Strange Weather

Language is constantly shifting to capture changing popular thought. How is our growing understanding of global climate change – as a scientific, political and cultural phenomenon – reflected in our everyday language? The Studio for Urban Projects believes that the way we think about nature is critical to how we perceive our role within the environment and address problems – such as the imminent crisis of global warming.

The current popular focus on climate change is projected as a new and contemporary event when in fact the seeds of this investigation have been laid in scientific dialog since the 19th century. Though the “natural greenhouse effect” was first described by physicist John Tyndall in 1859 and the relation between CO2 levels and earth’s temperature in 1896 by Swedish chemist Svante Arrhenius, it is only in recent years that popular culture has caught up with scientific discourse and embraced climate change as an all too real phenomenon. Today the daily weather forecast takes on a foreboding quality as we begin to understand how our everyday actions impact global climate in potentially irreversible ways.

Strange Weather graphs the usage patterns of terms that characterize the dialog around climate change from Internet news sources. These terms, including “carbon footprint,” “greenhouse gasses,” and “polar ice cap,” are juxtaposed with the mundane daily audio stream of New York City weather information broadcast by the National Weather Service. Strange Weather aims to provoke us to think about how our perception of weather must change from an objective measure of natural phenomena to something that complexly and darkly also mirrors ourselves.

Strange Weather grows out of a previous project entitled In Popular Terms: The Evolving Language of Ecology.

In Popular Terms is a visualization that allows the participant to choose from a set of terms such as “sustainable” and to search the Internet for the presence of that term in the context of its contemporary usage. The user can then compare the results against an annotated bibliography that reveals the way these terms have changed over time.  In Popular Terms was conceived for the Berkeley Art Museum’s on-line exhibitionRIP.MIX.BURN.BAM.PFA curated by Richard Rinehart. Its parameters are inspired by artist Valéry Grancher’s 24h00 (1999) in the BAM collection. In Popular Terms was made in collaboration with artists Gilbert Guerrero, Christian Nold, and Megan and Rick Prelinger.