Becoming a doctor

arduino connected to a heat sensor and LED dispay

The last two weeks have been busy and quite amazing.

Firstly I have had funding agreed by the Arts Council of England for the development of the Prediction Machine which is great news, it means that I can properly collaborate with my partners, allocate time to the project in the role of an artist and not just ‘on the side’ of the research and make the machine as I imagine it.

Secondly I passed my PhD VIVA with minor corrections and so subject to these I am now a Doctor of Computer Science which continues to feel like a strange and unlikely thing but it’s also very exciting.

I have also been to London to visit two very interesting exhibitions – firstly the Jerwood Open Forest which was intriguing and very interesting in the light of the work I did in 2011 – A Conversation Between Trees. I was particularly interested in Semiconductor’s work which had a resemblance to our work in the way they captured data over a period of time. The work looks down on the canopy and up at the canopy, using a similar circular form to present the video footage over a year.  They also created a way to visualise the data as we did with our climate machine and heat drawings – their results although static and like graphs were delicate and fascinating.

I suppose what is interesting about comparing the two works is our emphasis on the temporal nature of the data and the desire for some form of liveness in the interpretation of this.  I suppose this is where the concept of performing data stems from – by bringing a sense of liveness, human scale and opportunities to engage in a dialogue around what the data meant, also to reveal the processes of data capture and interpretation. That said there was something very simple and beautiful about these visualisations and physical and tangible in the the presence of the tower that was used to capture the data in the centre of the gallery space.

The second exhibition was the Republic of the Moon which was both moving and playful. I particularly loved the ‘Moonlight Sonata’ that was transmitted to the moon and back and replayed with the gaps created by the transmission, the Colonising the Moon installation which beautifully illustrated a project to colonise the moon with geese and really made me laugh and the incredible images by Leonid Tishkov of his personal, private moon.

Another wierd and wonderful thing I took part in was an Arduino workshop at Nottingham’s Hackspace, only wierd and wonderful because that’s how programming feels to me and also because I was the only female who took part which is always wierd. I made LED’s blink and motors whirl which is very helpful to the machine making going on this year.  It’s good to go back to basics, and now be able to fix stuff the makers I collaborate with have made and understand it better.

Names have been changed to protect the elephants

an elephant and her child

Credit: Meme

As a result of my previous work with forests in Brazil and the UK I have been invited to get involved with a project in development that is led by the University of Nottingham Computer Science Department in Malaysia.  This project is working with the protection and conservation of Elephants that live in the Malaysian rainforests.

I have been invited out to meet people and elephants later in the year, very exciting.

This invitation was a result of Active Ingredient’s project ‘A Conversation Between Trees‘, particularly the way that we combined the artwork and schools activities. Hopefully it will provide another opportunity to explore how the concept of ‘performing data’ can be applied to measurements of ecology and conservation, how artistic strategies can support engagement, shifts in perception and action in response to scientific data – and with Elephants – who are pretty engaging all on their own!

Performing Data

visualisations of trees in a forest in the UK and Brazil

Performing data is a concept that has arisen as a response to the ways that the artists bring data ‘centre stage’ within their artworks – employing performative and temporal strategies to provoke emotional responses to the data.

‘The visualisations provide a conversation not only metaphorically between the trees and locations, connected by the two sets of mobile sensors but also across different temporal zones, enabling the public to experience forest environments as an evolving, moving landscape that changes over time.”  (Jacobs and Shackford, from the Material Conditions Publication)

“The drawings produced by the Climate Machine physically fill up the space as time passes, you wouldn’t get this sense of accumulation through a scientific graph, a screen or projected image.” (Jacobs and Selby, from the Material Conditions Publication)

paper discs with C02 data hanging from the ceiling behind the climate machine

This concept of ‘performing data’ was extended through the development of the Timestreams platform and defined as:

  • Data that can be replayed or experienced live in real time and real physical space
  • Data that can be used to create and control sensory, embodied, immersive experiences and mechanical and electronic artefacts, in order to represent a meaningful narrative based experience (replayed or live) of the data
  • Data that is remediated as sensory, embodied, immersive and mechanical time-based artworks


setting up a timestream

“performance is there in terms of the way we make the data perform or that we create a situation where the audience can influence what’s going on… kind of feedback loops between the audience, the experience and back to them and so either they are actively taking part in it or they become active performers” (Watkins, 2012)

inflatible sculptures controlled by decibels and C02

‘The Prediction Machine’ will explore how performances of data can occur both through the interaction with a machine that tracks climate data and marks moments of climate change, through printing out a narrative devised in collaboration with artists, scientists and the public. This will then directly inform an ‘action’ to mark these climate change moments. This will be a public performative event that will be informed by and in response to the data.

Links to other projects and research

burning forecast C02 data as circular graphs

As I conduct my research I will try and bring together works by other artists who use climate data in their work as well as research, papers and interesting stuff that relates to the project.

Previous Related Work by Active Ingredient:

A Conversation Between Trees


Some Related Artworks:

Andrea Polli

Natalie Jeremijenko

London Fieldworks

Jane Prophet


The Owl Project

Jerwood Open Forest Commissions
Juan delGado
Adam James
Amanda Loomes
Semiconductor (Ruth Jarman and Joe Gerhardt)
Chris Watson collaborating with producer Iain Pate

Noel Murphy

Background to the project


The Story of The Prediction Machine

The Prediction Machine was developed during the Relate (Timestreams) project that took place in 2012, in collaboration with the artist and designer Mark Selby and as part of my work with Active Ingredient. This project came out of another project I worked on with Active Ingredient – A Conversation Between Trees and before that The Dark Forest. We’ve been thinking about forests and sensing the environment for quite some time it seems.

I sat with my colleagues in Bestwood Park, a forest on the edge of the city of Nottingham on a sunny summers day of 2012 and we planned a series of artistic experiments that looked at the theme of energy and climate change that was the theme of the larger research project we were commissioned to work on by Horizon at the University of Nottingham.

Sitting amongst the bugs and trees in an English forest we talked about how the seasons are changing and what that might mean for our culture, for our folklore, for Shakespeare and the poets who talked of seasons changing as metaphors for ageing, emotional turmoil and as a fixed concept ‘as surely as the seasons will change’.

But what if they don’t? What if they move about and Summer becomes Winter, Autumn and Spring act the same. We are starting to see wet seasons, stormy seasons and heatwaves that hardly correspond to our ideas of the seasons – and this is in England where we expect it to go from rain, sun and storm in one day.

Out of this conversation the idea for a machine that predicts extreme weather was borne. Something that was playful, something like the old arcade machines. The idea that weather forecasts and climate predictions are like horoscopes, that merges folklore, hearsay, scientific data and knowledge from climate science.

The first prototype of the machine and the fortune cookies were made when we spent a week on an artist residency on a farm (owned by the performance company Zecora Ura/Gargarullo) in the mountains of the Mata Altantica, Brazil.  It took 2 hours to walk from the bus stop, through forest and agricultural land to the farm. Nothing could be seen from the farm but forested and deforested hills.  As the storms rumbled in from the Atlantic Ocean the monkeys in the trees grumbled, the forest managers told us that when the monkeys made noises the storms were coming.  We kept an eye out for the Pumas roaming in the forest around us and the snakes hidden in the banana trees, we were entranced by the birds (hummingbirds waking us up in the morning), fireflys and their magnificant displays as we walked to our rooms at night.

I interviewed the artists on the residency and the forest managers who were the only other people for miles around about their weather predictions, why they made the predictions and what would happen if an extreme storm arrived.  We looked at weather and climate data on the intermittently connected internet and saw that the temperature of the Atlantic ocean was heating up every year, we saw that a storm was predicted in North America and the Carribean (it turned out to be Hurricane Sandy).

I imagined what it would be like if a storm came and left us stranded.  These thoughts in November 2012 are sadly closer to reality now in January 2014. Within two years many extreme weather events have cost lives, disruption and effected millions of people around the world. There is a bit of me that wonders if my Prediction Machine is too late – surely we all now know about Climate Change – and we are seeing it in the storms and heatwaves now.

But the scientists still need evidence to say ‘yes – this is a climate moment’ and we all get on with our lives, finding it hard to perceive risks in every car ride, flight, consumption moment we are complicit in. Dr Bountempo explained to me that humans are not built to deal with long term, multilifespan, global risks. Maybe we only act when we are at the point of fight or flight.

So lets see what happens, if people feel that they have experienced climate change, how do we mark it? How do we bring this into our everyday lives and understand the threats and risks and act accordingly?

Hereinafter called the scientist

fortune empadhinoshello. I am starting a blog to record how I have become an artist/scientist, the research I will be doing this year and to talk about The Prediction Machine – my new artwork.

The Prediction Machine was developed as a prototype when I visited Brazil as part of the Timestreams project in 2012. This was a large artist-led project that I was involved in through my work with my artist collective Active Ingredient and Horizon Research Institute at the University of Nottingham.

Since that project ended I have completed my PhD thesis (pending VIVA) and won an EPSRC Doctoral Prize for Impact from the University of Nottingham to continue my research.

It’s all very exciting, and possibly what excites me most at this stage it that my contract calls me ‘the scientist Rachel Jacobs’. I suppose they might be right to say this now that I have done a PhD in Computer Science – but from someone whose only previous science training was scraping a C in Biology GCSE this came as a bit of a shock and an interesting professional identity shift. I have delibrately chosen to place my research in an interdisciplinary context and my PhD looked at where contemporary art, HCI (human computer interaction) and Climate Science meets… but this is a very new thing to me being called a scientist.

But here I am doing a part time impact fellowship at Horizon and the Mixed Reality Lab at the University of Nottingham.

The research: looking at the impact of artists working with climate data (and there is increasingly many artists working in this area – unsurprisingly as Australia burns and overheats, huge lumps of warming ice drift out into the ocean, super storms rage across the warming seas and hitting land at fatal speeds and the US is consumed by a polar vortex that supposedly freezes eyeballs – not to sound too apocalyptic about it all).

Alongside this impact fellowship thing I am continuing to be ‘an artist’ but this time i’m going solo, sort of, still collaborating with some really wonderful and exciting people but for the first time in 17 years I am making an artwork under my own name and not as part of my collective Active Ingredient.

The artwork: An ‘end of the pier’ arcade machine that predicts climate fortunes as part of a project to mark and understand ‘moments of climate change’ that we might experience in our everyday lives – snow on a summers day, hurricanes and floods like we’ve never seen, in places we would never expect, 3 months of drought, the apple tree that has begun to blossom and fruit at the same time.

More on both to come…

The image above is of some fortune cookies I made when I first developed the idea of the Prediction Machine. They were made to look like small sweet Brazilian Empadhinos (a type of pasty) but had written fortunes inside that were devised from interviews I did with artists and forest managers in Brazil. Prototyping an interactive artwork as a cake test was quite interesting, the technology wasn’t in place at this stage to test the concept so I choose to move to baking in order to play with the ideas of mixing fortune telling and climate change predictions.

One of the audience members who saw the prototype of the Prediction Machine exhibited as part of the Timestreams project said that finding climate change predictions in a sweet cake had a very strange effect, eating a nice sweet thing whilst being delivered bad news.