Nathalie Miebach explores the intersection of art and science by translating scientific data related to meteorology, ecology, and oceanography into woven sculptures and musical scores/performances. Miebach is the recipient of numerous awards and residencies, including a Pollock-Krasner Award, Virginia A. Groot Foundation Award, TED Global Fellowship, Massachusetts Cultural Council Fellowship, and a nominations to the World Technology Award, Brother Thomas Award, and the Women to Watch Smithsonian Award. She did her undergraduate studies in Chinese and Political Science at Oberlin College, and received an MFA in sculpture and an MSAE in Art Education from Massachusetts College of Art. Her work is shown nationally and abroad, and has been reviewed by publications spanning fine arts, design, and technology. She lives in Boston. Miebach’s work is included in the Crystal Bridges exhibition State of the Art: Discovering American Art Now, which is currently touring the country.
“When I first began this I was interested in using basket weaving as a grid to translate. I was taking classes at Harvard in astrophysics and at the same time taking classes in basket weaving. There is a lot of engineering that goes on with baskets. They started as two separate things: astronomy and weaving. But I was frustrated by the fact that everything was so two-dimensional. I had an open-minded professor and I asked could I for my final project to weave a sculpture based on a diagram in the astronomy textbook. So that was the light bulb. All of a sudden there was a tactile medium to translate data with.
“Baskets have vertical and horizontal elements. So by using a band of 48 spokes where each spoke is assigned an hour or time. [For example: say] the flat reeds are moon data and sun data are round reeds. Because the flat reed and round reed have slightly different tensions, they start to warp. I like working with reed because it’s a material I can’t control. If I put too much pressure on it, it breaks; and what that means is that the numbers are actually creating these changes in the form.”
Miebach has created series of woven sculptures notating, among other things, weather data for Superstorm Sandy, oceanological and meteorological interactions in the Gulf of Maine, and tides. The works are colorful, whimsical, and fascinating. “I don’t want to make like 3D version of a science textbook,” Miebach explained. “I want an eight year old kid who loves to play with legos in there as well. It’s a mixture of trying to base the work on science but also bring in that element of play.”
Later, she turned to music as another means of translating data, working with composers and musicians to translate the scores into real performances.
“I started to get more interested in the nuances of weather, not just in weather data but also how we understand weather, how it’s connected to human stories. So, weather is not just a bunch of numbers, weather is this companion that’s with us throughout our lives. We remember a lot of things that are connected with weather. It’s our emotions that are effected. So I started to think a little bit more: Is there a way I can bring in that nuance of weather reading into a sculpture? The grid is too rigid to do this. If you translate nuanced variations of data the grid falls apart. I started looking for a visual language that would convey that nuance without actually altering the data.”
Nathalie Miebach will be at Crystal Bridges this Saturday, April 8, as a panelist for our Symposium, Art in Conversation: Environment, Identity, and Memory. Click here for a full schedule and to purchase tickets to the symposium!