Tiffany Holmes

FLOATING POINT
Mixed media, photographs, interactive software, water quality sensors
Dimensions variable
Courtesy of the artist, 2004

Nearly ten years ago, I launched a project called Floating Point: an interdisciplinary platform to study creative methods of data visualization in the context of making pollution data accessible and informative to the general public—through art and performance.

On August 1, 2004, I flew to Zurich to join the Artists-In-Labs program. For five months, I worked as a resident artist at the Swiss Federal Institute of Technology (ETHZ) and during my stay, I also worked with Christopher Robinson from EAWAG, Institute of Aquatic Science and Technology on water quality measurements.
The result was this series of data eco-visualizations about water quality.

How is water quality typically assessed? Scientists regularly test water to monitor concentrations of dissolved solids and chemical pollutants — like mercury or lead. Specialists identify patterns and changes in watersheds by building visual models that process enormous amounts of data. Familiar graphing techniques include bar graphs and x-y scatter plots.

At EAWAG they reseach the ecology of alpine and temporary streams, Population genetics of alpine insects, Disturbance ecology, Colonization dynamics, Nutrient dynamics, Fire ecology, Organic matter processing, Patch dynamics, Algal ecology. I went with them to visit their research program in the Swiss National Park on the effects on water quality of experimental flooding on streams – downstream of reservoirs and the long-term biomonitoring of the Macun Lake Biosphere.

In Floating Point, I use the same water quality data to create animations that try to communicate vital environmental information to a non-scientific audience. The goal here is to promote a general awareness of both local and global water issues, and ecologically responsible modes of living. While art is not a direct solution to the problem of water pollution, the Floating Point research project helps to focus public attention — however briefly — on water quality concerns.

Tiffany detail copy

I created this work to promote sustainable and ecologically responsible modes of living. My artistic research continues to explore the arena of eco-visualization, or the practice of creatively reframing datasets to convey key messages using primarily images. My work includes experiments with solar-powered sculptures, real-time electricity visualizations, as well as investigations of the rising and falling of freshwater levels in Lake Michigan. I now live in the USA and continue to work on these issues with my students at the School of the Art Institute of Chicago.

Tiffany Holmes

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