Philipp Schmitt

Sympoietic System

Custom Software, Weather Data, Sky, Camera. Variable dimensions and duration.
An installation shot of a Harvart Art Museum gallery with a large screen on the wall. The screen shows a picture of a painting from the museum's digital collection on a blurred background of the sky. The image is captioned with the current weather (Overcast, 45°F) and the artwork's title and artist
Overcast, 49°F - Kanji Nakamura, "Orizaba, Mexico", 19th-20th century. Photo by Newman

Expectations of artificial intelligence are typically drawn from expectations of ourselves as autonomous, thinking agents. However, humans are social as well as cognitive beings; they make worlds by interacting with one another, with objects, and with systems. Dempster and Haraway have called this phenomenon “sympoiesis,” or “making-together.” Here, the observed weather becomes the curator of an exhibition.

The project was developed for the Harvard Art Museums’ Lightbox Gallery, which is located between a glass roof above and a sweeping courtyard view below. Using weather data and a camera feed of the sky, a custom software continuously selects works from the museum’s collections by linking color between meteorological observations and image metadata. Artworks are presented on a digital display, and the color of the sky outside tints the naturally- lighted gallery. A contact microphone attached to the glass roof creates a soundscape, subtly meandering between indoors and out.

The casting of weather in the role of curator is political as well as art historical. The work alludes to a welter of world-making systems—climate change, computation, shipping and logistics— while also nodding to Cloud Music (1974). The latter work, produced by the trio of Robert Watts, David Behrman, and Bob Diamond, generated a live music score by scanning the color of passing clouds. Both the present piece and its predecessor invoke chance operations and computational thinking, gesturing towards the complexity generated by the collision between man-made and natural systems.

Credits

Commissioned by metaLAB at Harvard for the exhibition Curatorial A[i]gents at Harvard Art Museum. Scheduled for Apr–May 2020, postponed due to the COVID-19 pandemic to April 2022. Text in collaboration with Matthew Battles and Mike Maizels.

A picture of a large screen on a wall. The screen is black with a white text in the center that reads: You are looking at the sky above this building
Installation shot. Photo by Newman
A blurred photo of the sky above the museum with white text in the center. It reads: Matching a work from the collection to the weather outside.
Matching a work from the collection to the weather outside
A photo of a painting from the museum's digital collection on a blurred background of the gray, overcast sky. The image is captioned with the current weather (Overcast, 49°F) and the artwork's title and artist:
Overcast, 49°F - Jehan Georges Vibert, "Apotheosis of Louis-Adolphe Thiers", c. 1878
An installation shot of a Harvart Art Museum gallery with a large screen on the wall. The screen shows a spread from a sketchbook from the museum's digital collection on a blurred background of the sky. The image is captioned with the current weather (Overcast, 49°F) and the work's title and artist: Untitled, by Otto Piene
Overcast, 49°F – Otto Piene, "Untitled (bleed-through of previous page, left page); Untitled ("House of the Dead," right page)", 1985. Photo by Newman
An installation shot of a Harvart Art Museum gallery with a large screen on the wall. The screen shows a picture of a drawing from the museum's digital collection on a blurred background of the sky. The image is captioned with the current weather (Overcast, 45°F) and the artwork's title and artist: Untitled by William Anastasi, 2003
Overcast, 49°F - William Anastasi, "Untitled (Subway Drawing Last Car)", 2003. Photo by Newman
A picture of the sky camera used for this project, attached to the museum's glass ceiling inside a work area full of instruments used for art conservation.
Sky camera location. Photo by Jeff Steward
A photo of a small camera attached to a glass ceiling. Through the glass a skyline with a curchtower is visible. The sky is overcast in a pale, gray blue.
Sky camera. Photo by Jeff Steward