So how do we gauge the effects of climate change? Not just empirically but aesthetically, viscerally, visually? This is a question the city of San Jose has put to different groups of artists in commissioning a design for a Climate Clock. The clock will be a site-specific public art piece that will serve as an educational tool about global climate change– while also recording its local effects. The proposals were narrowed from 50 down to three. The finalist groups will have residencies at both the CADRE Laboratory for New Media at San Jose State University and the Montalvo Arts Center in order to develop the designs further. The city of San Jose will then select a winner in mid-2009. In the meantime, we can examine the intricate and fascinating proposals for works of art that will monitor our people space for the next 100 years.
Each proposal has a very different approach to the daunting task of recording the effects of climate change over the next century. The Huey-Dewey-Louie Clock is built as a tribute to the film Silent Running, in which a scientist fights for the last encapsulated remnants of forest with the help of three robot aids. The HDL Clock will incorporate three such robots: Huey will extract mineral deposits from the air, forming them into towers that read as visual breakdowns of the landscape. Dewey is a series of genetically identical daffodils, grown each year in groups of 100 and hermetically-sealed beneath glass air samples: the 100th flower will be laid to dry out inside them. Finally, Louie will roam the area, compacting soil into tiny cubes and stamping each one with a significant fact of the day: the price of oil, or the number of remaining polar bears, for instance. In this way, each devoted resourceful caretaker leaves a visual reminder of the cumulative effects of our changing atmosphere.
Brent Bucknum of Hyphae Design and Greenmeme worked on a proposal, Wired Wilderness, which suggests creating a small ecosystem of native oaks and their companion, lichen, in the center of the city, surrounded by the data collected by the nearby wired oak grove. The exhibit would be “curated” by a different artist overseeing the artwork each year, the technology could be transformed, swapped out to accommodate new innovations and developments. The entire piece would be surrounded by a tidal pool, made to rise and fall in accordance with local water levels.
In the Organograph, artist Chico MacMurtrie, Geo Homsy, Bill Washabaugh and Gideon Shapiro plan to create a spiraling sculptural journey that unfolds every morning and closes each night like a flower. This twisting sculpture moves two meters a year along a preset spiral path, advancing on a watery canal and leaving a trail of garden space and garbage-paved paths. The paths widen to accommodate increased human used of garbage: visitors at the apex of the flower are asked to descend in one of two ways: the traditional fossil-fuel way, or the clean energy way. The space inside the sculpture would be continually updated by scientists to provide the most accurate and relevant information.
Regardless of which proposal is selected next year, San Jose will find itself with a stunning art-watchman of climate changes to come.