Artist Kristin McIver Unpacks the Link Between Data and Climate

Her latest exhibit, “Impressions,” debuted last Saturday at the Jane Lombard Gallery.

Courtesy of the artist and Jane Lombard Gallery.

In a velvety green wrap dress, artist Kristin McIver floated around the Jane Lombard Gallery in Tribeca, where her latest exhibit, Impressions, debuted on Saturday. “This show was supposed to happen last April,” she tells me as two visitors crane their necks to view one of her 12 video sculptures, each comprising of an acrylic cube that acts as an extended screen playing looping clips of water. Each cube’s name corresponds with its geotag from the film’s location, except for Current Location, which is the only cube filled with real water. “But the pandemic has created so much new context for my work, though. We’re looking at our screens all the time, even to look at nature.”

McIver’s three-part Impressions series explores the relationship between data and narrative when it comes to climate change. The first iteration focuses on water, while the next two will tackle earth and fire, respectively, at the MARS Gallery in Melbourne and Royale Projects in Los Angeles. Between the prisms and immersive, large-format video installations to the poems and neon signage excerpted from climate data algorithms, McIver highlights how easy it is for information to become distorted and for us to only appreciate nature as an object, thanks to social media.

I sat down with the Australian-born, New York-based artist this week to talk about her inspiration behind Impressions as well as the importance of questioning one’s own relationship with social media.

Installation view of Kristin McIver: Impressions on view at Jane Lombard Gallery, February 20 — April 3, 2021. Courtesy of the artist and Jane Lombard Gallery.

How did growing up in Australia influence you and gravitate you towards making art about climate change?

Australia has always been affected by bushfires and wildfires. While I was making these works, I was at residency in Curacao, but, at the time, Australia was going through those horrific bushfires last January as well. Growing up in a country with extreme heat, we’ve always been water conscious. Sometimes I can’t believe it when I see the amount of water that gets wasted in New York. And flooding is an issue here, which is why I chose New York for the first part of Impressions.

When I went to go see Impressions, you had these big rooms that feel as though you’re just, like, falling indefinitely into crashing waves. Can you talk about why you chose water first?

Water is something that is such an integral source of survival for humans. But it also has this power that has the capacity to completely overwhelm us and cause destruction. And in terms of us being custodians of that thing, there’s that duality again that I think being in New York probably influenced. That is the thing — we live with water and water is something that connects people through history in terms of migrations and so on. It’s also something that divides us.

It’s comparative to the way information flows through the Internet. It’s constantly changing and it’s infinite and it exists in multiple forms. That last aspect is probably something that I really enjoy about my relationship with water and information: the fact that it exists differently through its life cycle. As you know, running water is flowing. Water is ebbing tides today, crashing destructive waves tomorrow, and then turns to ice and clouds. Water is something that always eludes us because it’s constantly changing. I’ve been looking at information and how that was always changing as well. A single word can exist in one context and mean one thing, but it means something completely different in another context.

Let’s zoom down a bit to the 12 acrylic video sculptures. There’s a physicality of seeing people interact with the art. You’ve turned water kind of into an object to like peer into and take videos of. How does that build upon this theme about the data and objects of nature?

In the last five or 10 years, we’ve become somewhat more accustomed to viewing the world through our screens at a very small scale. Then particularly, in the last 12 months with the pandemic, our window to the world — even more so — has been a three-by-four inch screen, which is how we experience the world and communicate and stay connected.

I wanted to highlight that fact of how much nature has been objectified. So water, which is naturally flowing, once it’s placed in this cube, it’s trapped within there. Through that — as we browse the Internet and we look at images on screen, of nature, and each other and so on — every time we interact or click on an image or share an article, there’s all this data occurring underneath which we don’t see, the metadata, which is why the show is called Impressions. I wanted to recreate that objectification because through these impressions of articles, that information is now a commodity. By encapsulating water and turning it into an object and it becomes something else again.

Installation view of Kristin McIver: Impressions on view at Jane Lombard Gallery, February 20 — April 3, 2021. Courtesy of the artist and Jane Lombard Gallery.

Speaking of which, the idea of turning something into something else kind of ties into your neon signs and AI-generated poems. Can you talk about the way that you’re making data more human?

Data is driving all of the information that we see. But we’re always encountering it as a human with whatever emotion we’re feeling that day. As an artist, you can bring your intention to the work. But you always have to bear in mind that the viewer is going to bring their own experience to that when they do the work. That’s something I always like to think about. With that, artists should consider how the work will be viewed in the context of what’s going on in the news because the viewer is such an integral part of the art experience.

So, how do we fight against these algorithms on social media that can spit out information that goes against climate science? How can we combat that nature of technology?

It’s about trying to diversify as much as possible, choosing your news sources and not relying on one channel to send a lot of people. I think it’s more important than ever for people to be more inquiring and discerning about news. It doesn’t really matter what side of politics you’re on either. You’re getting fed an extremely biased perspective of the world due to the way these algorithms force more and more of the same type of content onto viewers.

Impressions will be on view at the Jane Lombard Gallery from February 20 through April 3, 2021.

Writing about climate, culture & comida wherever I go. Work in: GEN, Bitch Media, VICE, Jezebel, and then some. Medium’s resident Gen Z kid.

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