by Dilpreet BhullarJan 27, 2023
Through an intricate process of weaving, Nathalie Miebach creates objects and art installations that seek to bring together data and human experiences, related to climate disasters and environmental change. Her initial interest in science brought her to an artistic method that she has continued to use throughout her career. In conversation with STIR, Miebach expands on tactile ways that have helped her forge her path, influenced by basket weaving as a technique. Her sculptural work tends to involve the use of light materials such as paper and wood, deploying a vocabulary that is rich in colour and equally didactic, as well as approachable for the average viewer.
While the technicalities of data science are daunting to a layperson, Miebach uses a unique technique of basket weaving to combine the rigour of scientific information and data points with the playfulness of sculpture. Her works often seem to take inspiration from natural forms as well as the diagrammatic, in order to carry forward a sense of movement that is easier to engage with. Since 2006, the Boston-based artist has been making work about changing weather and the impact of environmental disaster. Speaking about how her work has evolved over the years, she says, “At the beginning, the work was very didactic, using the arts to better understand the science behind meteorology and the long term changes of climate change. Each piece began with a specific question I had and then the sculpture would attempt to answer it. Over time, I began to be more interested not in how scientific instruments record weather, but how we as a species respond to these extreme events, such as hurricanes, floods and fires.”
At the core of the visual artist's work is an interest in changing weather systems, those unseen to the eye until they reach a growing sense of alarm, indicated by the cumulative disasters affecting people around the globe. Receding natural environments in the face of global machinery that seek to increase its extractivist power, despite dwindling resources and mismanagement of such, are all indicative of the Anthropocene, a term that has now reached popular parlance.
Anthropocene is a catch-all term for the slice of civilisational time or geological epoch, as we now see it, where human beings significantly dominate the natural environment, through territorial expansion and natural extraction. Phrases like climate change, forest cover, resource depletion and so on, are often opaque to the regular person, and do more to mystify than clarify the impact of continued capitalist ideology. Miebach’s sculptural art on the other hand seeks to allure as much as inform the viewer.
Speaking to the playful nature of her works, Miebach elaborates, “Once the viewer starts looking closer, they will notice little tags that say 'mph' or ‘celsius’ attached to a dowel or bead. That’s when it becomes apparent that underlying this visual chaos of colours, shapes and forms is a numerical logic that is holding it all together. Sometimes when I tell people that I make work using data related to weather and climate change, a sense of discomfort sets in when they feel like they don’t know how to approach it because they don’t know the science or don’t want to get into an uncomfortable political discussion. The use of play is a way to avoid all this and simply invite the audience into the complexity of both the science and the human responses that make up our relationship with weather in this age of climate change.”
The contemporary artist speaks about a particular area of interest, that is the aftermath of natural disasters and how communities cope, respond and rebuild. While the televised and popularised image of climate disasters are often shown to capture the height of tragedies, it is the slow rebuilding process taken up by communities that is left out. Policy and political sentiments seem to follow a similar route, where those affected are not provided adequate support and infrastructure, that would otherwise be future proof and preventative in nature.
The artist expands on this, saying, "Every storm and flood has at least two narratives. The first is scientific, made up of temperature, wind and pressure gradients that generate energies to build these storms and propel them forward. The second is made up of human experiences, both during and long after the storms have left. These experiences provide the important, nuanced emotional perspectives through which we interpret the storms and draw lessons from. I believe we need both types of narratives if we are to come to terms with climate change and its effects on weather systems.”
Much of the fallout from environmental calamities is the knowledge that these events can and possibly will repeat themselves, especially in regions that are particularly prone to events such as tornadoes, cyclones, earthquakes and cloud bursts, to name a few. Livelihoods are severely affected as well, and governmental relief comes with its limitations, ranging from mismanagement of funds to a lack of vision in terms of resource-building and safeguards. Ultimately, these become political questions that are intertwined with a lack of political will. Miebach addresses the interconnected nature of environmental change and weather systems, through intricate forms of weaving that seek to communicate the data from climate disasters with human stories of resilience.
As an antidote to the endless complexity of how we perceive and respond to climate change, Miebach talks about viewers’ experiences with her installations, “Ironically, while it can be difficult to get people to speak about climate change, it seems most everyone has a weather story ready to share. I love that about the weather. It’s a witness to whatever we do from the day we are born to the day we die. It's a companion that goes with us through life and thus becomes highly connected to our memories and experiences.”