Subjective Data: Nathalie Miebach and Ari Daniel

In the latest installment of Catalyst Conversations, sculptor Nathalie Miebach and science writer Ari Daniel came together at the Cambridge Innovation Center to discuss their respective work. It became clear in the course of the evening that while their mediums differ, both Daniel and Miebach are storytellers, weaving threads of data into compelling objects and engaging pieces of radio journalism.

Miebach’s vibrant, playful sculptures have long struck me as quixotic in their strange determination to provide a static, three-dimensional interpretation of a temporal state. She uses data points taken primarily from weather events and natural disasters such as Hurricane Katrina or Hurricane Sandy, translating them into complex woven forms meticulously composed of everyday objects and lengths of reeds. Reflecting on the relationship between source material and finished sculpture, Miebach said that her goal was “to let the complexity live, without dissecting [the data] into a chart or a graph”. This tumultuous relationship between part and whole adds a dramatic sense of movement to her work, and is a clear reference to the original weather event. Ari Daniel began his talk with a fascinating clip from one of his recent stories; a kind of science whodunit focused on a receding glacial mass in Greenland. Interestingly, Daniel used the language of sculpture when explaining the process of crafting a story, presenting the metaphor of stringing beads onto a necklace to describe how a story is composed of many pieces of information that build upon one another over time. 

Throughout the brief lectures and subsequent discussion, the theme of objectivity versus subjectivity was ever present. Miebach and Daniel both mentioned that while finding or collecting objective data sets is an important part of their process, data is only a starting point; the ultimate goal is to use data to provide a framework through which subjective truths can be exposed. What struck me most forcibly about this Catalyst Conversation was the importance the two interlocutors placed on the power of narratives to widen our perspectives. If there was a thesis to the evening, perhaps it would be that science needs to be personal; by presenting subjective truths using objective data, Daniel and Miebach provide us with the tools to consider scientific data in a way that is relevant to our own everyday lives.  This acceptance of complexity exposes the profound trust they have in their audience. In an age where the didactic is often preferred to the nuanced, it was encouraging to encounter two storytellers who believe that multi-valent discussions can be just as powerful as vitriol-laden monologues.

Celine Browning is an artist, writer, and educator living in Boston. For more information about her work, visit: celinebrowning.com.

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