A funnel cloud forms and snakes towards the ground, making explosive contact and triggering a trail of destruction. Swaths of fallen trees leave flattened trunks in swirling, turbulent patterns that document the movement of the tornado as it traces its way across the land.
In the eyes of scientists, the damage is a source of data that demands analysis.
But what do artists see?
That is the question driving Written on the Earth, an interdisciplinary exhibition at Western’s McIntosh Gallery.
The show, which can be viewed by appointment, is born from an invitation extended by the Northern Tornados Project (NTP) in the Faculty of Engineering to six artists asking them to interpret data gathered as part of a study of tornadoes and their impact throughout Canada.
The subject makes for a powerful muse.
“When you look at the images of the tornadoes, the beauty and the horror is sublime,” said Helen Gregory, curator of the McIntosh Gallery and the exhibit. “There are these incredible swirling patterns in the crushed trees. They’re so exquisite, but at the same time you know they’re the result of a path of destruction that the tornado has wrought upon the Earth.”
The exhibit was coordinated by Patrick Mahon, professor of visual arts and director of the School for Advanced Studies in the Arts & Humanities. It includes his work along with that of five other artists−Hannah Claus, Ellen Moffat, Joel Ong, Eeva Siivonen, and Matthew Trueman.
To draw inspiration, Western wind researchers and NTP leads Greg Kopp and David Sills gave the artists an overview of their team’s work through a mini-research residency.
“Last February, before the pandemic took hold, the artists came together and spent two days learning and getting to know the researchers,” Gregory said. “It was an immersive experience spent touring the Boundary Layer Wind Tunnel and the WindEEE Dome, and workshopping ideas.”
The artists also learned from Indigenous knowledge keeper Mike Hopkins, who shared his wisdom about land stewardship and human and non-human interactions.
“This past year, the artists have considered how artistic research practices can form meaningful responses to scientific research and contribute productively to pressing contemporary issues related to the environment, global warming, and the importance of land stewardship,” Gregory said.
Visitors can expect to see a wide variety of interpretations showcased through digital media, found objects, sound and performance-based works.
The show runs until April 17. Under COVID protocols, visitors must book an appointment in advance.