Andrea Polli Lecture “Hack the Grid”
Combining science and art, Polli uses technology to collect data and create visualizations of energy systems. Driven by experimentations with new tools, her work evolves as new technology become more accessible. Although her work varies in scale and medium, many of them revolve around transforming invisible information about the environment into visible, tangible, and even interactive forms.
Many of Polli’s work are interdisciplinary in nature. She often collaborates with experts from different fields. In one her earliest projects, Polli collaborated with scientists and used data to produce sonifications of climate change. In her public art projects such as Energy Flow and GLOWpod, she collaborated with engineers and programmers to update real-time data.
In the lecture, Polli gave an overview of her past projects. She initially started with collecting and analyzing environmental data, which were often virtual. The idea of making information tangible led her to making projects such as Cloud Car and Hello Weather, where she built physical representations of car emission and developed networks to collect and present weather data. At this stage, she has just started to experiment with different physical formats to visualize data.
According to Polli, hacker and maker tools play a major role in her work, which makes collecting and updating data more effective. Particle Falls is a visualization of particle pollution in the air. Polli made a waterfall animation that responds to particle density and updates every 15 seconds. If particular pollution in air is high, a fireball starts to form. This creates a dramatic and moving experience for the viewer. In another project called Energy Flow, Polli used a similar technology of environment sensing to measure air quality. To some extent, Polli’s work is evolving with the technological tools. Retrieving data in real-time and immediately transforming them into visuals tells a more powerful story because the viewers are seeing “invisible environmental changes” as they’re happening. This timely and instant response is only made possible by technological tools.
One of my favorite pieces is the GLOWpod installation, which combines the temporal quality of data and the spatial emphasis of VR to speculate what farming in outer space might be like. In this piece, the LED lights responds to the soil temperature and moisture of the plantings around the GLOWpod. And the VR transports people into the outer space. I find it intriguing how the viewers are not only interacting with soil data in the context of a constructed environment, but also the VR enhances this experience on a spatial level.
Polli effectively utilizes data visualization to create experiences and interactions that connect people to their environments. I strongly agree with her in that I also think data could be really powerful in helping people understand themselves and their relationship with the world around them. I find her approach of creating public art for people to interact with data to be really interesting. In many cases, I think her experimentations with different technology is as important, if not more important, than the stories she tries to tell with data.