This artwork lets trees tell the story of climate change

Linda Valenta
December 18th 2018

In our ongoing battle against climate change, it's hard to transcend from our human position and ‘think’ like nature. Given, nature doesn't think the way humans do, but it does act upon the environmental changes that occur. Dutch artist Thijs Biersteker anticipated on this behaviour and enables trees themselves, to tell the pressing issue of climate change - narrated in a way for humans to understand.

Real-time ring layers

So here's the thing: a tree’s ring layers does not only tell us something about the age of a tree; they also express the climate during that period of time. For instance, researchers can identify an increased amount of air pollution in a tree’s ring layer. However, once the time arrives in which we're able to identify this effect on trees, it might already be too late for us to act upon the tree’s warning signs.

Therefore Biersteker launched the project Voice of Nature to make this possible: changes in the tree’s environment are in real-time converted to digital data and subsequently visualised, using sensors that are attached to the tree. Visitors of the artwork can see when the tree is affected by a change in light spectrum, soil, temperature, moist levels, air quality and co2 levels.

The result is a giant screening behind a tree, depicting the creation of ring layers as the tree’s climate changes. Part of this climate is the visitor itself. When a human touches the tree, the visuals show that the tree calms down. The underlying message is that humans are more than just polluting agents; they can also be the healing energy.

The next narrative of nature

As Thijs Biersteker mentions, nowadays we trust data more than we trust our eyes. A collaboration between data and the arts makes it possible for us to see the data indicating issues of climate change.

Moreover, this artwork shows how we can cultivate a collaboration between art and technology to create new narratives that stem from nature itself.

The initiators of the project emphasise the need for such narratives in light of the Climate Change Conference in COP24 and the latest climate change report released by the Trump administration. In these narratives, discussions about monetary assets prevail over the intrinsic value of nature.

Sure, even though we cannot really think like a tree, this project brings us closer to its story and the grand narrative of a changing climate. By making smart use of technology and its combining to the arts as a way to make the voice of the tree audible or visible, the project shows in an ingenious way, how we in our next nature are able to enact new narratives when it comes to climate change.

Watch the video below to learn more about the project.

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Should men be able to give birth to children?


Joyce Nabuurs: To me this question seems to be a logical next step in the emancipation movement of the past century. More and more women entered the workspace, but the responsibility for pregnancy and childrearing remained female.

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