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8 Disaster Visualization Art Projects That Put Frankenstorm Sandy Into Perspective

As I write this, VICE headquarters is engulfed in the peripheral wrath of Hurricane Sandy, a veritable “Frankenstorm” that promises to thrash the entire East Coast by this evening. Of course, no one is crazy enough to be at work in this madness, or outside for that matter. Most of the world is holed up at home watching weatherpeople needlessly brave the elements in their hooded raincoats, communicating with less intrepid weatherpeople who are dry and safe in a studio setting. Over and over throughout this ordeal, they’ll show us their graphic weather map, ostensibly the only visualization that we’ll get when trying to come to grips with what we’re facing. Every storm, it’s the same thing—a tri-color intensity scale circling in a pixelated mass across our screen—and various crowdsourced alternatives like your hysterical Twitter stream and Instacane.

But here’s a list of art projects that put disasters in perspective. Breaking from the usual ways we visualize natural weather phenoms, several artists have used disaster data as a source for creative projects that give us a different viewpoint on their prevalence and effects. Nature’s mood swings can severely alter landscapes, destroying cities and homes, throwing everything off balance, and art can offer us a way to look at these events with new insight. Despite the dire context of these works, they even prove to be quite beautiful.

Here are eight stunning creative works based on disaster data.

Wind Map by Martin Wattenberg and Fernanda Viegas

If you weren’t already convinced that wind is an incredibly abundant force of nature that may well end up powering our future, Wattenberg and Viegas’ dynamic map makes a pretty strong case. Mapping wind movement over the United States, the swirling streams appear almost like shaggy strands of fur, moving in their paths with striking consistency.

Luke Jerram’s Tōhoku Japanese Earthquake Sculpture


This is a 3D printed model of a seismogram of the 2011 earthquake that wreaked havoc on Japan’s coast, one of the major natural disaster tragedies in recent history. The quake brought with it a tsunami that ravaged Japan’s coastline, causing major damage as well as creating a precarious situation at the country’s nuclear power plant in Fukushima. Crazy to be able to hold the measurement of such disaster in one’s hands.

AntiVJ’s Eyjafjallajökull

Joanie Lemercier of AntiVJ was one of thousands who had their travel plans ruined by the massive volcanic ash cloud spouted by this Icelandic volcano in 2010. However, in addition to inconvenience, Lemercier’s obsessive checking of the news reports served as creative inspiration. He ended up turning his frustrations into a beautiful animation, which he created as a 2D mural, with added 3D effect using projections and shading techniques.

Quakescapes by Christopher Warnow

In the realm of earthquakes, this animation takes global seismic data and turns it into a turbulent landscape of its own, flying us through its treacherous peaks and demonstrating just how active our planet is below the surface.

Natalie Miebach’s Hurricane Noel


Nathalie Miebach augments musical notation, turning it from black emblems on the staff to colorful interpretations of its form. The wood and plastic constructed piece pictured above is a 3D musical score based on the data from Hurricane Noel’s journey through Gulf of Maine in 2007.

Yael Mer’s Wearable Canoe


Lack of preparation during these times can be disastrous, as the world horrifically learned during 2005’s Hurricane Katrina catastrophe, an event that was even further hampered by a federal government and disaster relief agency that proved to be neutered by their own incompetence. Yael Mer’s wearable canoe stands as commentary on this massive screw-up. A wearable canoe ensures that even if help isn’t on the way, you’ll still be able to stay afloat.

soundQuake at The Creators Project: San Francisco 2012


At our Art Hack Weekend in San Francisco earlier this year, one of the winning teams created a web app called soundQuake, a dynamic and musical representation of the region’s earthquake data. soundQuake gracefully and gently pulsates, almost making you forget that it’s based on the data of the violent shifts of the San Andreas fault.

@ImYourKid

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