Monday, September 29, 2008

narwhal tracks

aerial survey - King Eider

Satellite tracking is complimented by surface observation, surveys by boat and by air to monitor bird flight paths. Planes fly repeatedly across the harbour and count the birds they see and mark them across the map.

oil spill simulation

Kaspar uses data based on real oil spills, sea currents and observed behaviour of liquids to manufacture virtual oil spills. This information is used to discourage oil wells being built at certain sites.


of course I know about scientific objectivity, but still I find it a little strange how different environmental scientists are from activists. While climate change is irrevocably changing the Arctic environment they also see the benefits for some species (the narwhal can now swim through the North West passage, the Caribou has more grazing area, and of course the Greenland people are benefitting from more crop growing conditions. The loss of some species through greater competition? - well that is the dynamics of biology! For some wading birds who already live on the edge of the limits of existence, there is nowhere to go as their habitat disappears. Peter also notes that the millions of humans who are living at the limits will suffer as temperatures rise, not only the islanders but those locked inland in the vast drying continent of Africa.

Saturday, September 27, 2008

Mariko Mori at ARoS and Thorbjorn Lausten

I have been thinking about the legibility of my work, and how strongly the connection to the scientific researchers work will be made in the final outcome of the project. Is it ok to leave all the interpretation to the catalogue and accompanying wall texts to show where the data comes from. This seems to be the approach taken by veteran visualiser of scientific data, the Danish artist Thorbjorn Lausten who I met for coffee yesterday. His work always has a catalogue to go with it which explains the correlation between his quite abstract paintings and digital projections and their scientific source material. He objects to the words 'digital' and 'interactive' when describing his work - he says - everything is digital, everything we sense is interactive (ie all material things in the world.)

At the beautiful new gallery AROS in the city of Arhus where I gave a presentation about my work , there was a great exhibition called the 9 spaces. The gallery had substantial sound,video and light installations by Bill Viola, James Turell, Olufur Eliasson, Pippilotti Rist, Tony Oursler and Olaf Breuning. But the most interesting for my project was Mariko Mori's work which was a large organic shaped plexiglas totem which glowed in different lights and colours and seemingly random moments. On reading the wall text the abstract lights are explained by a live link to a telescope in Tokyo which is trained on the outer reaches of space. Every time a star dies a light flares and fades in Mori's light sculpture called' Tom Na H-iu', the name for a memorial standing stone. And none of this would be apparent without reading the supporting wall text...

in the North

In the elist guest discussion on Art and Ecology on the Synapse (Australian Network for Art and Science) one German commentator questioned why an artist from the Southern hemisphere was making a project in the North. it makes sense to me as I am also going to further this research with other work with an environmental organisation in the Southern hemisphere. Although there is a lot of dialogue focussing on 'the local' in art and sociological projects , I think it is still important to keep International dialogue going by actually going places. Although my one plane flight might have expended more energy and emitted more CO2 than working at home can I be partially redeemed by carbon off-sets?

Thursday, September 18, 2008

Anholt seal monitoring expedition

It is too late in the seaon for a trip to Greenland but the scientist Jonas Teilmann still needed to make some repairs and adjustments to the seal monitoring equipment in the remote Danish island called 'Anholt'. We took a small plane and then a tractor along the beach to a seal colony of around 150 seals (but sometimes up to 1000) at the far end of the island. A webcam and radio instruments are set up in the lighthouse there to monitor the seals, then the signalled is transmitted to the internet via the military base there.

The seals are best viewed from the monitoring hut with a 60 x zoom telescope. After 1000s of years of hunting the seals are very firghtened and will flee to the water if you approach too close... as happened to us. The animals outwitted their human documenters ...

Monday, September 15, 2008


I gave a talk today at NERI for a group of around 15 scientists about my work and my as-yet unrealised project for IMPACT 09. I showed them a very primitive animation that I made with ArcGIS and the harbour porpoise kernal home-range areas which I was trying to make a little more washed out and watery than the sharp-edged maps favoured here. I also showed them images of my previous work.

I offered to take questions at the end - but the scientists responded more enthusiastically to my request for 'suggestions' as to directions I could take the artwork. Rune was keen that I look at the sound track of the bio-sonar clicks which porpoise use for orientation. Susi suggested that I think about projecting on water which is the natural habitat of the harbour porpoise - while Christian suggested using ice as a sculptural material. He also warned that you need to be careful not to let the technology outweigh the imagination or the art of the piece. I guess it was important for me to learn how they do things on this residency and now I can go away and think about how I will process all this information I have gathered.


Peter lent me a book called 'bio-meteorology: weather and life' which is useful for connecting together my previous studies of meteorology with the work the scientists are
doing with plant and animal species. Meteorological conditions and particularly snow and ice cover are taken into account when assessing animal patterns. I had a long talk with Jesper about how climate change is affecting bird migration patterns. When spring comes early and the Eider birds (for example) are genetically programmed to reach a certain resting ground at a certain time - they can starve or their breeding patterns can be effected by missing crucial insects that come with the plants at the onset of spring.

Jesper also outlined the important role of the ground observers who note the banded birds and report back to NERI when they spot them from all around the world forming a global network of human-bird interaction.

Thursday, September 11, 2008

hand drawn

Before satellite imaging the scientists made hand drawn visualisations such as this one of Christian's from Greenland. These are also appealing to me for their simplicity and graphic use of symbols. This map (1978) is made from Inuit descriptions of polar bear and ice relations.

Tuesday, September 9, 2008


My stay in Copenhagen is accidentally well timed to fit in with the first Copenhagen Contemporary Art Biennale called 'U-TURN' . Most of it was in the Carlsberg factory - a huge complex with 19th C buildings and manufacturing plants. The opening had a lot of Carlsberg product of course and an after-party in converted vats where 6 bands played the same song at once. The theme of the Biennale is cultural translation and 'The New Europe'. There were some really strong political pieces (ie Dansk songbooks which told immigrants they would never be Danish by Korean-born artist Jette Hye Jin Mortensen) - I sense that there is a lot more openly political work here than we might see in Australia and New Zealand. (I am also thinking about work in the show at the Copenhagan State gallery called 'Reality Check' which opened last Tuesday.)

Tove Storch's "humming bird" (2007) at the gallery entrance is an illusion of flight created by two images rapidly revolving on a motor in positive and negative. A simple, very effective piece which evokes a nineteenth century optical toy.

Lillibeth Cueneca's dramatic performance 'How to break the Chinese Wall' was a series of re-enactments of performance art from the 1960s performed to a lulling sountrack as she moved rapidly from one iconic performance to the next - seemingly commenting on how the artworld consumes novelty. I thought her performance persona was very captivating, she is originally from Manilla and living in Copenhagen.

One of the other U-TURN venues is the Nicolaj church in the city centre which also will be a venue for IMPACT (the exhibition that results from my residency). Nicolaj had an evocative series of 16mm films translated to DVD installation of Jesper Just -voyages into psychological spaces realised in architectural spaces. The space has an old staircase running through it which leads into the rafters of the church - which dates back to the 13th century.

negative land (from A to B)

I am interested that in most of the maps of the harbour animals show the land as a black negative space on the map or a colourless space. The attention for NERI mapwork is on the sea. These maps show points where GIS uploads have been made to the internet. Susi explained that these maps were not the most useful for the scientists although they are useful for the public for explaining the Narwhal movements they do not show what the animals do in-between the dots. The 'straight-line' visualisations would be even more organic if they could include the dives, the trips to sure and the round about way the animals really move from place to place.

I learned from Peter how to upload GIS data which has been converted by a programme called ArcVector from Vectotronics to importable files for google earth and to make animations of the movements of the tracks in a much faster way than using ArcGIS. The Neri scientists will map snow and ice movements and weather onto the animal movements to show the correlation. Below is fresh data from Reindeer in Western Greenland which can be animated live in Google Earth.

I also spoke to Doris today who went on a mission to Greenland to find out about the less high profile creatures and plants and shellfish that live at the bottom of the sea. These also need to be considered in environmental assessments for energy companies.

Monday, September 8, 2008

ArcGIS and ethics

Today I worked with Susi on some more GIS data from the harbour porpoise. She was very generous with her time in teaching me how to work with Satellite coordinates (attributes) and to create 'kernal home ranges' from point data. We used an extension called 'hawth's tools' for making these shapes that show the high density areas for the animals. I have a pretty thorough understanding of the data and also the difficulties obtaining accurate data (for example only when the satellite transmitters send a signal to the satellite on the right angle is a reading collected.) We are working with numerical data gathered over 10 years and condensed into monthly maps to show behaviour of a small number of the tagged creatures. The porpoise are not caught specifically for tagging - the scientists wait until the animals are caught accidentally in fisherman's nets - then the fishermen notify NERI and they rush out to apply their transmitters to the animals. The transmitter is attached through the dorsal fin - it is painful but they have documented that they heal quickly and show no obvious distress at their technological prosthesis. I have some natural reservations about the process but the scientists have me pretty convinced that they have no better leverage for protecting marine areas from exploitation than the data documentation of the animal movements. There is no doubt that this research method is intrusive and there are some ethical questions but this tension still makes this research important to examine creatively. There is a strange feeling of responsibility to be working with data that certain animals have involuntarily carried out as research for their species. But this is a very different scenario to say, drug testing research which is carried out on animals simply to solve human problems. I am thinking about this...

Susi thinks my first visualisation (using GIS software) uses a poor choice of colours - I agree but now at least I know how to do it and I can begin working on my own animation.

Sunday, September 7, 2008

lunch time bird people

On a lunch time walk some of the scientists who are interested in bird life leave their desks (where they are generally working on articles and write ups/statistics of their field work in Greenland) and walk around to Roskilde fjord where a variety of local birds - including the indigenous white swan are congregating. The other scientists call them the bird people. The Risø complex where NERI is based also houses other Danish scientific research areas. I was struck by the 2 decommissioned nuclear power plants, left over from 1950s tests at the area. Now the Danes are much more interested in wind power and there are also banks of solar panels around here. I have a security card and complex insurance policy to be on site so I am guessing that there is still some potentially sensitive activity. There are a few closed boxes like this where I wonder what happens inside...

farming the wind

Thursday, September 4, 2008

home range

I had a productive meeting with Susi Edren this morning - she is the NERI resident expert in spatial modelling in ArcGIS. We are going to work together on some GIS coordinates using this software and her expertise in visualising the movements of harbour porpoise in combination with environmental factors including water salinity, depth for example. This map below shows the 'kernal home range' or the areas where porposie hang out the most In the Inner Dansih Waters. We did a lot of scribbling to evolve a language which we could both understand.

below is Susi holding the latest satellite transmitter which emits a signal every 6 hours from an attachment on a porpoise fin to a satellite in its high pass.

Wednesday, September 3, 2008

everyday operations

Well, I said I wanted to find out what the NERI scientists do every day but I didn't expect to be taken to an operation on polar bear specimens (these are their still partly frozen heads). The scientists are removing the bear brains to assess the contaminant levels. There is a visiting scientist from Michegan and NERI scientists as well as a research student from Australia observing the operation. These are bears which have died in the annual hunt in Greenland. This is not my area of research for this project - (although I am sure some artists would love it!) I am looking for connections between the digital and the bio-systems but it is good to have a full picture of the biological research the scientists do. This photo was taken in the bottom floor of the Natural History Museum in Copenhagen - then the skulls end up in the collection. If I was romanticising scientific work before I am definitely not now...

Abdi, the archive's curator moved easily between the gory scene below and the important storehouse of bones of arctic animals which dates back to the 17th century. Some of these porpoise bones were collected 400 years ago.

The engraving below ( c1670 ) depicts many items which are still in the Copenhagen museum. Many of the 19th century specimens were collected by Danish natural scientist P.W. Lund (1801-1880).

satellite tracking

This map is a scientific visualisation using the programme Arc map of tagged (with geo locators and data loggers ) caribou in West Greenland to find out their main feeding and breeding areas. This research is part of Peter Aarstrup's work in modelling their summer ranges using satellite based vegetation maps. Other scientists including Anders Mosbech also map ranges of birds such as the Eider onto maps of surface temperature of air and water. I am particularly interested in how meteorological data and the satellite movement data of animals are used together. The scientists use a combination of Argos based locations and surface based field work to come to conclusions about anthropogenic effects. For example a high resolution digital camera is installed at Anders Mosbech's research site in North Western Greenland which takes a photograph every 2 hours for a year. This could be a very interesting animation ... although the scientists don't use it like this. (This has a strong relationship with art projects which monitor and observe space over time. ) In Greenland oil exploration and mineral exploration require assessments from NERI of their effect on local species. They also work with hunters to find information about the animals and assess animal populations.

This is a drawing from my notebook of the Greenland fjords and caribou population

This is Christian Glahder with a satellite data logger and a neck ring used to attach to the white fronted goose in Greenland. The ring will fall off over time, as opposed to the more intrusive method of implanting the satellite tracking devices inside the abdomen of birds. This summer in Greenland Jesper Madsen and Glahder performed 'Richard Long' type walks (for counting and monitoring purposes) over 5km areas in different directions to assess populations of Greenland white-fronted geese. His work is partly anthropological and he once spent a whole season interviewing Inuit people and hunters from Greenland about their knowledge of the local species and environment. (incidentally Richard Long is one of the favourite artists of NERI scientist Rune Dietz.)

Monday, September 1, 2008


Jesper has set up meetings with a range of scientists who are researching in areas which may be useful in my work - specifically areas concerned with visualisation and sound. Today I met with Jakob Tougaard who is involved with acoustical surveys with hydrophones - above (similar to a microphone but with ceramic crystals which generate an electric signal when compressed) to gather data from marine creatures which emit bio-sonar. The ultrasound signals are recorded live from harbour porpoise and converted into audible 'clicks' by a data logger. Jakob explained how the animals use the noises for communication and orientation. As well as signal collection to analyse the animal's language (he found that the same signals are used by the small Hector's porpoise in NZ's banks peninsula) they also use the hydrophone to assess numbers of the porpoise in the Inner Danish Waters by towing a string of them behind a boat. Construction of giant windfarms at sea is effecting the movements of porpoise - they avoid construction areas and sometimes don't return to an area once construction is finished. Currently 15% of Denmark's energy comes from wind power and they are working towards 50% by 2030 - but this also has an environmental effect.

The tracking and assessment of the harbour animal's movement is used as leverage for the establishment of Marine Protected Areas - there are currently no areas areas which are protected from fisheries. This came as a shock to me since there are so many marine reserves already established in New Zealand. Jakob played me some of the recordings he has made - but he also discovered there is almost no variety in the signals the animals make - they are universally hard, fast and repetitive!

This is Jakob Tougaard giving me a hydro acoustic alarm (a pinger) which emits signals to keep porpoise away from fishing nets

the porpoise wave forms were very repetitive like this: