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Weaving Climate Change Data into Art

At first glance, artist Nathalie Miebach’s sculptures look kinda like defective children’s toys or miniature amusement park rides. While her colorful work seems fun, it has a serious undercurrent: through her sculptures, Miebach is trying to make sense of climate change by translating grim weather data into brightly colored 3-D objects.

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"Solar Beginnings of Everything that Changes" (2008)

Back in 2004, Miebach wanted "to find a more tactile, physical way of understanding the complexity of climate change," she tells Studio 360 in an email. “Utterly confused by all the charts and figures online and the endless policy debates, I found myself wanting to bring all this information into my own world — the physical world all around me.”

As someone who learns best by working with her hands, she wondered, “How would our understanding of climate change differ if we could walk around the information, touch it and possibly even hear it? Would the complexity of climate change become somehow more urgent if we could learn about this directly through our senses, as opposed to through an LED screen?” 

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Nathalie Miebach carries her sculpture "Antarctic Explorer"

Miebach combines data from a weather station she built herself with historical, local, and global data she finds online to contextualize her results. “From all these numbers, I begin a translation process into the third dimension, using basket weaving as a simple spatial grid,” she says.

And why basket weaving, you may ask? "A basket is made up of horizontal and vertical elements" — kind of like a graph. "When I assign values to the vertical and horizontal elements, I can use the changes of those data points over time to create the form," she explains in her 2011 TED talk. "I use natural reed, because natural reed has a lot of tension in it that I cannot fully control. That means that it is the numbers that control the form, not me."

Her exploration of data visualization has also crossed mediums. In 2009, Miebach began collaborating with musicians for her “Weather Scores” series. The music they make isn't supposed to evoke nature or weather, like, say, the music of John Luther Adams. "The goal isn’t to make expressive music about weather, but to reveal a kind of nuance in the data through sound," Miebach says.

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A score (L) and the resulting sculpture (R) for "Navigating Into a New Night"

But Miebach recognizes the emotional impact that weather and climate change can have. A recent series of hers was inspired by the stories of communities hit by Hurricane Sandy. “To make huge disasters such as Hurricane Sandy relevant to the general public, you can't just bombard them with statistics and data," she says. "It’s the human stories that are linked to these events that become important lenses through which to view and interpret the raw data in order to make sense of it.”

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"O Fortuna, Sandy Spins" (2013)

Now, Miebach is tackling a project based on Hurricane Katrina that reverses her process. “Rather than starting with raw data, I am starting with human stories about the storm and building sculptural components unrelated to data that will be the scaffolding. After I have the basic rigging down, I'll go and integrate the data,” she says. This piece will premiere this fall at the Akron Art Museum as a part of their “Intersections” exhibition.

One of the most rewarding things about the series for Miebach has been hearing personal stories about the weather from people who encounter her art. “Even though I’ll only meet them for a moment, often not even getting their name, they leave me with a story. Weather is a great equalizer in that everyone, regardless of socioeconomic background, race, or gender, experiences it on a daily basis. It is a companion we carry with us throughout our lives.”

nyprarchives: Now Available at WNYC.org! The New York Public...
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nyprarchives:

Now Available at WNYC.org!

The New York Public Radio Archives is pleased to announcethe complete digitization and web presentation of the first installment of The Douglas P. CooperDistinguished Contemporaries Interviews.

These sixty rare interviews (1967—1974) include influentialauthors, statesmen, artists, musicians, journalists, sports figures and otherswho have left their mark on our history and culture.

Among the interviewees presented are Andy Warhol, Dr. JonasSalk, Salvador Dalí, W. H. Auden, Mickey Rooney, Jean Kerr, James A. Michener,Benny Goodman, Wernher von Braun, James Mason, Norman Rockwell, B. F. Skinner,Roberta Peters, W. Averell Harriman, Richard Rodgers, Milton Friedman, WalterCronkite, Arthur Hailey, and Dr. Benjamin Spock.

Guests of this syndicated radio and libraries’ collectionwere the recipients of some of the most prestigious awards, including the Medalof Freedom, Congressional Gold Medal, Nobel Prize, Pulitzer Prize, AcademyAward, Emmy, Grammy, Tony, Golden Globe, Priestley Medal, Peabody Award,Olympic Gold Medal, Tennis Grand Slam, etc.

The second and final installment of this collection will bepresented later this year. The acquisition of this collection was made possibleby the generous support and assistance of Douglas P. Cooper and Sherwin B.Harris, III.

In December, we profiled Shakira Crawford, a single mother...
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In December, we profiled Shakira Crawford, a single mother living with her three children in a homeless shelter in East new York. We followed her as she searched for a permanent home for her family. She works full time for $17,000 a year, and she’s armed with a city voucher specially designed by the de Blasio administration to help her leave the shelter system. Ten months later, they were still stuck in the shelter.

As our series resumes, she’s still looking.

nybg: abramsbooks: New York’s Crystal Palace: The Enid A....
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nybg:

abramsbooks:

New York’s Crystal Palace: The Enid A. Haupt Conservatory

The following passage is an excerpt from The New York Botanical Garden: Revised and Updated Edition by Gregory Long and Todd Forrest.

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Not far north of the concrete and steel of Manhattan, there is a living, growing tropical rain forest, a dry cactus-filled desert, a cool and misty cloud forest, and a mercurial landscape that changes from a Renaissance garden to a Japanese autumn garden to a woodland glade full of spring flowers to a village animated by garden scale trains, and into yet other gardens with each change of the seasons. All of these plant worlds are found within one structure: the Enid A. Haupt Conservatory.

The Conservatory is a grand Victorian-style crystal palace made up of eleven interconnected glasshouse galleries, which are arranged in a symmetrical, rectilinear “C” shape around two elegant pools. The centerpiece is a magnificent glass dome that features a collection of the world’s palms under glass. The other ten glasshouse galleries are arranged in pairs on either side of the Palms of the World Gallery, each one displaying a different natural habitat and offering visitors an environmental tour around the world.

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These displays of plant life are set inside one of the most extraordinary historic glass structures in the world. In the early days of the Garden, at the end of the nineteenth century, the founders were inspired to re-create in America the experience of the great glasshouses of the Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew. The founding director of the New York Botanical Garden, Nathaniel Lord Britton, and his wife, Elizabeth, who were enthralled with the glass Palm House at Kew, were successful in garnering enough financial support to build such an architectural gem in New York. The preeminent American glasshouse firm of the time, Lord & Burnham, was hired to design the Garden’s own crystal palace. Although Lord & Burnham designed a number of important conservatories during the late nineteenth and early twentieth century, none can compare with their glasshouse for the New York Botanical Garden.

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At the time of the Conservatory’s completion in 1902, the exotic plants were displayed in a style popular during that era. That is, the individual specimen plants were each grown in pots that were arranged throughout the glass galleries according to botanical relationships, so that closely related plants were displayed next to each other, regardless of their provenance, habitat, or place of origin. The Victorians were excited to view the myriad curiosities of exotic plants and to understand their relationship to one another in a systematic way; they were less concerned with how the plants fit into a larger ecosystem or habitat biology; indeed, the field of ecology did not formally exist at that time. All of the tropical and subtropical plant collections were rare treasures from far-flung parts of the globe.

More than 110 years later, the Conservatory still contains rare treasures, but the shape of the collections has changed dramatically. As part of the significant restoration in 1997, an examination of the plant collections and how they were displayed led to new and exciting ideas about how the mysterious and dramatic world of tropical and subtropical plants could be better brought to life for the education and enjoyment of visitors. The work of exhibition designer Jon Coe, along with Garden staff and other consultants, created a new approach in the exhibition of the plants. Today all Conservatory horticulture, often recognized as the world’s most beautiful, is under the direction of gifted horticulturist Francisca Coelho.

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The Conservatory’s eleven glasshouse galleries are now designed to offer an in depth experience of a series of tropical plant habitats and living collections. Diverse natural habitats of tropical rain forests and American and African deserts complement collections of tropical palms, aquatic and climbing plants, and special collections of carnivorous plants and hanging baskets. Two galleries are devoted to changing seasonal exhibitions of horticultural interest. All exhibitions are interpreted with informative signs, audio guides, and publications. This delightful array of educational and ever-changing exhibitions offers visitors, teachers, school groups, specialists, artists, gardeners, and researchers a rich experience of the tropical plant world on every visit to the Conservatory.

For more information on The New York Botanical Garden: Revised and Updated Edition, click here

Our friends at Abrams have a terrific primer on the history of our landmark glasshouse, the Enid A. Haupt Conservatory. ~LM

One prenatal test is transforming modern medicine.When Lee...
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One prenatal test is transforming modern medicine.

When Lee Herzenberg remembers the day her son Michael was born, she laughs and calls it a “cool birth.” Her obstetrician was a friend, and she describes it almost like a party – “a little bit painful, but that you forget very quickly.” Lee even got a kick out of the fact that a resident learned to do an episiotomy on her.

It was November 1961, and she was at the newly christened Palo Alto-Stanford Hospital Center; her husband Len was a biology professor on campus. Like most fathers at the time, he didn’t attend the birth – which meant he wasn’t there when their new child, Michael, started turning blue.

The nurses whisked the newborn off to the nursery without telling Lee anything was wrong.

The Tricky Business of Love, Race, and White Privilege
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Is love colorblind? According to the U.S. Census Bureau, there are more than 5.3 million interracial and interethnic couples in the United States, and that number continues to grow.

Though the modern couple is growing more and more diverse, conversations about race and relationships can still be complicated. Though interracial and interethnic couples are free to date more openly,Joshua Johnson, host of Truth Be Told, says individuals in these relationships must navigate stereotypes, myths, preconceptions and misconceptions. “In a way it’s gotten harder because we realize how little we know about each other,” he says. Listen:

How to Be More Productive

STEPHEN J. DUBNER: So, Levitt, I don’t know if you know, but it is Self-Improvement Month at Freakonomics Radio.

STEVE LEVITT: Yeah, I thought every month was Self-Improvement Month at Freakonomics Radio.

DUBNER: You seem to always be working on improving something about yourself. So what is it these days?

LEVITT: I’ve been working on two things. I am always working on golf and trying to be better at golf. And I’ve also been trying to learn German, which is a very different kind of endeavor for me.

Our latest FreakonomicsRadio episode is called “How to Be More Productive.”

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