Displayed on the façade of the Royal Academy of Arts building on Burlington Gardens as part of the exhibition GSK Contemporary, Earth: Art of a changing world 3 December 2009 – 31 January 2010
The art installation is a living visualization of CO2 fluxes from a network of sensing technologies in the UK. The sculpture is based on a scrubber molecule which helps to sequester CO2 out of the air. The installation is now at Seaton Delaval Hall, a National Trust property.
Project by Marcos Lutyens and Alessandro Marianantoni
Increasing cultural awareness of society’s impact on atmospheric
CO2 levels and relationships to long-term heritage conservation
CO2 is more than a chemical compound. It has become a loaded signifier for our times. Mankind's activities have increased atmospheric CO2 levels to a threshold where they threaten potentially catastrophic consequences on a global scale.
The National Trust is a charity invested by Parliament to care for houses, collections, landscapes and coastlines representing a vast, unique part of the heritage of the UK. By providing this perpetual care, the National Trust attempts to preserve and present the special qualities of its holdings for the enjoyment of current and future generations.
It is therefore right that the Trust seeks to stimulate debate about our response as a society to the issues surrounding our relationship with carbon, Carbon is locked into trees and the soils of the Trust's parks, gardens and landscapes. Climate change leads to erratic and fiercer weather conditions enhancing coastal erosion and flooding risks. The species of plants and animals that can survive at our properties will change as temperatures rise. In time, CO2 will change the work of the National Trust.
By commissioning this work from Marcos Lutyens and Alessandro Marianantoni, the Trust is seeking a creative way to engage people with the issues concerned. The work will provide an inspirational focus for debate, both as part of the Royal Academy GSK Contemporary exhibition 'eARTh: art of a changing world' and on its tour of National Trust properties and events in 2010.
Contemporary Arts Programme Manager, National Trust
The CO2morrrow project was spawned from the idea of increasing cultural awareness of society’s impact on atmospheric CO2 levels and relationships to long-term heritage conservation
It’s not so easy for artists to sit closed off in their studios while the world changes around them.
One can see the roots of this change of attitude and approach in the social sculptures of Joseph Beuys or in Hans Haacke's work relating to social turmoil and the corporate contradictions of the day. In their wake, many contemporary artists are
seeing themselves as conduits of ideas rather than as custodians of branded artifacts that they call their “work”. Art has become increasingly a part of the connective tissue that joins us, just as Facebook or Twitter becomes the social glue that, whether we like it or not, fills the gaps in our social communication.
In the elaboration of our project we have borrowed from the ideas of reusability and recycling as we retool and repurpose snippets of programming code to make sense of the complexities of atmospheric data relating to environmental science. Along with social technologist artists who rely heavily on data visualization techniques, such as Usman Haque, known for his “Sky Ear”, or Mark Hansen and his “Listening Post”, we ourselves, as artists, become an invisible conduit as we hold up a mirror or lens through which we can begin to see ourselves more clearly. The CO2morrow project ultimately is formed in the mind of the beholder, as the flowing data patterns on the surface of the sculpture transmit a sense of the changing landscape around us.
We also see a correspondence with social ecologists such as Fritz Haeg who situate their work within the boundaries of the “normal”, provoking everyday people to change their habits by, for instance, converting their suburban lawns into “Edible Estates”, which are essentially vegetable gardens. Increasingly, contemporary artists are driven to incorporate the inevitable syndrome of ‘everywhere, all the time, and now’ into their work, in other words there is an immediacy of news and communication brought to us through mobile phones and the internet that changes an artist's response to his or her practice.
When science is allied to art, together they have the uncanny ability to pierce through our collective environmental autism as seemingly abstract scientific knowledge and data is made accessible and understandable through art.
For this project we chose to draw on data gathered by sensors that is calibrated in “parts per million” to extend our sensory reach beyond our physical senses. Just as Professor Kevin Warwick toyed with tying together, as he put it, “sympathetic” nervous systems by connecting his own feelings with his wife’s at a distance through a wireless implant that detected and retransmitted their sensations, we are tapping into a broader consciousness of the world around us.
When we search for clues in nature about the senses, as was explored in depth in Howard C Hughes’ Sensory Exotica, a world beyond human experience, we can find instances of how many sensorial faculties we are missing, and if only we had the olfactory acuity of the shark or bloodhound, or the ultrasonic perception of the moth or bat, or the ultraviolet visual range of insects, we would be so much better informed about what is going on around us. The reality of the world that exists around us must surely be perceived with prosthetic devices, that extend our sensorial spectrum through detectors and sensors and maybe even the art we produce should be viewed through finer sensorial equipment than that offered up by our limited and crude senses.
Perhaps we could envision ourselves as an extended nervous system that doesn’t just permit us to adapt, but actively allows us to make changes to the world around us. Through a network of telematic, or technologically enhanced interconnections, it’s as if we could become a seamless creature that functions like discrete and independent specialized organisms that nevertheless support each others’ existence by being linked closely together. The best known example of this is the curious case of the siphonophore colony, for example as can be found in the Portuguese Man o’ War.
If this system of collaboration fails, are we to believe Ray Kurzweil’s transhumanist proposition that suggests that the human race will be superseded by ubiquitous computing? Perhaps our best hope of a legacy is for the intelligent systems we spawn to adapt fast enough to meet the changing paces of climatic shifts.
In the mean time, CO2morrow hopes to provide a lens through which we can come to terms with, and maybe even combat to some degree the climate change that has become the biggest challenge of our era.
The CO2morrow sculptural form is based on innovative research by Professor Omar M. Yaghi, UCLA's Christopher S. Foote Professor of Chemistry, who has developed a super-sized molecular sponge that acts as a carbon scrubbing molecule based on "zeolites", or ZIF's for short. Our oversized molecule nests almost parasitically or like a stray virus on the façade of the Royal Academy of Arts building on Burlington Gardens. It's material make up is mostly carbon fibre, in reference to the way in which the ZIF molecule devours carbon, and reminding us of the carbon exchange as it transitions from solid to gas and back again.
In the UK, there is widespread concern within conservation circles that greenhouse gasses trapping heat has been provoking changes in local climate conditions. These changes are translating into increased flooding, soil erosion on the coast as well as near riverbanks and adverse conditions such as wind blown rain.
These factors, which many fear will only get worse over the next few years, may cause untold of maintenance and repair costs as well as irreversible damage to many of our National Heritage sites, and in particular National Trust properties. We have been inspired by the investigations of Sarah Staniforth, the Historic Properties Director of the National Trust, who has repeatedly highlighted the basic links between climate change and threats to conservation. We believe that this project can help shed new and pressing light on issues raised by her and her colleagues.
Our project aims to raise awareness of this overarching challenge and threat that goes beyond the relatively specific concerns of traditional conservation issues. In short, if this "bigger picture" scenario is not addressed urgently, there may be little left to conserve.
World-leading prominent figures such as Nobel Laureate Al Gore, Sir David King (former UK Chief Scientific Adviser) and James Lovelock (inventor of ‘Gaia’ theory of Earth) have described climate change as the most urgent and challenging
problem ever faced by humankind. The IPCC (Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change) assessment reports have presented a clear, consensus opinion from the largest body of scientists ever assembled in history that climate change is directly caused by our actions, emitting greenhouse gases (GHGs) into the atmosphere. Yet progress by the world’s governments to resolve or mitigate the problem has been very slow. So slow, that scientists now discuss the need not only to reduce GHG emissions, but to actively ‘capture’ GHGs from the atmosphere and sequester them either in bedrock or under the ocean.
What can be done? Existing approaches are clearly inadequate. We believe the solution is to think ‘outside the box’ and to marry disciplines that would usually have no reason to work together. With such an approach we hope to achieve a rapid, fundamental shift in public
perception and understanding of the underlying causes of climate change. In turn, an informed, knowledgeable public will be the best route to provoke adequate, substantial action from the world’s policymakers, and thus to protect our Heritage Sites and promote general conservation and environmental principles.
Our project includes pioneering work by one of the only two research labs in the British Isles that specialises in highly sensitive CO2 sensors and mapping atmospheric pollution. CO2 is the primary gas associated with Climate Change and its tracking is essential to understand the dynamics of our weather and its consequences for Heritage Sites.
Very precise and reliable CO2 sensors are being deployed in a handful of National Trust properties around the UK. These sensors give accurate readings of CO2
levels over the period of the project. The data is studied for patterns and tendencies: scientific methodology will be used to shed light on the issue of CO2 and its relationship to Heritage Conservation.
Q&A with Dr. Andrew Manning, Environmental Team Scientist for CO2morrow
ML: What drew you to environmental science?
Dr. AM: My father is in the same field, so I've been exposed to environmental science and climate change from a very young age, and long before it was a 'hot' topic, since the early 1980's. Initially, I tried quite hard to avoid following in my father's footsteps - my Bachelor's degree is in Chemical Engineering where about half of the graduates, ironically, end up working for oil companies! I got a summer holiday job working on analysing methane from Antarctic ice cores - bubbles of air hundreds or thousands of years old trapped deep in the ice, and was immediately hooked. My boss at the time, Dr. Dave Lowe from New Zealand, can take a lot of the credit for showing me how much fun environmental science can be.
The reason why I have stayed in the field is because I believe that climate change is such an important and urgent issue for humanity to address. Despite what you may think, the number of scientists actually studying climate change worldwide is very small. For example, I would contend that there is a much greater number of people whose careers are dedicated towards finding more coal, oil and natural gas than there are climate scientists.
ML: Which kind of CO2 sensing projects have you done?
Dr. AM: My work specialises in making very high precision, "background" measurements of atmospheric CO2. Other kinds of CO2 measurements which I am not involved in directly include measurements in seawater and low precision measurements where people want to measure directly the fluxes from a small area, for example inside a forest, or from soil samples, etc. The background, atmospheric measurements are the most challenging from a technical point of view, because we are pushing the sensor equipment beyond their intended specifications for accuracy and precision. It requires a lot of custom design changes to the commercial equipment and incredible attention to fine detail. Just using an o-ring or gasket of the wrong type of rubber could negate the results of an entire experiment or field campaign. I have been involved in CO2 measurement project at the following locations: Baring Head, New Zealand; Colorado, USA; California, USA; American Samoa; Mace Head, Ireland; Bialystok, Poland; Ochsenkopf, Germany; Siberia, Russia; Northern Territories, Canada; Shetland Islands, UK; Tasmania, Australia; and Norfolk, UK.
As scientists, we're not paid very much compared to others with an equivalent amount of education, such as doctors, lawyers, accountants, but one of the perks we have is travelling to some quite exotic locations for our work.
ML: Which have been the most challenging sensing projects?
Dr. AM: Siberia, hands-down. This project was phenomenally challenging for several reasons: the station didn't exist prior to our work, so we had to deal with not only the science, but the logistics of setting up a new station. I never thought I would need to know about diesel power generators and figuring out the specifications for how many we needed to run our station, nor having to worry about building a house for the scientists on-site - how many bedrooms could we afford and so on. The station was so basic in the beginning that we had to do everything: chop wood for warmth and cooking, travel 5 km to get water for drinking and washing, wash our clothes by hand, bake our own bread, everything. No running water, no bath, shower, or toilet. For a week or so, this would be considered fun but for 6 weeks and on top of 12-14 hours per day working on the science, it was pretty tough.
The journey from London to the Station, took 5 days, involving snowmobiles, helicopters, and planes which looked like they should have been retired a couple of decades earlier. Winter temperatures are about -40°C, but summers are actually worse because of the mosquitoes. I come from New Zealand where there are no mosquitoes, so it was quite a shock! As for the science, the automated, continuous system we were building was the most sophisticated and complex that I have ever built. It also didn't help that most of the higher level managers of the project didn't really know what they were doing, putting all the onus on us scientists at the next level - this made the project extremely stressful. Finally, we had several run-in's with the FSB, formerly known as the KGB, which were extremely unpleasant - but I'm not able to go into any more details.
ML: What is your interest in the co2morrow project?
Dr. AM: First of all, isn't it a great title? There are 2 important aspects which have attracted me to this project: first, the project directly addresses the issue of educating and informing the public about climate change, specifically, what causes climate change. Scientists are notorious for being poor communicators. Ask us what you think is a yes/no question, and you'll never get a yes/no answer. Every answer by a scientist needs to be qualified with exceptions and uncertainties. This results in Joe Public either getting confused because the scientist quickly starts talking over his head and using arcane terminology, or frustrated because of not getting an answer to what he thought was a simple yes/no question. I've often listened to my scientist colleagues talking to a non-scientist - they don't even realise that they are using terminology that is extremely specific to their field
There are 2 ways to try to address this problem: train scientists to be better at communicating their work - our funding agencies have started forcing us to do this, which is a good thing. And second, have scientists work together with non-scientists on some projects - this method is likely to see more immediate results and it's what CO2morrow is all about.
The second aspect which attracted me to CO2morrow is that it is based in the UK and making CO2 measurements on UK soil. Within the climate science community, the UK has a notoriously bad reputation for not making any measurements of CO2 - astonishing, when you consider that CO2 is by far the dominant cause of all climate change, and surprising when you consider that the UK likes to think of itself as a leader in climate change policy (especially during the Tony Blair years). But we only started measuring CO2 in 2004. Russia, China, Poland, Indonesia, have all been measuring far longer than us. New Zealand and Australia have both been measuring for over 30 years! Let me add that the main reason why we don't understand climate change as well as we would like, is because of not having enough measurements. As just one example: one of the biggest unknowns in terms of CO2 absorption by the oceans is in the South Atlantic Ocean. Why? Because the UK practically owns all of the South Atlantic - almost all islands there are UK territories, and the UK doesn't make greenhouse gas measurements!
The Australians, Germans and Americans have been covering for us. For over 20 years they have been making measurements on our soil to cover for our absence. The Australians, funded by their government, have been collecting air samples in Shetland Islands since 1992, shipping them back to Australia, and analysing the air in their laboratory, all because we didn't think it was important!
Finally, we are starting to see a change. We now have measurements just outside of Edinburgh and on the coast in Norfolk, although both are about to run out of funding!. We also have UK funding support to start making measurements in the South Atlantic now. Then there is the CO2morrow project. Although, so far, we are running this project with the generous support of Siemens, but no backing from any UK funding agency.
ML: Do you think its scientific results will be worthwhile?
Dr. AM: Definitely. Whilst I mentioned above that I think informing and educating the public is very important, I would not become involved in a project as large as this one which only did that. For me, there needs to be some underlying science too. So we are ensuring that the CO2 data collected will be accurate enough to be scientifically useful and that the data will be tied to international calibration scales.
ML: What might the impact be to our heritage?
Dr. AM: The simplest level to think about this is to worry about things like our historical buildings and parks - if they are on the coast, then they are in danger from rising sea levels. The next level is to think about how natural ecosystems are changing in a warming climate. What is happening to the world-renown Scottish moors, or what about the migratory birds such as the puffins in the Shetlands? Entire ecosystems are under threat in so many ways. A couple of examples from the US: birds are now moving north because it is warmer. But the pests which they ate can not move north and so these pests are multiplying, destroying crops and destroying forests. Second, in Colorado, the bark beetle is killing acres and acres of natural forest. Previously, they were kept in check by cold winters which reduced their numbers.
But my own concept of heritage is much broader: according to the Oxford Dictionary, the definition of heritage is: "property that is or may be inherited". Does this not include the whole planet? Are not our children going to inherit planet Earth from us? Earth itself right now is under threat and under attack.
We are changing the face of the planet in ways which our ancestors never would have dreamed possible. This is everyone's heritage. Some environmentalists use the slogan "Save the Planet", but this is incorrect. Earth will survive, no matter what we try and do to it. Whether Earth will remain habitable for humans and other flora and fauna, however, is a very different question. So we might be better off saying "Save the Planet for Ourselves". As some wit said: "There is no Planet B."
ML: What do you think of the convergence of art and science?
Dr. AM: This ties in with what I said above about educating and informing the public, and scientists not being very good communicators. Whilst I had often thought about this particular problem, I had never previously thought about marrying art with science as a way to approach the problem. But I think it is an excellent approach. People like art. Broadly speaking, the entire purpose of art is to engage the public in some manner, whether that be to stimulate an emotion or feelings, or to provoke thought, or simply to entertain. Science is quite the opposite. At a fundamental level, science is quite a selfish pursuit, it is the pursuit of knowledge for knowledge's own sake. But there is an increasing number of examples where expanding scientific knowledge is important to everyone. The medical sciences have always been this way. And climate sciences are now similar. That which is important to everyone needs to be understood by everyone, not in detail, but the basics. And so marrying art and science is the perfect solution.
ML: Is Climate change Real? There are many people who would beg to differ...
Dr. AM: I don't have a lot of patience for this question any more: 5 or 10 years ago I did, but not any longer. And I would say that there are not many people who beg to differ. Rather, there is a very small number of very vocal people. At this stage, the science is so overwhelming, that not a single government in the world argues if climate change is real. Even the oil baron, George Bush, finally agreed! The debate has moved on. The original debate was, is climate change real? - we answered this definitively by about 1995-98. Anybody who doesn't think so is either living in a cave or in the employ of the oil companies. The next debate was, is climate change caused by us? We answered this definitively by about 2003-2005. The debate now is, what to do about climate change? Unfortunately, without exception, every government in the world is dragging their feet on this and it is almost too late. "Too late", of course, depends on your perspective, so I shouldn't say that. It's not very scientific.
Marcos Lutyens & Alessandro Marianantoni
Roberto Castellani and Lucia Barna Architects at Studio Castellani
Francesco Chiesi Structural Engineer
Riccardo Bagagli Composite Engineer
Marco Piana Energy Engineeer at Ghigos Energy
Daniela Pangallo Project Manager at Ghigos Energy
Additional design work:
CO2 and Climate Scientist
NERC Advanced Research Fellow Professor Andrew Manning
Kozlova PhD Student
Historic Properties Director
Contemporary Arts Programme Manager
Head of Learning
Chief Executive Officer
Chief Executive Officer
Simon & Jane Jenner
Kirsty Ziggy Davies-Clark
lithographs available at Seaton Delaval Hall and through the National Trust
Royal Academy GSK ContemporarySoriano
Director of ExhibitionsBuckland
External CuratorSunnifa Hope
Philip Pearce Royal Academy ArchitectAssociateEngineer at Scott Wilson Group
This project includes the
planting of 21 trees to
offset its carbon footprint.
Calculated by Ghigos Energy
Carbon Fibre recyclable through Karborek