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Jody Roberts
Jody Roberts

Combining Art and Science to Communicate Environmental Change

By Benjamin Anderson '14  |  Contact Holly Foster
Posted April 24, 2014
Tags Lectures Levitt Center Levitt Sustainability Program

Between all the statistics, graphs and technical language, some find it difficult to conceptualize the real local impacts of climate change. On April 13, Jody Roberts, Director of the Institute for Research at the Chemical Heritage Foundation, spoke to the Hamilton community about art’s ability to help people visualize the pressing consequences of environmental shifts. His lecture, titled “Sensing Change: How Art and Science Work to Communicate Climate Change,” was the final event in the Levitt Center’s Sustainability Lecture Series.

Roberts’ talk centered on the Chemical Heritage Foundation’s current temporary exhibit, “Sensing Change,” which explores the ways artists and scientists understand the “highly technical” issue of climate change. The exhibit has been on display since July 2013 at the foundation’s museum in Philadelphia.

After providing an overview of the exhibit’s goals, Roberts described a number of its installations in detail.

One of the installations, “Waters: Glacier and Bucks” by Diane Burko, juxtaposes aerial images of receding glaciers against photographs of floodwaters in her Pennsylvania hometown. Roberts explained how the piece attempts to show audiences the connection between abstract representations of climate change and the local weather patterns they experience every day.

Many of the exhibit’s works reflect a similar goal.

“Village Green” by Vaughn Bell presents visitors with small terrariums suspended from the ceiling and asks them to poke their head through an opening in the bottom. By providing a “worms-eye view” of the “mini-ecosystems,” the installation seeks to give participants a powerful sensory connection to the natural world.

“Sensing Change” also includes two external installations exhibited in public spaces. “Particle Falls” by Andrea Polli features a projection of blue light on the outer wall of the Wilma Theater in downtown Philadelphia, overlaid by orange dots. The dots come and go every fifteen seconds to reflect real-time shifts in the area’s air pollution measurements.

The other external installation, HighWaterLine by Eve Mosher, is a performance piece scheduled to take place April 27. Along the city’s riverfront, the artist will trace a line in blue chalk ten feet above sea level, marking the area that will flood if water levels continue to rise. Roberts hopes the performance will start a conversation about the pressing impacts of climate change on local coastal communities.

In addition to its artistic representations of environmental change, the “Sensing Change” exhibit includes an online oral history project featuring interviews with nine atmospheric scientists.

“Despite its impact, climate change often seems distant and abstract,” said Roberts. With “Sensing Change,” the Chemical Heritage Foundation seeks to “use art… as a conversation starter, rather than the end of a conversation.”

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