If trees could talk...

Amazon rainforest
13 May 2011 15:10:32.547


A Nottingham student is bringing the plight of one of Brazil’s most threatened ecosystems to the heart of British forests as part of an ambitious art installation aimed at increasing public understanding of climate science.

A Conversation Between Trees, starting its UK tour this week, uses mobile phones and environmental sensors to gather and interpret data from trees around the UK and from those almost 5,000 miles away in the Mata Atlantica (the Atlantic Forest) in Brazil to produce a visual representation of the impact of global warming.

The project has been led by Rachel Jacobs, and bridges the divide between her role as Artistic Director of Nottingham-based art installation company Active Ingredient, and her research into cutting-edge technologies as a PhD student at The University of Nottingham’s Horizon Doctoral Training Centre for the Digital Society.

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Rachel said: “My area of expertise is in art and computer science and where the two merge and I’m currently working on a thesis that examines how artists can interpret environmental data to build public understanding of climate change.

“In this project we were primarily interested in the idea that instead of just talking about forests under threat on the other side of the world we could explore them through our own environments and the extent to which technology could enable that to happen.”

The project centres on the Mata Atlantica bordering Brazil’s west coast, which is among the equatorial forests dubbed the ‘lungs of the world’ for the crucial role they play in processing CO2 in the atmosphere and which are increasingly under threat from rising levels caused by global warming.

The tour will take in three UK forests —all recently under threat of Government sell-off —starting at Rockingham Forest in Northampton this Saturday (May 14). The installation will arrive at Rufford Gallery and Country Park in the heart of Nottinghamshire’s Sherwood Forest in September where it will run simultaneously at Haldon Forest in Devon until the end of October.

The artwork will collect data from environmental sensors placed in the canopies of the UK and Brazilian trees which are connected to mobile phones. A gallery exhibition in each forest will feature a climate machine that interprets global CO2 measurements from the last 70 years, scorching the data as heat rings into paper. A giant wall projection will show a dynamic 3D visualisation of temperature, humidity, light, decibels, colour and CO2.

At the end of each exhibition, the artists will have created a unique set of 200 art prints showing global CO2 scorched into the paper.

During the residency at each of the forests, there will be the chance for the public to get involved and collect their own sensory data in the wood. Visitors will be able to borrow a mobile phone to take into the forest to use as a lens to reveal the invisible forces at play.

The artists are also conducting an ongoing exchange project between schools in Nottinghamshire and Rio de Janeiro and a series of workshops in both the UK and Brazil exploring environmental sensing and the future of our forests through art, science and technology.

Rachel and two other doctoral students, Michael Golembewski and Mark Selby, will be working on the project with research fellows Dominic Price and Mark Paxton from Horizon Digital Economy Research at The University of Nottingham, which is one of the partners on the project.

The Horizon researchers have played an instrumental role in developing the technology used in the installation, including the sensors, hardware and applications for the mobile phones, as well as building the machine that will burn the heat rings on to the paper.

The work feeds into a research project involving Horizon Digital Economy Research and is supported by Microsoft through their Azure Research Engagement project .

A Conversation Between Trees is funded by the Arts Council of England and has been commissioned by Fermynwoods Contemporary Art, Yorkshire Sculpture Park, Rufford Country Park and the Centre for Contemporary Art and the Natural World. Other partners involved at Estudio Experimental Movel and Carlo Buontempo, Senior Climate Change Scientist, Hadley Centre and the UK MET Office.

More information about the project is available on the web at www.hello-tree.com and you can follow its progress on Twitter via the hashtag #hellotree

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Notes to editors:

The University of Nottingham
, described by The Sunday Times University Guide 2011 as‘the embodiment of the modern international university’, has award-winning campuses in the United Kingdom, China and Malaysia. It is ranked in the UK's Top 10 and the World's Top 75 universities by the Shanghai Jiao Tong (SJTU) and the QS World University Rankings. It was named ‘Europe’s greenest university’ in the UI GreenMetric World University Ranking, a league table of the world’s most environmentally-friendly higher education institutions, which ranked Nottingham second in the world overall.

The University is committed to providing a truly international education for its 40,000 students, producing world-leading research and benefiting the communities around its campuses in the UK and Asia.

More than 90 per cent of research at The University of Nottingham is of international quality, according to the most recent Research Assessment Exercise, with almost 60 per cent of all research defined as ‘world-leading’ or ‘internationally excellent’. Research Fortnight analysis of RAE 2008 ranked the University 7th in the UK by research power. The University’s vision is to be recognised around the world for its signature contributions, especially in global food security, energy & sustainability, and health.

Active Ingredient has developed a reputation since 1996 for creating award winning interactive artworks merging art, technology and science. Its work has included installations, large scale projections, mobile phone games and performance. Active Ingredient is based in Nottingham. It has won the East Midlands New Technologies Initiative award for innovation,the Nokia Ubimedia Mindtrek Award in 2007 and was the UK and Ireland regional winner of the Galileo Satellite Navigation Competition in 2009.

Horizon is a Research Institute at the University of Nottingham engaged in Digital Economy Research. Established in 2009, this venture represents an initial £40million investment by Research Councils UK, The University of Nottingham and over 40 academic and industrial partners in both a Research Hub and Doctoral Training Centre within the RCUK Digital Economy programme.

Horizon research focuses on the role of ‘always on, always with you’ ubiquitous computing technology in the Digital Economy.
Building on the Digital Britain plan, Horizon will investigate the technical developments needed if electronic information is to be controlled, managed and harnessed — for example, to develop new products and services — for societal benefit.

More news from the University at: www.nottingham.ac.uk/news

Story credits

More information is available from Rachel Jacobs on +44 (0)7730 578913, Rachel@active-ingredient.co.uk 

Emma Thorne Emma Thorne - Media Relations Manager

Email: emma.thorne@nottingham.ac.uk Phone: +44 (0)115 951 5793 Location: University Park

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