2010, 10.50 – 11.30 Uhr (Wdh.)

A quick translation of Harald Welzer talking about A Planetary Order:

I find this piece of work very fine actually because it represents very simply, that is to say in the classical shape of the globe, what is in reality an unbelievably complex process. Normally of course one sees only the sky and the prevailing weather conditions over the place where one is at that time. That this is a complete and forever changing global system is quite wonderfully depicted with this very simple and, in my opinion, beautiful artwork. The worldwide interconnecting system, which Callanan has recorded in miniature, is subdivided in Marko Peljhan’s “Arctic Perspectives” into umpteen individual projects…

ISEA2010 RUHR (A Planetary Order)

20 August – 5 September 2010
Museum für Kunst und Kulturgeschichte Dortmund, Dortmunder Kunstverein, RWE Galerie, Dortmunder U, PACT Zollverein Essen and Duisburg-Ruhrort
Opening: 19 August 2010, 19:00

More than thirty international artists and artist groups urge visitors to the exhibition into new perspectives on environmental issues, questions of identity and discussions about the ever-present social-media. What does a human hair sound like? Which sight will capture your imagination? Who sets the rules in the digital world?

The ISEA2010 RUHR presents outstanding contemporary works of international media art and the current position of artistic entanglements with science and technology. It offers an overview of the most pressing issues and topics in media art. Divided between the cities of Dortmund, Duisburg and Essen are shown 29 works from 37 artists representing 16 countries in total.

Most of these works will be presented in the Dortmund Museum for Art and Cultural History. The works engage with topical themes such as climate change and the deconstruction of identity concepts, and revel in alchemical experiments.

With works by Siegrun Appelt (at), Eve Arpo & Riin Rõõs (ee), Lucas Bambozzi (br), Aram Bartholl (de), BCL (at/jp), Natalie Bewernitz & Marek Goldowski (de), Daniel Bisig (ch) & Tatsuo Unemi (jp), Juliana Borinski (br/de), Martin John Callanan (uk), Işil Eğrikavuk (tk), Verena Friedrich (de), Terike Haapoja (fi), Aernoudt Jacobs (be), Márton András Juhász & Gergely Kovács & Melinda Matúz & Barbara Sterk (hu), Yunchul Kim (kr), Thomas Köner (de), Mariana Manhães (br), Soichiro Mihara (jp) & Kazuki Saita & Hiroko Mugibayashi (jp), Krists Pudzens (lv), Christopher Salter (qc/ca), Bill Seaman (us), Saso Sedlacek (si), Mark Shepard (us), Charles Stankievech (qc/ca), Vladimir Todorovic (rs/sg), Bruno Vianna (br), Ei Wada (jp), Herwig Weiser (at), Norah Zuniga Shaw (us).

All the Clouds, Jen Southern

At the ‘Serendipity City‘ exhibition at futureeverything in Manchester yesterday I saw this work – ‘A Planetary Order (Terrestrial Cloud Globe)’ byMartin John Callanan. Its a 3D nylon print of a data visualisation of all the clouds from a single moment in time. It sits on the unsealed concrete floor on its own in a corner, lit by natural light.

Serendipity City seems to have two dominant types of work. One in which browsing is almost becoming an artistic practice and process and this is perhaps a trope of current new media art.  The curated tour, the combination of found internet objects, the flicker of the data stream, the city tour, the experience at a distance browsed from the desktop. And then there are the works that use open source methods and media arts  techniques to have a practical impact on the world, that suggest new ways that things can be done.

But the small quiet world in the corner drew me back, as did the pigeons in David Berman’s poem ‘New York, New York’, the pigeons of the real, that come and inhabit every crack, that fly in to insist there is no clean.

The small quiet world in the corner was like one strong thread pulled from the tangle of quoteable media, a thought, a gesture, solid, considered and resonant. A fragile world, an invisible world that cannot be interrogated beneath its weather systems. It reminded me of Langlands & Bell’s piece for the multiple store , in its contained description of a moment of connection, of one filter on the globe.

It reminded me that the work that speaks most to me is not in the play of images, in a sense it is not about representation but about the power of form, mass and scale. Work that requires me to move around it, to feel its scale, to see light play over its surface.  Works that are what happens when an idea is made physical, when a concept is tested against materials and results in a new negotiation with a physical world that is minutely entangled with data on every scale.

FutureEverything – Serendipity City (A Planetary Order)

FutureEverything, taking place 12-15 May in Manchester UK. Expect world premieres of astonishing artworks, an explosive citywide music programme, visionary thinkers from around the world, and awards for outstanding innovations.

Serendipity City: The FutureEverything 2010 main exhibition, featuring architecture-inspired art, a curated selection of city-drifting iPhone and Android apps, jaw-dropping data visualisations including Martin John Callanan’s A Planetary Order, and a selection of FutureEverything 2010 Award nominees. The venue is The Hive (47 Lever Street, Manchester M1 1FN), a spanking new Northern Quarter location.


A Planetary Order (Terrestrial Cloud Globe)

A Planetary Order (Terrestrial Cloud Globe) will be at both ISEA and FutureEverything this summer.

A Planetary Order

ISEA2010 RUHR Exhibition, 20 August – 5 September, Dortmund, Germany

The International Symposium on Electronic Art is one of the most important festivals for digital and electronic art. Being one of the projects of RUHR.2010 European Capital of Culture, the symposium will be held in Germany for the first time this year! At several venues in the cities of Dortmund, Essen and Duisburg, the festival presents current works and debates in Media Art worldwide. To that end, international artists and scholars will meet in the Ruhr metropolitan area. More than one hundred speakers will present recent developments in contemporary art and digital culture and exchange ideas with local creatives.

ISEA2010 RUHR is one of the first international opening events for the new Dortmund U – Centre for Art and Creativity where the exhibitions will be hosted. In three phases the festival will stretch out across the Ruhr region. The opening weekend from 20 to 22 August 2010 at PACT Zollverein in Essen includes an international performance and workshop programme. Dortmund will be the main venue for the ISEA2010 RUHR conferences and a week-long music programme from 23 to 27 August 2010. Focusing on sound, light and ecological aspects, the festival will end with art in public space and thematically framed conference panels on the weekend of 28 to 29 August 2010 in Duisburg.

FutureEverything 2010, 12-15 May, Manchester, UK

A Planetary Order will also be presented at several conferences:

7th International Conference Computer Graphics, Imaging and Visualization, Sydney, Australia

14th International Conference Information Visualization iV 2010, London

Computational Aesthetics 2010, London

Data Soliloquies

Data Soliloquies is a book about the extraordinary cultural fluidity of scientific data. A wide array of graphs, charts, computer models and other forms of visual advocacy have become inescapable fixtures of public science presentations, though they are often treated as if they were neutral ‘found objects’ rather than elaborate narrative constructions containing high levels of statistical uncertainty. Through a mix of essays and artworks, this witty and engaging book — the result of a collaboration between Richard Hamblyn and Martin John Callanan during their terms as writer and artist in residence at the UCL Environment Institute — examines the theatricality of scientific data display, while critiquing some of the poorly designed statistical wallpaper that surrounds so much public science debate.

ISBN 9780903305044 (January 2010)

Available for order on

Furtherfield, Pau Waelder

Rubric: Grid


rubric is a new, experimental journal discussing art, writing, theory, and the points at which they intersect. The journal operates in a curatorial format, with contributors asked to respond to a specific theme or idea for each issue.

We aim to highlight nuances within subjects and methodological procedures whilst bringing together critical theory, art writing, and art practice. Through a diverse approach to each area of focus we propose to construct and consider potential possibilities, applications, or limitations.

rubric is a free journal, published quarterly in print and online.