Friday, 22 April 2022, is World Earth Day. This year’s theme is ‘Invest in our Planet’. Encouraging individuals, businesses and governments to invest in technologies and practices that can benefit the Earth. We, as a foundation, share Dutch digital design using innovative technologies to create immersive experiences. One of our main pillars is sharing digital work that does good - considering planet and people. Therefore, on this World Earth Day, we would like to introduce you to Thijs Biersteker - a Dutch ecological artist - whose main focus is to raise awareness about environmental and health issues that need urgent attention - from Thijs’ point of view, but also scientists’. Dutch Digital Design had a look around his inspiring Woven Studio - including a first: his art installation inspired by and created for this year’s World Earth Day, MB>CO2. Of course, we also had a chat with the man himself. For Thijs it is Earth Day every day.
Where and how did it all start?
Thijs is from a town in the North-Western part of the Netherlands. Close to the sea. This is where his passion for the planet started. Being a keen surfer, he quickly became aware that we weren’t looking after our planet as well as we could: ocean plastic was everywhere. This was also one of his first works: raising awareness about marine plastic pollution.
After having attended the Willem de Kooning Academie - an international academy of media, art, design, leisure and education based in Rotterdam - and a brief spell in advertising, Thijs realised that he wanted to reach and connect with people. Reach people with work that isn’t just pretty but communicates to and with people. Work that makes you think, feel and do something - through physical interaction - enabling you to fully immerse yourself and make you aware.
‘To realise that the way we are behaving is not sustainable - not for the planet, but also not for ourselves and our mental health.’
Thijs is also a lecturer at Delft University of Technology and the Vrije Universiteit Amsterdam, and the founder of Woven Studio.
What drives Thijs?
‘Facts, newspaper headlines, data and frustration. I wonder why I do not know about certain environmental and health issues, and am absolutely sure that most of the world doesn’t know about them either. Therefore, I feel it is my duty to raise awareness about these topics, and turn them into tangible experiences. Creating emotional connections: making people feel, think and, hopefully, act.
My approach is either romantic or pragmatic. I always want to get an important message across. Sometimes this is done in a beautiful, aesthetic way to really connect with people. Other times there is no other way than to expose the blunt facts and open people’s eyes.
The aesthetic element will attract people, make them come together and talk. That’s exactly what I want: for people to talk about these incredibly important environmental issues.’
The birth of an immersive art installation
‘It all either starts through my own findings - but always based on facts and data - or I am approached by scientists and organisations like European Space Agency (ESA), UNESCO, and universities around the world. Together, we go on a fact-safari - looking at how to make the data visible.
Data makes things insightful. It is for me to translate and visualise these complex data streams into tangible and immersive experiences - for everyone to understand. Together - scientists and me - hope to make science and data more accessible this way, and, therefore, to raise awareness about issues that people otherwise wouldn’t know about or understand.’
Woven Studio: a sustainable art studio
How to balance the message that Thijs wants to get across with the creation/production of his actual art installations and the use of sustainable materials and technologies?
‘It is practically impossible to create anything without having some sort of environmental impact. However, here at Woven Studio, we will do our utmost to be as sustainable as possible. All my art installations are accompanied by a materials passport - detailing exactly what it has been made of and how it can be recycled. Anything we create is produced in a sustainable way.
We sourced the location of our studio ensuring that we can get most of our materials locally. Our studio is part of a large make/creator community called De Hoop, situated in an old cardboard factory.
None of our installations are created to be sold or be part of the art market where art is seen as a commodity. We create these installations to raise awareness about environmental issues that matter. After a certain period of time the art work will be taken apart and recycled. That is sometimes hard, but is also what I represent: sustainable, impactful art installations with the smallest environmental footprint.
This way we’re hoping to balance creating positive impact vs negative impact.’
A few of Thijs’ current immersive and interactive art installations:
World Earth Day: launching MB>CO2
'The rise of online interaction and AI is called the 5th industrial revolution. We should not make the same mistake as in the last industrial revolution that was powered by pollution.'
Whilst the world came to a standstill due to the COVID-pandemic, we were all using more data during each lockdown. Only a few people realise that using (mobile) data/MBs also increases CO2 emissions: 1MB = 20 grams of CO2.
MB>CO2 shows what impact this has on the planet. The spectator will see how visitors Zoom into the art installation. Every time somebody interacts with MB>CO2, their data usage is tracked back, their carbon footprint calculated and translated into puffs of CO2 blown into the living biotope. Revealing the hidden impact of the Internet, and showing that we need to move on to sustainable data usage.
Wither is a beautiful art installation raising awareness about the rapid deforestation of the Amazon rain forest using data provided by scientists working for UNESCO. The data provided maps the deforestation within the rain forest. With this data, Thijs and his team visualise the rate at which deforestation happens right now - creating an eye-opening art installation: every leaf ‘disappearing’ marks the loss of 128m2 of rainforest. The artwork is changing every time new data comes in. Bringing the data to life right in front of your eyes - truly impactful.