Caragh Medlicott reflects on Weather the Weather, an installation marrying art and science which showed at Einstein’s Garden – the science engagement area of Green Man Festival – which took place last week.
Weather isn’t as innocuous as it might seem. In the UK and across the British Isles, there is a tendency to consider weather first and foremost as fodder for small talk. We subsist in an area of the world known for its relative temperateness and propensity for drizzle. In many ways, we are the lucky ones. Major weather disruptions – while increasing with climate change – have, at least historically, been relatively rare here. Maybe that’s why we tend to see weather as something general, a shared state across cities and locations, not necessarily a specific or personal experience. And yet, ask someone to recount some of their most vivid memories and you’ll often find weather nestled quietly at the forefront – “on a hot summer’s day” “it was ice-cold and snowing” – weather is like the soundtrack to our lives, both in the background and imbued with deeper emotional resonance.
Today, of course, that same weather may well be imbued with anxiety, too. Our climate is heating rapidly. Behind every record-breaking sizzler and the accompanying rush to the beer gardens, the reality of the climate emergency inches ever closer. Most of us know all too well just how dire the consequences of this warming may be if left unchecked, yet it’s sometimes hard to square with the pleasure of the sun on your face – a day spent lounging in the garden. Perhaps this is especially true in the UK where we have been conditioned to be ironically sanguine in the face of rainfall (“lovely weather we’re having!”) and determined to “make the most of it” when brighter skies do arrive. It seems clearer than ever that we need to do more than understand the facts, we need to connect with the ideas behind them, too. Science, for all its incredible feats, has struggled to make that happen. And where knowledge dawdles, art is much more likely to… well, make a song and dance about it.
This was one of the driving forces behind the decision to spotlight an art installation in Einstein’s Garden at Green Man festival this year. The end product is “Weather the Weather”, a collaborative effort led by multidisciplinary artist Inés Cámara Leret and academic George Adamson from King’s College London. With the help of engineers, scientists, researchers and architects, the pair brought Weather the Weather to fruition. Appearing from the outside to be something of a cross between an opaque greenhouse and a time machine, the installation recreates weather from significant years in human history. To be precise, it recreates the exact weather from those years, replicating the conditions not only of the time period but specific to the location of the installation. In other words, if it was raining in south Wales at 2pm in 1816 (and more on the years selected to follow), it’d be raining at the same time on-site within the installation.
In total, Weather the Weather looks at four dates selected to coincide with the four days of the festival. The first is 1816. Also known as “the year without a summer”, 1816 saw major climate abnormalities due to a volcanic winter inflicted by the eruption of Mount Tambora. Fans of Gothic literature may also know the year for its association with the iconic origin story of Mary Shelley and the challenge which inspired her to write Frankenstien. The second year is 1904, significant for being the first time burning fossil fuels were linked to an increase in global temperature. Svante Arrhenius was behind the discovery, yet believed then that the change had the potential to be positive. The third year is 1990. This date is significant as the baseline year used for carbon emissions under the Kyoto Protocol. And finally, the fourth year takes us into the future via accurate predictions made for the weather in Wales in the year 2080.
While I was there for just the final day of the festival (and the weather predicted for 2080) other festival-goers were given the opportunity to attend each day and experience the changes between years for themselves. Experientially, Weather the Weather is deceptively simple. Audiences are brought inside the installation and given context to the project before being invited to take thirty seconds to close their eyes and really feel the weather created. 2080, it seems, will be sticky and hot. Beneath our feet the grass is yellowed and damp. The air feels stifling, almost tropical. It’s the atmosphere you associate with rainforests, or – closer to home – botanical gardens. Walking back out afterwards the air feels notably crisp and fresh, a fact which adds a contemplative layer to the exhibit – lasting beyond the installation itself.
I wrote recently about the thin line between gimmickry and growth in immersive art, and Weather the Weather leans away from the bells and whistles which sometimes make the world of immersive art seem more a salve to our poor attention spans than art in itself. If I at first wondered whether the installation might have been more dramatic – I speculated about experiencing the weather in fast forward, the heat rising as the years flicked by – I felt differently by the day’s end. This is a work of greater subtlety, and so one of greater longevity, too.
If dramatism worked, perhaps we’d all have started taking climate change seriously after the release of The Day After Tomorrow. Many have speculated that it is the “un-sexy” nature of the climate emergency which, for a long time, prevented it from piercing the social psyche. Yet this is the harsh reality of our future: not something which can be stepped in and out of, but a new environment which is at once relentless, mundane and toxic. Stepping back out to the green fields and surrounding natural beauty, I felt deeply that it must be protected from the weather to come.
You can read more about Weather the Weather here.
Read Caragh Medlicott’s interview with the manager of Einstein’s Garden, Sophie Perry, here.