A perfect day for Bananafish – or some notes on meteorology, fantasy and learning to see
door Marica Kolcheva
Marica Kolcheva won dit jaar de Stipendium Dialoogvoor haar project Meteorologica waarin ze de menselijke relatie met het weer onderzoekt. Marica neemt je in deze blog mee in dit bijzondere project. Bekijk meer werk in de gallery.
“Yes, of course, if it’s fine tomorrow,” said Mrs. Ramsay. “But you’ll have to be up with the lark,” she added. To her son these words conveyed an extraordinary joy, as if it were settled the expedition were bound to take place, and the wonder to which he had looked forward, for years and years it seemed, was, after a night’s darkness and a day’s sail, within touch.”
When I first read “To the Lighthouse” of Virginia Woolf, I was transfixed by this memory of my own childhood. I’m seven and we are planning a trip to the woods with my my father. He will teach me how to set a tent and light a fire.
“But,” said his father, stopping in front of the drawing-room window, “it won’t be fine.”
The cold shower next morning: it’s raining. In my 7-years old self-centered universe this unexpected heavy morning rain is a disaster worst than any possible blizzard, hurricane, tornado or flood in the world. And I would die to change it.
Could we control the weather? Could we bring sun or make it rain? What is the future of the atmosphere? How precise we can say what the weather will be? How many possible futures are out there? These are not only a questions of my 7-years old self, but one of the main questions challenging the meteorological science today.
The weather has always been a matter of concern for people everywhere – we depend on it for our health, comfort, food, and general well-being. Weather inserts a reminder of our vulnerability. “Everybody talks about the weather”– if the meteorological activity is important enough to dominate the dailyconversations or social encounters so one can imagine how important the weather could be for the people whose very existence depends on it.
What fascinates me in the study about the weather is how the most banal of topics could be so complex, elusive, with many different dimensions and so much social impact and at the same time, so unknown.Meteorology and aatmospheric science– the field concerned with measuring, understanding, and ultimately predicting the atmosphere, gather a diversity of scientific knowledge with intellectual, cultural and social dimentions, artictic impact and even religious sensibilities, but we still don’t know much how exactly itworks. It’s not only complex but a dynamic system, combining computational power and observational tools, humane and machine interaction and a wide range of disciplines; and the weather nature itself is chaotic,
“Science is magic that works”
I’m 10, launching a balloon. Holding it tight with both hands, while watching these of my father busy with some obscure magic, as he’s suspending the radiosonde package bellow it.
It’s way more exciting than kite launching, because I know I’m doing something special. Something important. I’m sending a message to the clouds. I’m predicting the future. I have control. And the sky will respond with some information. It will reveal me a secret, tell me about the future.
How fast is the wind? What are the clouds made of? Actually we are still not able to measure them well enough. We can’t say what they will do with climate change. There is still a significant level of uncertainty in forecasting and climate predictions, even though the new technologies in meteorology are rapidly changing and developing.
Weather forecasting in the 21st century inevitably move towards big data, computer vision, and artificial intelligence, enpowering meteorologist with a third eye and helping them look at things humans don’t usually have ability to do. A lot of the information is automatized, but still the human factor is very much important – human knowledge, analytical and communicative skills, even the intuition play an important role.
The zoom out on the new technologies gives a better understanding on their social impact – AI and and machine leaning systems for climate data and meteorological models evaluation, high-performance computing systems- supercomputers, weather modification techniques and experiments (starting with throwing bagsfull with cement from aircrafts over the clouds as a form of hail suppression, practised widely in Russia, to the different types of modern cloud seeding, hail canons, lazer teqniques and ionization), weather radars, weather satellites and telecommunication, even the measuring of urban rainfall using microwave links from commercial cellular communication networks (when it rains between the mobile phone masts, the signal weaken)or the use of data sources such as crowd sourcing and drones.
Throughout history, human beings have always dreamed to achieve control over nature. Now we have come closer than ever to reaching this ultimate goal.
If we embrace the assumption that we are living in era of geological time during which human activity is considered to be the dominant influence on the environment, climate, and ecology of the earth – Anthropocene, we should admit that it’s also a manifestation of this desire for taming the nature and its elements, so fascinating and mesmerizing for humans; a dream come true. Ability to perceive changes of weather in advance could be an expression of this longing of control and power, the desired triumph over nature.
The role of meteorology becomes even more central to societies as they prepare for the dangers associated with significant changes in climate and environment caused by human activities.
“My work here consists of sending up balloons and then watching them through a pair of field glasses; this is called `making a meteorological observation’. Afterwards I phone the battery artillery officers and tell them of the wind direction. What they do with this information is entirely their affair. The young ones make some intelligence reports based on it; the old school simply shove it in the wastepaper basket.” wrote Jean Paul Sartre, describing his meteorological duties in the French army during the World War II .
Climate change is a huge challange of mankind, resently pushed towards the wastepaper basket of the political agenda. What kind of knoledge and scientific research do we need, for what ends, and under whose control? An visual investigation of the development of meteorology, weather predicting and atmospheric studies, woud be a revealing tools to analyze science, society and culture.
As a photographer, interested invisualizing the invisible/ the unpronounceable /what remains out of sight,meteorology (like most of the sciences) gives the exceptional power to do this literary, providing with the right tools to achieve it.
Visualization in meteorology is an important part of it’s precision. Meteorologists experimented eagerly with maps, charts, and cloud cameras, especially after the new technologies of printing and photography emerged in 19 th century. Now I can see the cloud leftovers or the size of the raindrops. I can call the clouds by name, watch a new born blizzard or tornado and catch the wind on his way.
Beyond strikingly beautiful metaphor, the science gives more visibility also to an important lesson for an artist – most interesting is not always self-evident; most important is not always immediately visible. Sometimes the value of the picture is what you can’t (directly) see. More often it requires a certain level of engagement and knowledge (especially in rapidly changing world of photography when the most powerful images are not nesesserily the most aesthetically pleasing the sences ones).
I crossed half of the Europe in searching for private amateur weather stations, most of the time placed in people’s backyards, rooftops or even balconies. In the future this crowdsourced information could be used as a form of scientific backbone providing properly controlled data, adding a detail and filling in gasps in our knowledge.
My main goal was not necessarily to photograph them, but to get information far beyond what is in front of me and what I’m looking at. I want to see why different people are fascinated by weather, on each scale. There is a variety of reasons. I’m trying to understand as many aspects of something I’m looking at as I can – not only how does it looks like. What is that I cannot see? What is the context? What is the structure, what is the whole “meta data” of what I’m looking at? Still components of the picture which are not self-evident; they have to be communicated.
When the famous psychoanalyst Wilhelm Reich, one most radical figures in the history of psychiatry creates his “cloudbuster”, a bizarre device for altering the weather by manipulating what he called “orgone energy” (it was the inspiration for Kate Bush and her “Cloudbusting” song), probably he wanted to offer us another, different and potentially better world. His pseudoscientific tool was an expression of the desire to shape the world we inhabit, opening the door to a different future.
Atmospheric science also experiments, performing future scenarios on a virtual earth by supercomputers. What will the future look like if humans don’t reduce emitting the greenhouse gases soon? Or what what the climate would be the earth was mirrored? (one of the last project of DKRZ – Hamburg, I visited recently)
By visualizing the world of meteorology, as a set of philosophical questions and social and scientific practices with a significant importance for the time we live in, I also make an attempt to envision alternative futures. Because the story of meteorology is a story of human desires, dreams and fears – what we dream of and what we get out of it.