#CarbonFeed Installation at H-L Library Reminds Us of Our Social Media Footprint

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Photo by John Park

The sound of bubbles burbling up the tall glass tubes at the Hawthorne-Longfellow Library periodically disrupt the quiet environment of the library’s first floor. The release of the bubbles is prompted by people sending tweets with particular hashtags.

The art-and-sound installation is programmed to respond to a variety of tweets, such as #Obama, #ClimateChange, #Bowdoin, #BlackLivesMatter and a scattering of pop culture references.The installation also emits a sound based on the length of the tweet.

The intention of the #CarbonFeed project, designed by artists John Park and Jon Bellona, is to prompt viewers to consider their digital carbon footprint. It will be on view at the H-L Library through May 13. The artists say they want to give tweets this kind of physical presence to help people connect their online behavior with the physical environment.

Twitter is just one small example of online activity, and the artists ultimately hope to raise awareness about the environmental impact from data centers and the larger physical infrastructure that supports online behavior.

Photo by John Park

Photo by John Park

Jackie Brown, assistant professor of art, and Crystal Hall, visiting assistant professor of digital and computational studies, brought the installation to campus and invited the artists to give a talk. “We were particularly excited to bring #CarbonFeed to campus because it blurs boundaries between so many liberal arts disciplines, and has the potential to foster meaningful dialogue between them,” Brown said. “From the visual arts perspective, #CarbonFeed is a great example for my students as to how art can raise awareness about important contemporary issues and spark discussions about our relationship to the world around us.”

#CarbonFeed was sponsored through Bowdoin’s Lectures and Concerts fund, and was also supported by many departments, including Digital and Computational Studies, Visual Arts, Music, Environmental Studies, Art History, Physics and Government.

While on campus, the artists not only gave a public talk, they also shared meals with students and faculty, and visited several classes, including Bio Art: Creative Inquiry at the Intersection of Art and Science; Gateway to the Digital Humanities; and Data Driven Societies. Elena Gleed ’18, a student in Bio Art, said she was drawn to the interactive quality of #CarbonFeed, and “the idea that the viewer could directly influence how the art looks and sounds.”

She added, “I was also really drawn to the idea of a piece that changes over time based on the world around it. As it stands right now, a large part of the work is out of the artists’ control.”

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