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Ecological artist Thijs Biersteker has created a 5-metre-tall robotic plant, using biodiversity data from the Natural History Museum, to create a (literally) moving monument to the importance of the choices we are making now for the future of our planet.
Ecological artist Thijs Biersteker has created a 5-metre-tall robotic plant, using biodiversity data from the Natural History Museum, to create a (literally) moving monument to the importance of the choices we are making now for the future of our planet. The artwork ‘Econario’ provides a powerful representation of how choices society makes today will affect the state of nature over the next thirty years.
The robotic plant moves like a small fragile seedling, growing, not with the help of nutrients, but driven by changes over time in the Biodiversity Intactness Index (BII) – a metric developed by the Natural History Museum as a measure of how much of a region’s natural biodiversity still persists. The BII is a rigorous approach to estimating biodiversity loss that combines data on ecosystems and species populations with data on human-caused pressures like land use. It is underpinned by the Museum’s PREDICTS database - a global, open database which now comprises 4.9 million data points, from over 46,000 sites in over 100 countries – a taxonomically representative set of 58,000 plant, animal and fungal species.
When the artwork is folded, the plant has an industrial look, but as biodiversity increases and the work unfolds, the plant-like motion gives the work an organic feel. As the artwork switches between countries, it is showing the biodiversity intactness in 2050 based on five different political scenarios we, as society, can choose today. For example, when the Netherlands chooses a sustainable scenario, the artwork grows towards its full five meters length. However, a scenario in which a country continues to burn fossil fuels as it does in 2022, will make the artwork shrink rapidly back towards its most mechanical state.
The artwork makes technical data and statistics resonate on a personal level by representing data from the location where the work is being exhibited. It is showing us a choice in a time when we still have a choice. ‘Econario’ by Thijs Biersteker and the Natural History Museum is premiering at the Kunstkerk from 5 August to 13 November in Dordrecht (The Netherlands). The exhibition is free to visit. Thijs plans to tour the exhibition in the coming years to raise awareness.
The plantanoid work visualises the two future worlds we all have a stake in choosing and it also provokes an emotional response. One of the biologists visiting Woven Studio said, “Please can I spend some time alone with the work? I don't understand how I can feel the same empathy for a robot as I do for the plants I work with every day as a biologist.”
Thijs Biersteker, ecological artist says: “I always wanted to make an artwork that shows how woven our environmental choices of today are with that of our future. The BII data from the Natural history Museum gives a small glimpse of those futures. Now people can see it play out in front of them.”
Professor Andy Purvis, biodiversity researcher at the Natural History Museum says: “I am blown away by this piece. The numbers around biodiversity loss are cold hard facts, but cold hard facts never grabbed anyone by the heart. With Econario, you feel joy when it grows and becomes more natural; and you feel pain when it wilts. It has soul. And it really brings home what’s at stake.”
Dr Adriana De Palma, biodiversity researcher at the Natural History Museum says: “When it feels like our actions and decisions only affect other people, other places or other times, it’s easy to feel detached from the data; it’s easy to overlook the evidence. Econario doesn’t just show us the plight of the natural world, it makes us feel it. It reminds us of the beauty in nature and in human ingenuity and gives us hope that we can make a difference.”
Indicated by small screens on the sides of the work, the visitor can see which scenario and where in the world is being visualised, as well as what will have happened to BII between now and 2050 . In the exhibition space a moving information graphic shows a deep dive into the science behind the data developed by the Natural History Museum.
Visitors learn that when biodiversity intactness reaches 90% or more, the area is resilient and a functioning ecosystem. When intactness falls to 30% or less, visitors will be warned that the area’s ecosystem is at risk of collapse. Few countries are at 90% today, and most of the scenarios suggest even fewer will be in 2050.
Biodiversity measurement is complicated – encompassing species abundance, species diversity, ecosystem health and much more – yet it has never been more critical to be able to monitor change and predict future losses. The Natural History Museum has also opened-up the Biodiversity Intactness Index data through a digital tool which makes this data easy to find, understand, visualise, filter and download for anyone who wishes to use it.
Responding to a genuine need for rigorous, transparent and interpretative data, the Biodiversity Trends Explorer allows users to track modelled biodiversity changes since 2000 – globally, nationally and regionally. Future versions will also demonstrate what is driving that loss – and how those drivers have changed.
Each country’s biodiversity intactness, where established, is visualised to place their statistics in a global and a regional context. Using these statistical models based on the 4.7m records, the tool shows projections under the Shared Socioeconomic Pathways to 2050.
For more information please contact: email@example.com
Natural History Media contact: Tel: +44 (0)20 7942 5654 / 07799690151 Email: firstname.lastname@example.org
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Notes to Editors
Youtube link film https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=TuPtNlo2ilI
Credits artwork ‘Econario’ (2022)
Artist: Thijs Biersteker
Scientific lead: Professor Andy Purvis and Dr Adriana De Palma
Collaboration with Natural History Museum London
Sustainable created by Woven studio
Creative lead: Thijs Biersteker
Studio Director: Sophie de Krom
Technical engineer : Tom Bekkers
Technical build: Bastiaan Kennedy, Sander van Gelder
Technical development: Jochem Esser, Dennis van der Sluijs (JBS Technics)
Frontend developer : Bas van Oerle
Thanks to: the Natural History Museum, their team and the Kunstkerk Dordrecht, Boris Gunst, Nathan Pottier
Director: Jerome Fischer DOP: [name]f
Sound: End of Time
Photography: Thijs Biersteker, Jerome Fischer
About the artist
Ecological artist Thijs Biersteker creates interactive awareness installations about the world's most pressing issues of today. By entangling art and environmental scientific data he provokes insight into the ecological challenges ahead and what we might learn from them. Collaborating with top scientists and universities he seamlessly weaves together their scientific research with new technologies to create empowering art installations that make big environmental challenges accessible and relatable. Both intellectually and technologically. His immersive installations often described as eco - or awareness art, make the invisible impact we have on the world around us visible. Topics like climate change, tree communication, air pollution, mycelium networks, ocean plastic, and the biodiversity crisis are turned into tangible experiences that create much-needed awareness around the world. His work is recognized for its fluid mixture of data, sensors and living trees, kinetic engines and fragile mycelium, big data visualizations and recycled plastics, artificial intelligence, and plant intelligence. The artworks are produced in a circular and sustainable way with a material passport for the next generation to recycle the works. Currently, Biersteker holds a Fellowship at the VU University in Amsterdam, he has shaped the course of art Ethics & Empathy at the Delft University of Technology (NL). He has won awards like the prestigious Lumen Prize for digital art, got nominated for the Stars Prize from Ars Electronica, the New Technology Art Award, and many more. He is a 2 x TED speaker and has exhibited at Fondation Cartier pour l’art contemporain Paris (FR), Today Art Museum (CN), Stedelijk Museum Amsterdam (NL), Science Gallery Dublin (IE), SXSW (USA), Science Centre Kuwait (KW), Mu Gallery (NL) and has been featured in Wired, New Scientist, Financial Times, art tribute, Discovery Channel and many more. He is the founder of Woven Studio.
About The Natural History Museum
The Natural History Museum is both a world-leading science research centre and the most-visited indoor attraction in the UK last year. With a vision of a future in which both people and the planet thrive, it is uniquely positioned to be a powerful champion for balancing humanity’s needs with those of the natural world.
It is custodian of one of the world’s most important scientific collections comprising over 80 million specimens accessed by researchers from all over the world both in person and via over 30 billion digital data downloads to date. The Museum’s 350 scientists are finding solutions to the planetary emergency from biodiversity loss through to the sustainable extraction of natural resources.
The Museum uses its global reach and influence to meet its mission to create advocates for the planet - to inform, inspire and empower everyone to make a difference for nature. We welcome millions of visitors through our doors each year, our website has had 17 million visits in the last year and our touring exhibitions have been seen by around 20 million people in the last 10 years.
About Woven Studio Woven Studio gives research reach beyond the lab and science magazines, by creating art installations and other ways of unique communication around the latest scientific discoveries. The studio works together with world-leading universities, scientists, research groups, institutions, museums, and architects. All artworks are created in a circular and sustainable way. Emission calculations and recyclability come together in a material passport attached to each artwork.
The Natural History Museum’s Digital Platforms:
Thijs Biersteker: https://thijsbiersteker.com / https://www.instagram.com/thijs_biersteker / https://twitter.com/t_biersteker / https://www.linkedin.com/in/thijsbiersteker / https://www.facebook.com/thijs.biersteker