Let’s talk about climate change. But how? Conversations concerning the current state of the environment have become misconstrued and misunderstood, politicised and polarised. We are growing intellectually and computationally more equipped to gather and disseminate climate information, yet this information has been accused of being deceitful and pessimistic, of inciting panic, and of having political agendas. What if the climate change museum offers a respite from all this noise? A place to present facts without being obfuscated with agenda, that embodies the collective action of everyone, unites us instead of dividing us, situates the individual within the global scale without being too overwhelming.
The museum functions as a huge, rotating sand ‘clock’, with a mechanical armature that etches patterns onto a circular sandy landscape. The sand is ground olivine, a green volcanic mineral that is found abundantly in the Earth’s subsurface. When seawater meets olivine, a chemical reaction occurs that pulls carbon dioxide out of the air and the carbon finds its way to the bottom of the sea as the shells and backbones of molluscs and corals, stored as carbon deposits. This process, mineral weathering, constitutes one of the Earth’s natural mechanism to regulate its carbon level and functions as an important carbon sink.
The sand device rotates over a 24-hour cycle, inscribing generative data patterns onto the sand-scape, forming a large motif as seen from above, like a mandala. Climate data from all over the world – carbon emission, pollution index, meteorological data – feeds into the museum, through a processor that procedurally translates the information into data visualisations that represent the collective fingerprint of our actions: be it mistakes, triumphs or attempts. The ‘hand’ of the clock, the armature, spans the diameter of the circular sand-scape. Half of the armature houses the programmatic functions of the museum: galleries, research centres, a library and café. The other half contains the kinetic mechanisms that engrave the sand: a maze of walls that actuates up and down, etching the ground when the walls interface the sand. The configuration of the walls depends on the pattern being plotted at that particular moment, determining the vertical positions of the walls. As the armature sweeps across the landscape, sand flows in and out of the floor, slowly. The experience of walking through this perpetually shifting (albeit very slowly) sand-filled maze is a contemplative one, as visitors weave around the walls, watching as the sand trickles by on the ground.
The site of the museum is where the Equator intersects the Prime Meridian, at the coordinates 0,0 (longitude and latitude of zero), a place fictitiously referred to as Null Island. Interestingly, due to errors in geocoding programmes, information is often erroneously mapped to this null coordinate. The site is a virtual gathering place where data tends to flow. It seems apt, then, to situate the museum as a data collection point here, out in the sea, belonging to no particular state. As a floating barge, seawater ebbs in and out of the sand-scape, reacting with the olivine sand to capture carbon out of the air and eroding the patterns away during high tides; the waves themselves contributing to the generative mandala.
The mandala is a symbol for healing. An aerial camera records the sand-scape from above and transmits this image live to anyone with internet access. The real-time image of the sand mandala can be displayed on the walls of people’s homes as a digital artwork, a constant reminder of our collective actions and a quiet reflection of the transitory state of our planet. This shared imagery extends the reach of the institution into our homes and the everyday, breaking down the boundaries of where the museum starts and ends.
In popular culture, our collective understanding of climate change is often represented by the Doomsday clock. What if, instead, we have a shared emblem that functions not as a harbinger of doom, but of healing?