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episode 21 – the poetry of data | Nathalie Miebach

In this episode, we speak to the artist Nathalie Miebach. In her work, she takes weather data from massive storms and turns it into complex sculptures that embody the forces of nature and time. These sculptures then become musical scores for a string quartet to play. We talked about data visualization, data representation, the potential of data, and much more.

Nico Daswani The Artian Podcast

Resources and links

Artworks and other topics mentioned during the podcast can be seen in the following links:

Episode Music Credit:

  • Hurricane Noel by Axis Ensemble
  • Shifting Winds by Matthew Jackfert

Transcripts

The transcript was produced by an AI, mistakes might appear. 

Nir Hindi: [00:00:00] Hey, today’s topic, exciting data ,science and, sculptures. What if I will tell you the data in sculptures are not that separated. The data is actually a material, just like paper. What if you can hear climate crisis and not only see it, how would you respond then and why art is a way to understand science?

[00:00:23] When data becomes meaningful? Today’s guest now. It is not only me back. We’ll answer all these questions and many more.

[00:00:33] Hi podcast listeners. Thanks again for coming back, we are getting closer to the end of the season, the first season of The Artian podcast. Honestly, I’m very, very grateful for all of you from around the world that actually taking the time to listen to the content that we are creating in these amazing people that working at the intersection of art, entrepreneurship, innovation technology.

[00:00:55] We are being told to choose between the left and right brain between studying art and engineering between creative and analytical thinking. Our society tell us that out in business are not connected, but what if society is wrong? What if it misleading us?

[00:01:12] The good news is that understanding what are these can bring when you revelation out, does matter in innovation, technology and entrepreneurship, and with the help of this podcast and its guests you as well. We learned that art is not an object out is a mindset. You’re listening to the Artian podcast with me Nir Hindi.

[00:01:33] We are excited to get you our listeners on our podcast. We would love to hear from you. If you have any question, about the intersection of art innovation out in engineering, out in technology.

[00:01:45] Send us a voice note to [email protected] and we will make sure to have you on our show. Today’s guest Nathalie Miebach works at the intersection of art, science, and data. She works with data in a creative ways. You cannot expect. At times, she translate that into beautiful physical objects. At times she translated into musical scores. In an era when data is so important, she encourages us to be more adventurous with data.

[00:02:16] She shows us the data can be much more engaging and impactful if we approach it differently. Hey, Natalie. Welcome to the Altium podcast.

[00:02:26] Nathalie Miebach: [00:02:26] Hi, I’m so glad to be here.

[00:02:28] Nir Hindi: [00:02:28] Not only can you introduce yourself briefly to our listeners?

[00:02:33] Nathalie Miebach: [00:02:33] Sure. I am not telling me that I’m a sculptor who has been translating scientific data into woven sculptures and musical scores for nearly 18 years. And I live in Boston and I am a full-time artist.

[00:02:48] Nir Hindi: [00:02:48] I’m super excited about today’s episode because your work is fascinating. And I want to ask you what attracted you to the world of art, because you work at the intersection of art and science, and I’m interested why art?

[00:03:01] Nathalie Miebach: [00:03:01] Yeah. So my journey to art really came later in life.

[00:03:05] I definitely had other adventures beforehand. I actually graduated in political science. I studied, studied Chinese for many years, and it was only later in life that I came to the arts and I became an artist, particularly a sculptor because of my interest in science. So when I started to get really interested in science, I needed some sort of tactile physical way of studying the signs, understanding the signs and making objects that would help me understand it. Get a three-dimensional understanding of what I was studying. So I became an artist when I started to focus more specifically on science and that was when I was in my thirties.

[00:03:47] Nir Hindi: [00:03:47] You actually need to kind of understand science and you do it through the work of art, but you also had the option to actually choose to study science, but still you studied art. One of the things you mentioned is that you see art as a language of thought, what is your take on that?

[00:04:05] Nathalie Miebach: [00:04:05] Yeah, so I think I always thought of art as foremost being a language of thought and language of problem solving.

[00:04:13] And I never really think of it as making. Objects. I always think of all the sculptures that are in my studio as, as these artifacts of thoughts. When you have an idea, you build an object and then the idea evolves and you build the next object. And so I always thought of art and art making as a way of thinking something through.

[00:04:33] And I’ve always, also loved the freedom of art and I’m not so interested in studying science through the lens of science. I’m interested in studying science through the lens of art because I get to break rules that scientists don’t get to do. And I am interested in, you know, if I have the freedom to approach a scientific study in a way that a scientist cannot do, you know, does this approach of art? Does it bring in a fresh perspective on the science that we are studying? And I’ve always felt more comfortable in being able to investigate something through attacked high, medium, and through the artistic lens. 

[00:05:10] Nir Hindi: [00:05:10] How did you do this? When was it maybe the question that you did the move from political science, what you graduated from into the world of art?

[00:05:19] Nathalie Miebach: [00:05:19] Yeah, it’s such a strange thing you know, I teach college and I have a lot of first-year students were just so terrified about am I making the right decision and studying political science versus art versus history? And I’m always like, Oh my gosh, you don’t know where  life will lead you .

[00:05:35] I got interested in art really through my interest in political science. So after I graduated, I ended up living in Indonesia for two years. And this was 96 to 98. And at the time there was a so Hartford regime that was starting to fall apart. And so there was a lot of political upheaval in the country and it was the artists, particularly contemporary, the artists who were focusing on contemporary art that were very vocal.

[00:06:02] And so I started to. Hang out a lot with artists to understand what they were thinking about the regime, how they were expressing themselves, and by just spending time with them and seeing how they were using this language of artistic expression as a way of not just expressing their opinion, but processing and thinking about what an envisioning, what a new country might look like.

[00:06:23] Really kind of opened my eyes to the possibilities of art. And it was that that led me to want to investigate further what I can do, you know, how can I study art further? Cause I was intrigued by this sort of intellectual aspect of it. And I went back to the United States and getting a degree in art education.

[00:06:43] Cause it seemed very. Natural this idea of art as a method of thinking and learning. So they were all very closely connected. So after art education and after getting a degree there, I realized that I really didn’t know anything about what it means to be an artist. And so after. Spending several years in art education and being a teacher, I really wanted to first understand, well, what does it mean to be a practicing artist in the society to give what I was teaching in the classroom, some sort of context.

[00:07:14] So I went back to get an MFA in sculpture and that’s really when the science kind of started to come in and the science again was also a very serendipitous moment. I was. Finishing my focus on art education. I was writing my thesis on art education, which was his thesis on the study of time and how you can use art to study time and how time is seen differently in different disciplines.

[00:07:43] How does history look at time versus music versus dacne? Creating this curriculum that was building artistic projects that would allow you to investigate these different notions of time. And I think it was that that led me to start taking science classes. And so I started taking science classes, uh, at Harvard university at their night school division.

[00:08:05] And it just happened to be that down the hall. Or down the street, excuse me, uh, was a, an art center that was teaching basket weaving skills. And so those two classes I took basket weaving in the afternoon, and then in the evening was my astrophysics class at Harvard. And so I just found myself going into the classroom with my sprayer, with my read, with my bucket, after having just learned how to make a basket and then listening to these incredible lectures of space and time.

[00:08:34] And I thought, Oh my goodness, how can I. Dig into this beauty, into this incredible science. And what I find so interesting about the human mind is we’re very limited. And so when we are trying to problem solve, you reach out to what we have immediately around us, and it happened to be the basket weaving.

[00:08:54] And so when it came to writing a final paper for this. This astronomy class. I ended up leaving a basket because I wanted some sort of tactile way of, of digging into that science.

[00:09:06] Nir Hindi: [00:09:06] So wait, just to make sure I understood. You used your basket weaving in your Harvard astrophysics class?

[00:09:14] Nathalie Miebach: [00:09:14] Yes, I did. So I always tell people, it takes one teacher to believe in your unconventional way of learning to sometimes really open the doors up.

[00:09:23] And this was professor Chaisson at Harvard university. And one of the things that he did early on in the class was he would bring in. Art pieces. They were paintings. Yeah. They were paintings that his wife had done about astronomy. He would bring in artistic renditions of scientific concepts that we were studying that were related.

[00:09:44] So he brought art into the classroom early on. And so that sort of gave me the sense of, well, if, if he’s, if he’s dragging in a painting into a astronomy classroom at Harvard university, I think he might be open to me, weaving a basket. So

[00:09:58] Nir Hindi: [00:09:58] As a final project?

[00:10:00] Nathalie Miebach: [00:10:00] Yeah. The first basket that I wove was actually based on the Hertz sprung Russell diagram, which is this beautiful diagram in astronomy that looks at two values, the luminosity and the overall energy output of a star.

[00:10:13] And based on these two values, you can determine the evolutionary stage of every star, whether the star is dying, whether the star is middle age or young, and there is such a simplicity in that diagram and such beauty. And I thought, gosh, if I can just translate that diagram into a tactile form maybe I can understand it better.

[00:10:35] So I use that diagram, uh, for my final paper and rather than writing about it, I translated that diagram into a three-dimensional form. And this three-dimensional form was big. So it was like three feet in diameter. So, which is like, I dunno, like a meter in diameter in both directions. I came and I handed in the sculpture on the day that the paper was done and he.

[00:10:58] Did not blink an eye he accepted and yeah. And that, that sort of opened the door up. And then from then on, I thought, well, okay, so how can I use the basket weaving? Not just as a way of making sweetie versions of a graph, but how can I now use the grid of the basket to actually translate information that relates to astronomy?

[00:11:19] Nir Hindi: [00:11:19] So this is actually the moment when you start to converge sculpture with data?

[00:11:24] Nathalie Miebach: [00:11:24] Yes, exactly. So one of the fascinating things about space is that, you know what you’re dealing with the deepest of space and time. And yet all we have from astronomy or images that are either projected through a computer screen or back in those days, we actually had a slide projector and it was projected against a wall.

[00:11:42] There’s a flatness to astronomy. That’s really frustrating as a tactile learner, you can’t touch a star. You can’t even really wrap your head around the enormity of some of those numbers that are, that are thrown at you with the science. And so I spent a lot of time doing two things, uh, first focusing on just  the part of astronomy that I could observe here on earth. So I focused a lot on the sun and the moon and looking at those cycles and using those data sets to translate into woven sculptures, and then also spending a lot of time looking at middle school lesson plans and seeing how do middle school teachers explain these concepts?

[00:12:25] How do they explain light? How do they explain distance? How do they explain time within the context of, of that science?

[00:12:32] Nir Hindi: [00:12:32] I want to ask you a question. Why did you look at school teachers? How they teach science. Um,

[00:12:38] Nathalie Miebach: [00:12:38] I looked paticularly at middle school because they have to take pretty complicated concepts and try to make them into something that can be digested in oftentimes 45 minutes or less because you have a short class here, especially in, in the United States class times tend to be shorter, but also middle school lessons tend to be, tend to involve some sort of tactile project.

[00:13:05] Yeah. Working with your hands or making something, you know, or even just, uh, not, not just middle school. You can even go back to kids that are five, making something tangible, or even putting relationship like this is relationships into something that can be demonstrated through, you know, baseball and, uh, an orange that’s so-and-so many feet away.

[00:13:25] And then way down there is that ping pong ball. And that’s that’s the other planet. So. Making something relatable to our own scale on earth. I guess

[00:13:34] Nir Hindi: [00:13:35]

[00:13:35] so it’s kind of bringing me to the next question, because for the people that haven’t seen your work yet, and Natalie now is talking to me from her studio in the background is full of beautiful sculpture made out of reed in data presentation or translation of the weather. That’s my question for you, Natalie, is that you moved from the Lunar calendar and astronomy into dealing and representing weather and I’m interested why you chose weather.

[00:14:09] Nathalie Miebach: [00:14:09] Yeah. So this switch happened after graduate school and up to then had always been working with data that other people had collected. And so I access the data through the internet mainly. And data and sculpture have always been to me intertwined because they emerged when I started to identify myself as an artist, those two were always right there.

[00:14:33] And it’s still that way. I think of data and of sculpture or of reed or of paper, whatever material I’m using as being equals their material that I’m using to understand something. And I focused on weather because. I was curious to see how would my understanding of sculpture change. If I am the one who’s actually collecting the data myself, how would it change my understanding of data and how would it change my understanding of sculpture?

[00:15:04] So when I found myself living on Cape Cod, which is this beautiful peninsulaat southeast Massachusetts, I found myself living in province town, a small town that is surrounded by ocean. And so this was sort of a perfect opportunity to go out and observe the weather every day. I could go out to the beach and just collect information    I was there for two years and those two years were very humbling years. I learned a lot thought about data collecting and how difficult it is and how disciplined you have to be and how much you learn about data through the collecting process. And so for 18 months, um, because the residency was always during the winter months, I would go to the same beach over and over again, Heron coast beach.

[00:15:49] And I would go there with a very simple data collecting devices that would get from the hardware store. So with a themometer, a compass, um, I had a little wind reader. I had a pressure reader and of course my journal and I would. Go out there every day to the beach and sit down and collect data from a very specific place on the beach.

[00:16:11] And then while my instruments were collecting information, temperature, you know, wind readings pressure, I would also just spend time. Writing down in my journal when I was observing. So what was washing up on shore? What sort of plant material, what sort of ducks were flying, you know, swimming in the water or we’re hanging out on the beach?

[00:16:31] What was the color of the water? What sort of boats were out of water? What was the sound like? Oh, these things, all these observations that seemed. Descriptive and sort of, okay, well, I’m just doing this because I’m waiting for my instruments actually were very, very important to give the numbers that I was collecting context and it was also, so there was something that was coming out in this process that was, that made me realize the importance of slowness.

[00:17:00] There’s something very slow about whether observing you can’t really understand whether. Through an app, whether reveals itself slowly, because weather is a, an interaction with an environment. And so you have this amalgam of systems that make, make up weather and they interact with an amalgam of systems that make up the environment.

[00:17:19] And that interaction reveals itself very, very slowly over time. So there’s a slowness in observing and understanding the data justice as there is a slowness in weaving this data. Weaving is very, very labor intensive. So these baskets that I’m building are very time consuming. So there was this really interesting link between the two.

[00:17:39] So whether it became in a sense, a very easy laboratory to start collecting data, it was very accessible. I can collect it myself. I can build my own data collecting devices. So the more I spend time on the beach, the more I saw things I could collect. It was like, I was a scavenger. I was just, you know, looking for things constantly hoarding data in whatever, however way I could.

[00:18:02] And so I would build these boxes that are converted into a wave height reader, or I would make these different kinds of wind readings, uh, ring.

[00:18:12] Nir Hindi: [00:18:12] So kind of meeting devices, kind of inventing your own tools?

[00:18:16] Nathalie Miebach: [00:18:16] Yes, absolutely. so that’s how I focused on weather. And I think also the more you spend time looking at something. And the more you begin to understand you more, this sort of complexity reveals itself. I think the more I became an awe of whether as a complex system, it just became very evident that there’s so much more to weather than temperature, pressure, and wind readings. And the reason I stuck with weather is because over time as the sort of complexity of, of these weather variables that make up weather became more and more evident to me and mind you I’m studying this, not from a scientific perspective, I’m very, self-taught at this point, I’m taking some classes, I’m working with some scientists, but I’m not going to meteorology school at all. This is definitely me learning on my own. Um, but I started to get more and more interested in how humans understand whether and how we respond.

[00:19:11] Nir Hindi: [00:19:11] What did you discover?

[00:19:13] Nathalie Miebach: [00:19:13] Well, what’s really interesting about humans is that we are. Very complex weather stations. We soak in a lot more information about the weather than we’re actually aware of. So we are these walking weather stations just to begin with. We can sense temperature. We can sense humidity.

[00:19:30] We’re not aware of it, but we make these minute adjustments all the time. Or even if you walk through a city, which is also a phenomenal place to study weather because cities themselves create weather patterns. And then when you’re measuring, whether in a city, are you measuring the weather? Are you measuring the city?

[00:19:48] That’s great. You know, the city that changing or that’s, um, reconfiguring the weather phenomena. So, you know, it just, uh, walks through the city. You notice that there are some streets that are cooler or some streets that are warmer. There’s more wind at some streets than others. So you begin to understand that the environment that you’re walking through is actually effecting the weather itself.

[00:20:08] So on one hand, we’re very sensitive  to the weather in ways that I think we, we, most of the time, probably just, you know, don’t, don’t even realize, but it was also interested in how we respond to weather when it affects us emotionally. So weather comes to the foreground, whenever something dramatic happens.

[00:20:27] You know, when I speak about my work, I always ask the audience depending on their age. Do you remember the weather nine 11 and everyone will remember the weather nine 11. No one will remember it the day before the day after. So whether it’s this companion that’s with us from the day we’re born to the day we die, sometimes it just really comes to the forefront and we remember it and we identified with a certain day.

[00:20:50] And then there’s also this whole phenomenon of. The way that we respond to climate change, we respond to weather events here in Massachusetts. We have a lot of problems with sea level rise, and yet housing still being built right at at the seashore.

[00:21:07] So I’m also interested in how humans respond to weather events that are linked to climate change, and we’re not rational. And certainly not when a crisis hits. And I find that very interesting. And also some how beautiful. I know that’s maybe problematic, but where we pride ourselves so much in being logical thinkers, but when, but we’re not, there’s an in that irrationality, I think is something very, very Schumann.

[00:21:36] Nir Hindi: [00:21:36] Before I ask you about the role of art in climate crisis, let’s take a short break.

[00:21:44] Thanks again for coming back. I’m speaking with Natalie about whether, science and art. Natalie I’m you started to talk about the, how human are irrational or when it comes to weather. And we are very well aware of the climate crisis. At least some of us. And your pieces. I found them beautiful because some of them can take a whole home.

[00:22:09] Some of them can actually go. Just like you mentioned, in one of your talks, just put them in a suitcase in the head compartments and traveling with them. And I wonder from your perspective, what do you think the role of art in communicating this climate crisis?

[00:22:26] Nathalie Miebach: [00:22:26] There was an article that I read in 2014 by Zadie Smith called an Elegy for country season.

[00:22:34] And it was published in the New York review of books. And that. Essay was very instrumental in making me think about art as in connection to the climate crisis. And one of the things that she talked about was, the weather and how the weather is changing and how we are witnessing weather patterns changing and how we are struggling in a sense to find ways to describe that.

[00:22:59] So, you know, as the spring gets warmer earlier or. As the, as the temperatures are hotter in the summertime, or we have more extreme storms in the, in the winter time, all these subtle changes that we’re observing, we’re struggling to find a language for that. And what she was saying was  that the weather is so connected to climate change, no one wants to talk about climate change because it’s such a political subject that the conversation about weather has been isolated between the scientific and the political dialogue. And that is what is shutting people up. And instead, what we need is to find more poetic ways of talking about the weather, more artistic, creative outlets that allow people to develop a language that can explain, or maybe just express a, try to articulate the things that are happening within their own environment.

[00:23:51] So I was very intrigued by this article because it was talking about – nuance. And I think that’s what art can be very helpful in not just explaining the climate crisis. I mean, there is certainly art that does that, and it does it very well as a kind of scientific communicator or a communicator of policy, or however you want to use art as a, as a way of explaining the climate crisis.

[00:24:15] But I think there’s also room for art in just simply creating a space in which people can. Talk about the changes that are happening within their own community. So my work definitely changed in 2015 when I started to. Integrate, not just data into my work, which has always been there, but also sculpture elements that were more metaphorical, um, or I started to make very large installations to, in a sense, immerse the viewer into the data, but also immerse the viewer into the story that I was talking about.

[00:24:53] So it was less about explaining something but more about, in a sense, revealing the complexity of this. Scientific phenomena that we’re looking at, which is climate change, but also the complex, the messiness of the human responses to it. And my point was not necessarily to convince people of climate change or to explain the weather, but really give people.

[00:25:18] An opportunity to tell me about the weather, to talk about the weather, to explain these very difficult and very nuanced changes that were happening in their own environment.

[00:25:30] Nir Hindi: [00:25:30] You mentioned the word nuance, and I want to take you to another aspect of your work, because sometimes you take the data and make them sculptures.

[00:25:38] Sometimes you take the data and use musical cordes and then create the sculpture. And I’m interested why you invite or bring music or musical coats into your work. What is the, all of the music in that sense?

[00:25:53] Nathalie Miebach: [00:25:53] Again, it has to do with nuance. So when looking at how humans respond to weather, I think you also have to take into account that we respond to weather emotionally, and I wanted to figure out a way of bringing in emotions into the translation of scientific data without changing the information. And so the very first musical score I wrote was about a death in the family. This was my father-in-law who died. And when this happened, I thought, how can I. Okay. Is it possible for me to take scientific data and somehow translate it into a way that would still bring out the emotional rollercoaster that we were all going through as he was dying, um, but still retain the information as information.

[00:26:41] So not change it around to make it sound sad or happy or anything like that. So that’s how it turned to musical notation. And. I thought if musical notation and again, this I’m coming at it from a sculptors perspective. So I thought of musical notation is, uh, you know, you could have a a very simple melody that you can make it sound sad or happy or erratic as simply changing the notation system around it.

[00:27:04] You’re not actually changing the notes, you’re just changing the system around it. And so you’re making it sad. You know, you’re making it a minor tone or a major tone and so forth. And I was interested in that. And so musical notation was a way of retaining the quality, the retaining the information without actually changing it, but infusing it with some sort of emotional.

[00:27:25] Uh, reading. So the first musical score I wrote was the death in a family, which is from the day he, from the day we found out about his death to the day of his funeral and all the weather data comes from my weather station so humidity, temperature, pressure. So that’s all the objective data, but then infused in that is a tempo reading, which is a black kind of slash line that shows what time actually felt like doing this time of grieving because human beings.

[00:27:56] Uh, not weather instruments are metronomes. They can measure things by the minute, by the second human beings don’t experience time like that. So especially during a time of grief or stress time slows down, time speeds up you’re you’re all over the place. So the tempo in that score was expressing that part of time.

[00:28:17] When things felt like they were going really fast and other times when it was getting really slow. And then I took this, what I thought was a musical score because I don’t play music and I can’t read music. So this was written, you know, as best as I could do it. And I brought the score to Elaine Rumbold, who is an incredible pianist, who is very used to working with graphic scores.

[00:28:39] So, um, she looked at the score and. Was very honest and telling me what worked and what didn’t work. And then I asked her to interpret the score, not to change the notes themselves. Cause I still wanted the score to be the weather, but to infuse the score with these emotional temple readings that I was talking that I was trying to bring in.

[00:29:04] And so that was sort of the beginning of what then became the weather score project. A project that I started. In, uh, 2009 where I have been collaborating with musicians and composers all over the country where I build musical scores based on scientific data or weather data. And then I give them the scores and they interpret the scores and sometimes write new pieces.

[00:29:28] Nir Hindi: [00:29:28] I have a question. Not only can we listen to this.

[00:29:32] Nathalie Miebach: [00:29:32] Yes. So there are two pieces that we can listen to. The first piece is hurricane Noel this was one of the first scores I wrote after the one on about my father-in-law. And the more I worked with musicians. And I’ve always been very lucky to work with musicians.

[00:29:49] Who’ve been very honest to tell me what’s wrong or what works and what doesn’t work. And so the more I worked with them, the more the, the graphic quality of these scores changed. So hurricane Noel is a score that tracks the passing of hurricane Noel in new England, in Massachusetts. And, um, it looks very much like a graph.

[00:30:09] So when you look at the score, you think this is not a musical score in the traditional sense, it just looks like a graph and it that’s exactly what it is. It’s it takes temperature, humidity, and wind readings, and simply. Transpose those, these three graphs onto a piano keyboard. So it’s an incredible, simple score.

[00:30:29] However, because it’s a hurricane you’re having very, very high wind readings and very low pressure readings. The graphs basically. Um, go over six octaves. And so there aren’t that many instruments besides the piano that have that kind of octave range. And so when it was working with musicians on interpreting the score, one of the first things, things that they have to work with is the fact that it, that it goes over six Okta.

[00:30:55] So how do they problem solve that? Sort of impossibility, so you can play it with a piano, but can you play with any other instruments? So a lot of times musicians will bring in other instruments. And the second thing they have to deal with is boredom. Because if you just play the graph just as it is written on the, on the score, then Ooh, you know, I can have a computer do this.

[00:31:16] So, how do they, how do they bring in their own musical voice? How do they bring in their own aesthetics? How, how do they bring in the storm and what they think a storm sounds like into the interpretation of the score but still retaining the integrity of the notes because the notes are data. So the first piece that you’re going to hear is a snippet of a piece by the axis ensemble you’re going to hear a cello, a, um, violin, a Viola, and a piano. And you’ll hear a little snippet of that. So let’s hear that right now.

[00:31:58] Nir Hindi: [00:31:58] So that was the first piece and then you kind of integrated it to other pieces. what is another example that you can give us?

[00:32:07] Nathalie Miebach: [00:32:07] Yes. So again, the purpose of working with the weather score project and working with musicians was to allow other people into the process of working with data, because I’m interested in how do creative people who work in a very different discipline that I don’t know much about, and in this case, music, how do they approach data as a material? How do they work with it? How do they still retain the integrity of data and how do they infuse the data with, with a human story? And so the more I collaborated with musicians, the more the, the scores changed and. One of the things that I started to do more and more was rather than just creating a score that expressed that translates data from a particular storm.

[00:32:52] I started to build scores that tell a specific story, a human story. And so the next segment you’re going to hear is a score that I wrote about the perfect storm in 1991. And the perfect storm was a storm that consisted of two storm systems. Um, hurricane grace down in The Bahamas and the tropical depression up in the North.

[00:33:11] And those two storm systems interacted together to create what meteorologists will ended up calling the perfect storm. It was sort of one of those storms that. No one ever thought would actually take it happened. It was something that would happen in a computer model, but no one ever expected this to happen in real life, but it did.

[00:33:28] And so these, it created this monster storm and the musical score is actually about a boat. The Andrea Gail. A fishing billet from Gloucester, Massachusetts that was out in the grand banks and that sank doing that storm. And Sebastian younger wrote this wonderful book called the perfect storm that, that tells the story of this fishing vessel out in the waters.

[00:33:50] And you know why they’re out in the waters. It was the last fishing round and eventually they turned back too late and they sank somewhere near Sable Island. And so the score basically follows. The, the, the path of the ship as it leaves Boston, and then the night of the sinking. And then the third act it’s divided into three acts.

[00:34:11] The third act writes about the people in Gloucester waiting for their loved ones to come home. So it’s all made out of weather data, but it’s infused with a human story. Matthew jackfruit looked at the score and it’s a long score. And Matthew jackfruit is a composer from West Virginia, and he was really interested in the intervals that the wind readings were doing or, or making.

[00:34:35] In the score.  And so he used those as the beginning point of his music, but then.

[00:34:40] The interesting part about where the Andrew Gail sank, it sinks somewhere near Sable Island, and it’s a 40 kilometer long sand bank, wild horses live there. There’s a weather station there, but it’s also an area that has, that’s known for shipwrecks.

[00:34:56] There’s tons of shipwrecks and fishing shanties, oftentimes talk about shipwrecks or Gail sets that led to the sinking of a particular ship. So he infused his interpretation of the wind reading with a fishing shanty that talks about a shipwreck that took place in that area. So you have in a sense, an oral history that is recording a shipwreck that happened in 1800, and then he’s infusing it with the data coming from the weather station from Siebel Island. That’s recording this current storm that the F Andrea Gill sank in. So he combined those two. And so the, you you’ll hear the, the wind dah, dah, dah, dah, dah, dah. And then at some point you’ll hear a violin coming in and that’s the fishing.

[00:35:44] Nir Hindi: [00:35:44] Natalie. I have a question. You speak a lot about that. And I’m wondering, when do you think data becomes meaningful? Can you give us an example?

[00:35:53] Nathalie Miebach: [00:35:53] Data is so poetic. I love data and I love the beauty. It kind of hides within, and I think it becomes meaningful to me in a sense, it becomes meaningful to me when it becomes beautiful.

[00:36:09] I think it’s beautiful when it can connect to some sort of human experience when it can create some sort of empathy with the reader, some sort of personal collection connection too, with the, with the reader or, or the, or the viewer or the listener data itself, I think is meaningless. It’s the stories that you tell around data that reveal what, what it’s connected to or what it’s, what it is.

[00:36:32] And so I’ve always been very interested in data visualizations that don’t just. Throw at you data points, you know, in a visually interesting way, but that also connected to the human experience, that they’re connected with an example of a really wonderful visualization that I came across at inspired.

[00:36:53] One of my pieces that I did on hurricane Harvey. Was a data visualization. I found in the New York times, shortly after hurricane Harvey, that was a map of Houston and so it had the Houston area and then the, some of the coastline and then the Beaumont, which is another city to the East of Houston and hurricane Harvey hit the Texas coast by first going inland over Houston and sort of hovering over Houston for several days. And then going back out into the ocean and then going back inland towards the Beaumont area. So did this sort of inland. Back out to the ocean, then back inland towards Beaumont. And what this map shows is the Twitter messages that were sent doing that timeframes it’s about a week and it showed where the Twitter messages were sent, but also what the message contained and people were reaching for Twitter because the nine one, one system was falling apart so people were turning towards that. And so you see these dots popping up. In different segments first in the Houston area, and then slowly dies down because the storm is back out of the ocean. Then it picks up in the Beaumont area. But these Twitter messages are just heart wrenching. They’re, you know, “out of baby formula, stuck on the roof, no food, my dad’s been missing two days”.

[00:38:14] Uh, these are, these are phrases of fear of, of alarm, of, you know, these are  and I loved the combination of his very analytical way of showing where the information came from. But then also what it contained because it was gave us such a window into what the human experience really was like during that time

[00:38:33] Nir Hindi: [00:38:33] we are getting into the end of our podcast. One of the questions I want to ask you is that what do you think about these, uh, that we are leaving? Everyone is so obsessed with data and we hear about the big data and collect that and let’s analyze the data. And in what I feel is that we collect, collect, collect, collect the data, but not necessarily doing something with it on a personal level, I always say that it’s not about the data it’s what you do with the data that. I think he’s important and I’m interested. What is your perspective as someone that works with data for

[00:39:11] Nathalie Miebach: [00:39:11] for me, it comes back down to making. A meaningful building, a meaningful story with data, making some sort of connection to somebody and making that data that you’re working with relevant.

[00:39:24] And one of the things that I find with data is that we impose a lot of expectations on how data should function and what it should tell us. We want data to tell the truth. And so I feel like there’s a lot of data visualizations that are. Always approaching data in the same way. And it’s interesting to me because one of the contradictions that I walk into every day in the studio is this contradiction that on one hand, if I’m really ever going to understand a medium like reed or paper or wood or ceramics, I have to fail with it a hundred thousand times until I really understand what are the parameters of this medium that I’m working with.

[00:40:07] If I take that kind of language with data, and I say, I’m going to fail with it a hundred a thousand times. I’m going to break it, twist it, sit on it, melted. I’m going to snip it up. I’m going to smash it immediately. You know, it, data becomes impure and therefore no longer data it’s now become something else.

[00:40:26] But I think we’re not failing enough with data and the way that we’re working with data enough to really understand what else it can tell us. If we always approached data in this very analytical way in this infographic way of consuming data. I’m not sure if we’re really learning more about the data itself.

[00:40:46] And I’m also wondering if we’re not. Creating an expectation of how data should be consumed. You know, one of the things that always strikes me, um, is when I show my work. Sometimes I’ll actually put the data right next to it. And the data is in, in, you know, spreadsheets and graphs. And what I’m interested in is what version, the sculptural version or the graphic version.

[00:41:10] What version does the viewer believe in more? And why are we so conditioned to trust data that comes to us with the form of a graph? We’re more hesitant to trust data that comes through us through a sculptural translation because now, you know, we, we are, we’re so conditioned to approach. Data in a certain way that I think sometimes we’re, we’re missing that what else we can do or what we’re missing, what else it can tell us if we’re constantly approaching it through the same way, which brings me back to Zadie Smith and her call to artists and creatives to really rethink and how we talk about the weather.

[00:41:50] Can’t always talk about weather through the lens of science and politics to truly understand the human experience of it.

[00:41:55] Nir Hindi: [00:41:55] Yeah, I think it’s you raise such an interesting question. Why people prefer the graph over the sculpture as an explanation of or translation of the data. and not that he know you recently during the pandemic, you kind of took the leap and you started your own venture, joined the business incubator, and now you’re selling your beautiful artifacts.

[00:42:16] Tell us a bit about your experience now in the entrepreneurial world, working with young entrepreneurs, how does it come up?

[00:42:25] Nathalie Miebach: [00:42:25] Oh, it’s, it’s really wonderful. It’s the best decision I took actually since the pandemic. So I joined a business incubator, uh, with 29 other students. and I started a company called spiders and birds, and we make a woven playful design lighting.

[00:42:44] For the home that likes to smile and it is infusing the playful aesthetics of my work with a functional objects. And one of the things I love about being in this business incubator is that even though I have, an almost, 20 year career as an artist and having run my own studio as an artist and having, you know, and I’m full time, meaning I live off what I make in, in, in the studio, starting a business is very it’s similar, but it’s also very different. And in many ways I’m learning how to problem solve in a new way. It feels both familiar and both unfamiliar. And it’s just, it’s wonderful when you have an opportunity to relearn. To rediscover yourself as an artist, but in a very different, um, contexts. So I’m, I’m, I’m really loving this right now.

[00:43:38] Nir Hindi: [00:43:38] So what is your biggest realization or understanding about the world of entrepreneurship in art?

[00:43:48] Nathalie Miebach: [00:43:48] Both are about problem solving. You have to just problem solve and problem solve on problem solve. And it’s it isn’t resolved with, with one solution is just a constantly rework in or reworking. And one of the things that I also know is that as a sculptor, I’m much better at fixing something that’s right in front of me.

[00:44:07] So when I started this business, I launched very quickly because I wanted to be able to fix something that was already living. So it’s evolving. It’s constantly changing as I’m how it sits in the business world and how customers are interacting with it. And it’s exciting. It’s like a new sculpture I’m building.

[00:44:27] Nir Hindi: [00:44:27] We will definitely add the links to everything you mentioned on our website. Not only I want to ask you a last question, you take playfulness and toys very seriously. And your sculptures in many ways, look like a beautiful toy, but. In the past, you said that your work aimed at the adults because children understand it profoundly, why children understand it profoundly, and we are, the adults need the help.

[00:44:57] Nathalie Miebach: [00:44:57] Because I think, uh, children, uh, still have the ability to delve into imaginary play. They are very inhibited in approaching an object and looking at this object as being a story is telling us something and infusing this object with imaginary characteristics and qualities. And so my work is.

[00:45:20] Very playful. Uh, so when you walk into my studio or maybe you can see if you see the video and you’ll see some of the playfulness in the background, people oftentimes think it’s a toy store and that’s very deliberate. I’m making these objects look very playful because the first thing I, I don’t want you to first think about data when you see the work or science, I want you to just be sucked into these sculptures.

[00:45:43] And the first thing I want you to think about is play toys and to. Kind of learn, are you into this complexity of information through the lens of play, and only after you spend some time looking at it, do you notice little tags, a little numbers that indicate temperature or wind, and you begin to understand that there’s a numerical logic, that’s holding it together.

[00:46:05] And so that’s one way that I use play. I think play is very, very difficult. I worked so hard to create the conditions of play in my own. Through your practice. I have to work at it very, very hard because I think play requires you to not have an expectations of the outcome. You have to be open to things changing.

[00:46:26] And it’s very hard to do when you’re constantly being asked to produce this, this, this, or people like this particular sculptures. Can you do like 15 more of those, you know, in order to keep the mind and the relationship between sculpture and data fresh, I constantly have to reimpose or try to create these conditions of play play has two qualities.

[00:46:48] I love one of them is it has limits. It has parameters, a soccer game, only functions because there are sort of rules. And there, there was a field that, that is where those rules. Are being a tier two. And as soon as somebody breaks those rules, then you no longer are in the, in the context or, or in the framework of place.

[00:47:11] So having rules is really helpful in finding where those parameters are. And for me, data, data create those rules. And my role as an artist is to constantly push where the parameters, where the perimeters are of that data in order to understand. Where, what the rules are. the second aspect of play.

[00:47:35] I love is imaginary play, which is when you, you know, you invent things and this sort of imaginary play that kind of goes on and on and on and I think imaginary play is really helpful in allowing outcomes to be unexpected.

[00:47:51] So those are two things that I think a lot about, in fact, in my studio, you can’t see it, but in the back here, I have a phrase that I wrote down many years ago and it’s, and I wrote down “play is an elastic form of logic”. I think play is logic and play is also the mechanism that allows us to, to stretch and to find where is, where is the boundary of logic?

[00:48:19] And it’s the boundary when it’s logic and it starts to merge into the illogical where the magic happens for me.

[00:48:27] Nir Hindi: [00:48:27] Yeah. I think he’s a great kind to message to finish our podcast, lay with the boundaries and activate your imagination. And we can definitely learn from kids, Natalie. Thank you very, very much.

[00:48:41] Nathalie Miebach: [00:48:41] Thanks so much for having me.

 

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