Science & Tech

Can art mobilize people to fight climate change? This artist thinks so

Neuroscientists at Columbia University observed a curious thing. When they asked a group of test subjects to concentrate on a painting of an angel wielding a sword, they found it triggered responses in the subjects’ wrists. Others have reported the sensation of dancing when observing Degas’ Ballerinas. This is due to a process called embodied cognition. When we view a piece of art, our brain mirrors actions depicted on the canvas.

Not only can art inspire physical action, it can also stimulate emotion and make the intangible feel tangible. According to eco artist Thijs Biersteker

Context is also important in the sense that, when you go to a museum or a festival, you’re open to new ideas. That’s the moment that people really resonate with new messages, allowing them to be digested. 

Sounds neat… but why does it matter? Well, EV manufacturer Polestar is betting on art’s stimulating powers to get its sustainability message across.

The company recently released a sustainability report for its new Polestar 2. While the report is an essential part of Polestar’s push towards brutal, bare naked transparency, the team behind it had to ask themselves whether it was the best way to achieve it. If no one reads sustainability reports besides the nerdiest of current EV drivers, do they make any impact at all?

That’s why they teamed up with Biersteker to create an interactive installation inspired by key data from the report. The piece titled, We Harvest Wind, is now on display at the Stedelijk Museum in Amsterdam. 

TNW got an exclusive interview to find out about the backstory behind this intriguing piece and the underlying call to action. 

Transforming cold hard data into climate art

When I was growing up, I noticed that I stopped resonating with news headlines. We read for years about deforestation in the Amazon and the dangers of plastics in our oceans, but it didn’t change anything. This is really dangerous,” Biersteker said. 

He started to work with researchers from around the globe to see how he could use their rough data to create something that connects people to the numbers in a deeper way:

I think immersive art installations that you can control and that you feel empowered by leave you with a message. You get lured in by the aesthetics and then the facts hit you.

In the past, he’s focused on creating awareness pieces including plastics from the ocean that mirror the movements of your body and an installation showing the amount of toxins that leak out of just one cigarette butt.

Installation by Thijs Biersteker