The Rachel Carson Bridge is now dazzling thanks to Andrea Polli, whose large-scale light installation Energy Flow turned the landmark into a functional, colorful work of art. Now the environmental artist will host workshops exploring how art and technology can change the way people see the world.

Polli will oversee two workshops inspired by Energy Flow, a temporary work that employs data visualization to make people aware of changes in the environment. Powered by 16 wind turbines from the Pittsburgh-based company WindStax, the installation uses colored lighting patterns to show real-time changes in wind speed and direction as captured by a weather station on the bridge.

Energy Flow artist Andrea Polli. Photo by Chuck Varga.

The events, which are presented by the Hillman Photography Initiative at the Carnegie Museum or Art (CMOA), will demonstrate how data visualization can make people more aware of their impact on the environment.

“So much of the change in our climate and pollution, it’s really hard to see it,” says Divya Rao Heffley, program manager of CMOA’s Hillman Photography Initiative. “Hopefully seeing translates to activism and wanting to make change.”

Polli previously depicted air quality in Pittsburgh with Particle Falls, a public lighting display projected on the outside of the Benedum Center. The work used sensors and a specially designed computer program to gather real-time particulate data from the surrounding environment and translate it into a fantastic light show. The more dots of color produced, the more particles detected in the air.

Particle Falls. Photo by Jared Rendon-Trompak

On January 23, Polli and her team will host Making the Invisible Visible, An EnvironMENTAL Challenge at the Greater Pittsburgh Arts Council. The workshop will walk participants through Polli’s process in creating Energy Flow and take them on a tour of Downtown locations to think about possible public data visualization projects.

From January 24-28, Polli will lead teams of students, artists, technologists, scientists, researchers and professors during a five-day workshop at CMOA. The event will focus on Oakland’s famed Bellefield Boiler Plant, or, as it’s more affectionately known, the Cloud Factory. Using the Cloud Factory as a platform, the teams will imagine new ways of using data visualization to start conversations about environmental concerns.

Bellefield Boiler Plant. Image courtesy of CMOA.

While the first four days of the event are invitation-only, the final day will welcome the public for Light, Energy, and Environmental Sensing—A Responsive Vision for Public Art, where attendees will discuss their ideas surrounding how public art and data visualization can engage communities with environmental issues.

“Both workshops are structured to appoint people with data gathering tools and teach them to consider the impact that their own personal choices have on the local climate and future environment,” says Heffley.

Heffley says the workshops are part of a relationship with Polli that includes a publication set to launch in fall 2017.

“It’s a manifesto for the public to harness the tools that are now readily available and use that data to make change,” says Heffley, adding that the workshops and publication are defined by Polli’s Hack the Grid project, which uses art, media and design to examine the future of energy in the era of climate change.

Making the Invisible Visible, An EnvironMENTAL Challenge takes place from 6-8 p.m. on Monday, January 23. Registration is required. Light, Energy, and Environmental Sensing—A Responsive Vision for Public Art takes place from 1-3 p.m. on Saturday, January 28 at the CMOA’s Hall of Architecture. Registration is recommended. Both workshops are free and open to the public.

Energy Flow will be displayed on the Rachel Carson Bridge through Saturday, January 21.

Amanda Waltz

Amanda Waltz is a freelance journalist and film critic whose work has appeared locally in numerous publications. She writes for The Film Stage and is the founder and editor of Steel Cinema, a blog dedicated...