Feeling the Heat
a thermographic video triptych for exhibition spaces
(previewed is split-screen)
3 HD screens, stereo audio, dimensions variable.
Completed: 05 October 2018
Made by Adam Sébire (PhD student, UNSW Faculty of Art & Design)
How do climate scientists, working on the front line of a problem that's invisible to most of us, respond to it as human beings, as citizens of the planet?
Feeling the Heatis presented as a visually spectacular triptych with unique thermographic imagery of natural and built environments and, caught in between, the Australian climate scientists, interviewed with their own instruments and, quite literally, feeling the heat of the moment...
The work explores a new approach to climate change communication, freeing normally objective professionals to talk to us through a subjective, passionate lens. How do the disturbing implications of climate change affect the scientists tasked with studying it on a personal level? Despite the existential dimensions of their research they’re usually expected to eschew their emotions, adhering to detached, dispassionate modes of the scientific method lest it taint their empirical assemblage of evidence. But even when they do so, they may find themselves targets of those who would rather not hear their rational conclusions.
The artwork forms part of Adam Sébire's PhD research into aesthetic visual representations of climate change. He uses a thermographic imager normally employed by these scientists during heatwaves to measure leaf temperatures. The infrared thermal interviews ‘cloak’ the scientists visually as heat data, allowing them to speak candidly and personally, minimising potential repercussions whilst heightening aesthetic engagement for a wider audience.
There is increasing literature documenting their despondency ('climate-related depression’). Clive Hamilton describes them as “modern-day Cassandras” whose warnings go unheeded. Their research often requires them to “think the unthinkable” as they venture to the far end of probability curves. Their recommendations follow the Precautionary Principle — hoping for the best while preparing for the worst. Yet the science of climate change is all too frequently eclipsed by its politics and the temptation of some is to shoot the messenger. Any expression of an emotional response to a problem which threatens to make the planet unliveable for many of its species therefore remains taboo, and climate science communication is largely confined to probabilities, tables, graphs and data.
Scientists often assume that given enough of the right information people will modify their behaviour accordingly. However climate change is proving that a response takes more than knowledge of the scientific consensus. Climate change psychology research suggests an emotional connection is necessary. For a problem with such major implications, a dispassionate presentation of the evidence may not help its societal acceptance. This work offers viewers a different point of entry.
I’m interested in the everyday (im)perceptibility of global warming to those of us living typically hermetic existences in the West. Insulated from the vicissitudes of weather it’s easier for us to ignore looming climatic upheavals when there’s little or no immediate experience of them to confront.
The effects of climate change are furthermore displaced from their causes both in time and in space, creating a cognitive dissonance in our ways of thinking about the problem. Its difficult spatio-temporal dimensions lead philosopher Timothy Morton to conceptualise global warming as a vast ‘hyperobject’ demanding new aesthetic approaches which straddle the visible/invisible, here/there, and past/present/future.
And so I use thermography (infra-red heat photography) to explore the sensory imperceptibility of anthropogenic (manmade) warming. As part of my search for an aesthetics for the Anthropocene I struggle with these extremely cumbersome and low-resolution, yet fascinating scientific instruments. Mostly my models and I must shoot at night: the camera is uninterested in visible light and in lower temperatures after sunset I’ve discovered that human bodies can ‘illuminate’ the surrounding environment with their radiant heat, metaphorically linking these scenes with our species’ rapid warming of the planet.
This photographic* series (Lambda prints on Endura Metallic paper) is part of an ongoing (2015—2017), interdisciplinary art/science project. They are created with a high-resolution thermal imaging camera loaned from scientists at the Climate Change Cluster (C3) and School of Life Sciences at the University of Technology, Sydney — to whom I’m enormously grateful for their advice, trust and generosity.
* Is it indeed photography? In Wikipedia’s definition, yes: “Photography is the science, art, application and practice of creating durable images by recording light or other electromagnetic radiation, either electronically by means of an image sensor, or chemically by means of a light-sensitive material such as photographic film…”
exhibition: in the heat of the moment
Artist: Adam Sébire
An interdisciplinary art/science exploration of the sensory (im)perceptibility of anthropogenic global warming.
The exhibition comprises thermographic stills & video art of bodies in Australian bush landscapes, created using a high-resolution thermal imager loaned from the UTS Climate Change Cluster (C3) as part of a Culture at Work residency.
Thursday 4 June — Monday 8 June 2015
Exhibition open 12:00-17:00 daily incl. Monday public holiday
Opening drinks Thursday 4th June 18:00-20:00
(short artist’s talk and introduction by Prof. Bruce Milthorpe, Dean of Science at University of Technology Sydney at 19:00)
venue: Accelerator Gallery
Culture at Work
6 Scott Street, Pyrmont
(light rail: John Street Square)
With thanks to:
UTS Faculty of Science
Dr. Andrea Leigh
Prof. Bruce Milthorpe
Dr. Lisa Roberts
About the works:
Thermography aims to record and visualise the invisible: infrared heat data.
The United Nations’ Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) has gathered evidence that our planet’s surface temperature has already risen by an average of 0.89ºC over the period 1901–2012 — and sea levels by 19cm from 1901-2010* — yet these figures rarely make themselves apparent in our daily lives.
For global warming is what philosopher Timothy Morton terms a hyperobject — "an entity that is so vast and so long lasting that we humans only see pieces of it at a time". Furthermore, its effects develop in spatial and temporal dislocation from their causes, making them difficult to represent in a society which emphasises “seeing is believing”.
Until it's too late, that is.
in the heat of the moment thermographically images nudes in Australian bush environments to explore — on an aesthetic level — anthropogenic (human-made) global warming. It uses a high-resolution thermal imaging camera generously loaned from Dr. Andrea Leigh in the UTS Climate Change Cluster (C3), where it's used to analyse leaf temperatures in Australia's arid zones. Higher resolution imagers than this are restricted technology due to their military applications. The imager records hundreds of thousands of points of heat data in infrared wavelengths before visualising them in colour spectra apprehensible to the human eye.
Over many weeks I learnt to use the device, experimenting with its data aesthetically through cinematic techniques such as depth of field, mise-en-scène, camera movement, and slow motion. By adjusting the device's parameters in ways probably unintended by its engineers, the resultant thermograms take on quasi-Fauvist qualities.
In these videos and stills nature is brought to the fore whilst the defocussed nude figures punctuate the night scenes' backgrounds with their radiant heat, illuminating and silhouetting the foliage. In the video works they leave behind heat prints on their surrounding environment. In this way thermal imagery perhaps offers us a non-human perspective on the Anthropocene.
— Adam Sébire, June 2015.
Working Group I Contribution to the IPCC Fifth Assessment Report, Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change. "Climate Change 2013: The Physical Science Basis." Stockholm, Sweden, 2013. 6, Section B4.
Some video excerpts from the exhibition.
You can read an interview with Adam about his artwork around global warming and the Anthropocene on Climate in Conversation (July 2016) or download the PDF, right:
Some more recent experiments with the infrared imager, out of the lab!
dance performance: melt (in the heat of the moment)
Filmmaker/Artist: Adam Sébire
Choreographer: Robyn Seiboth
Dancers: Sally Biermann, Lisa Roberts, Robyn Seiboth
Using the same techniques as described above, live projections of thermographic dance were created for the BEAMS Festival, Chippendale Creative Precinct, on the evening of Saturday 19 September 2015.
The dancers were rear-projected realtime from within a disused shop onto its glass coated with Greek yoghurt — to form a screen for the thousands of Festival-goers outside. The live dance was interspersed with thermographic images of rural and urban environments (see video below) while the performers took breaks. The choreography explored how the heat energy of our bodies shapes the world around us: from the way touch changes personal relationships — to a global level, where our actions (and inactions) warm the planet.
(Behind the scenes documentation courtesy Lisa Roberts on YouTube.)
Stills below (click for enlargement):