Projection of light streaming down the side of a building

Lightime: Light + Environmental Sustainability

November 2016–January 2017

Can the visualization of data be photographic?

Artist Andrea Polli discusses the Partical Falls and Energy Flow projects.

Andrea Polli’s practice empowers citizens to effect positive local change by harnessing the photographically inspired tools used in environmental data visualization. Using something as basic as a camera phone, she invites us all to investigate the impact of our current energy choices on the environment.

Polli launched her project at the museum in November 2016 with an artist talk The Making of Energy Flow on the Rachel Carson Bridge (external link) in which she presented and contextualized her interdisciplinary practice. In January 2017, Polli led workshops, Making the Invisible Visible, An Environmental Challenge and Light, Energy, and Environmental Sensing—A Responsive Vision for Public Art that examined how we sense and experience environmental data. Participants analyzed data about light and air using tools such as the sensors on smartphones and considered how the visualization of data could be used to inspire action on pressing environmental concerns. Polli will document these workshops, as well as past and current public art projects such as Particle Falls and Energy Flow, in an artist book launching in December 2017.

In her new artist book, Hack The Grid (external link) , Polli documents these workshops as well as past and current public art projects such as Particle Falls and Energy Flow. Written as part of her commission for the Hillman Photography Initiative, Hack The Grid is available for purchase in the CMOA Store.

Workshop: Making the Invisible Visible, An EnvironMENTAL Challenge

Looking up at the colored lights illuminating one of the towers of the Rachel Carson bridge.
Single-session workshop at the Greater Pittsburgh Arts Council, January 23, 2017.

During this single-session public workshop, Polli shared some insights as well as her process behind the creation of Energy Flow, a large-scale light artwork and wind power nano-grid on Pittsburgh’s Rachel Carson Bridge. Polli and her team guided participants through various visualization strategies to imagine inventive, aesthetic, and informative lighting design concepts for public structures. The workshop concluded at the Rachel Carson Bridge, where Polli discussed the environmental science, artistic choices, data gathering, and computing behind the creation of the work.

Workshop: Light, Energy, and Environmental Sensing—A Responsive Vision for Public Art

Artist Andrea Polli presents slides to a group of people in the Hall of Architecture. The massive plaster cast from the Abbey Church of St. Gilles is in the background.
Multi-session workshop at Carnegie Museum of Art, January 24–28, 2017.

This artist-led, multi-session workshop took an active approach to engaging the public with environmental issues by focusing on the Bellefield Boiler Plant, or “cloud factory”, located behind the museum. The plant is transitioning to hybrid energy production and is an ideal site for data collection (on pollution, energy, weather, and climate) as well as public presentation of this data through creative visualization.

The workshop began with a guided tour of the Plant. Over the course of four days, Polli and guest presenters guided participants through a design thinking “boot camp”; discussed idea generation and design solutions; explored activism and best practices for public engagement with important issues; and shared tools for effective data gathering.

Participants worked collaboratively to brainstorm, develop, and present solutions that envisioned the Plant as a site for imaginative data visualization. On the last day, each team shared their findings at a public discussion with invited respondents Dee Briggs, Lori Hepner, Alison Langmead, and Dutch MacDonald.


Generous support for the Hillman Photography Initiative is provided by the William Talbott Hillman Foundation and the Henry L. Hillman Foundation.