CODAsummit Explores Humans’ Impact on the Environment Through Interactive Art

The art and technology worlds can often feel locked in competition, each prizing what the other inadvertently seeks to curtail: the art world eager to preserve and appreciate natural beauty, and the technology world determined to seek enlightenment and advancement. But they needn’t be at odds – and the inaugural CODAsummit held across September 20 and 21 at the Center For Contemporary Arts in Santa Fe, New Mexico proved beyond any doubt that technology can be used to explore and discuss environmental issues.

Organized by CODAworx, an art collective that serves as a central facilitator to bring together talent from all backgrounds and walks of life to collaborate, CODAsummit was created to allow the various links in the art commissioning chain – primarily commissioners (designers, architects, etc.), creators (artists), and suppliers (fabricators and manufacturers) – to congregate and pursue opportunities to develop new and creative cooperative projects.

A recurring theme throughout the many talks was how art projects can communicate the broader significance of our changing environment in ways that scientific statements and papers never could.

This isn’t the first time that the CODAworx community has addressed these ideas. It produced the #OurChangingClimate project of 2015, which used communal workshops and video compilations of personal stories to reframe the concept of climate change from an issue that seems impossibly large and abstract to something with tangible local effects and experiences that everyone could understand.

Let’s take a look at some of the speakers who contributed heavily to CODAsummit’s environmental themes, considering their styles and discussed projects:

Andrea Polli, creator of Energy Flow

Andrea Polli specializes in environmental art that touches upon themes involving science and technology, and has worked on everything from public exhibitions and mobile media to broadcasts and publications. Her work typically draws from scientific data (something that often fails to prove impactful when made widely available), turning stats and figures from abstract notions on computer screens to arresting and eye-opening visual displays.

Appropriately, she participated in the panel entitled “The Art of Depicting Reality: Data Visualization,” and discussed her Energy Flow installation (pictured at the top) that ran in Pittsburgh from November 2016 to April 2018. Powered by wind turbines attached to the catenary arches of the Rachel Carson Bridge, it lit up in response to wind and temperature conditions, showing the activity of the natural world while demonstrating what can be done without recourse to fossil fuels or external power sources.

Cheryl Maeder, creator of Submerge

Cheryl Maeder is a noted photographer and videographer who has worked extensively on impressionistic projects, most notably inspiring Dove’s well-received “’Real Women, Real Beauty” campaign which made a lot of progress towards changing the media’s perception of beauty and women in general. Her fascination with coastal living led her to create her Submerge art series.

Speaking as part of the “Making Waves: New Technologies” segment, she discussed her Submerge installation (pictured above) for the City of West Palm Beach, Florida. Video projections on the underside of the Royal Park Walkway (the bridge connecting West Palm Beach to Palm Beach), were used to explore the extent to which water defines our connection to the environment: making up most of our bodies, covering most of the Earth, and representing both the serenity and the power of the natural world.

Matt Niebuhr, creator of Sun Pavilion 

Matt Niebuhr is an artist who established the West Branch Studio of Des Moines, Iowa. Trained as an architect, he focuses on public art exhibitions and installations, finding ways to combine his architectural skills with community drives.

Photo by Zahner

Also, part of the “Making Waves: New Technologies” segment, Niebuhr spoke about the inspiration for Sun Pavilion, the project he and fellow artist David Dahlquist worked on for the municipal government of the City of El Paso, Texas. The project combines function and form by giving park visitors a place to seek shelter from the heat while artfully playing upon the area’s storied cultural history through the incorporation of ancient sun symbols – early inhabitants of the El Paso region featured them heavily in drawings thousands of years ago.

CODAsummit as a hub for future discussion

With this first CODAsummit selling out and attracting a wide range of talented and passionate attendees, plans are already underway for future instalments. If CODAworx can continue its good work of bringing the art and technology worlds together, so much can be accomplished to make the issue of climate change more present and urgent in the public consciousness, and to place more pressure on governments and corporations alike to act.

Photo by Annie Watt

After all, what discussions about environmental issues so often lack is that vital context, that emotional gut punch that reminds us of what’s really at stake, and what the consequences of failure will be. The art world is uniquely positioned to do something about this – and with such a passionate community rallying around it, there’s reason to be optimistic.

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Toni Sikes is Founder and CEO of CODAworx, the global leader in commissioned art, serving as a professional network for a wide variety of artists, design professionals, and industry resources.

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