Water Visualization

Over the weekend, I saw an interesting water-related data visualization / light installation, so I thought I’d share it with the class, in case anyone is interested.

On Friday night, I went downtown to see a light installation that was operating in the “green alleyway” known as Couch Place. (Apparently, the alley is considered “green” because the pavement is permeable.) The installation was called “FLOW/Im Fluss,” and it was created by a German artist (now living in Chicago) who is affiliated with the Goethe Institut. Here is a description of the project: “Inspired by the element of water and its all-encompassing connectivity, Luftwerk’s FLOW/Im Fluss visualizes the characteristics of the Chicago River and Hamburg’s River Elbe through video compositions projected on water screens.”

From what I could gather, the artist used light to visualize various datasets related to the health of the Elbe River (which flows through Hamburg, Germany). Datasets included measurements of oxygen levels, nitrates, and pollutants such as e coli. Each dataset was represented with a different pattern of light (oxygen levels = circles, e coli levels = chaotic swirls, etc.), which were projected onto the many water droplets that were being sprayed into the alley from above. The artist also created a comparative visualization for the Chicago river, which was projected onto another set of water droplets at the opposite end of the alley.

Viewers were able to look at the visualized chemical structure of the two rivers simultaneously and to see their similarities and differences.

Here is a picture of the light installation in action:


In addition to the visualization, the artist also sonified the data. She correlated each chemical compound to a sound (examples included a trumpet, a radio playing, and various objects in motion). A live musician was playing the artist’s composition while the light installation was active. Here is a picture of the musician:


When I spoke to the artist, she pointed out that she was surprised at how difficult it was to obtain open data regarding traces of chemicals in the Chicago River. She said that data regarding the Elbe River is readily available (open to the public) and is constantly updated, so she was disappointed to discover that Chicago did not have a similar offering. She said the Chicago River data was all historical, from records she collected from a group called “Friends of the Chicago River.”


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