Weather, Whether Radar: the book

Written and published despite all the difficulties associated with Covid, the Institute collaborated with Ethical Midge to publish Redell Olsen’s remarkable book, Weather, Whether Radar: Plume of the Volants. This artist’s book offers glimpses of Olsen’s digital studio and portfolio of work as the winner of the DARE Art Prize, awarded by the University of Leeds and Opera North, in conjunction with the National Science and Media Museum and The Tetley. .

Olsen worked with scientists at the University, singers and musicians at Opera North, along with images and objects from the National Science and Media Museum’s collection. The book was first released alongside an exhibition of Olsen’s artworks from the project at The Tetley in late 2021.

Olsen’s book moves between poetry and science, and between image and text. Amid poems and fictions, there are proposals for an inter-species opera, along with collaged materials and scores for insects. The movement of the different parts of the book offers a range of critical responses to climate change and reflections on the moment, politics and process of the work’s own production.

Among diverse suggestions as to how art and poetry might repurpose existing forms of data, the project works with the groundbreaking research of the BioDAR unit at the University of Leeds. BioDar scientists use discarded data from weather radar to monitor insect biodiversity, reconfiguring ‘plumes’ of insects previously dismissed as ‘noise’. The implications for art and poetry as parallel ways of reconfiguring data perceived as noise reverberate across the book in new forms of poetic practice and perception.

Another important collaboration informing the book is with Opera North. Olsen wrote a rewording of Polyphemus’ aria in Handel’s opera Acis and Galatea and parts of her new libretto were performed by the Chorus of Opera North and bass-baritone Matthew Stiff. In a film instantiation of this material, audio of the performance is layered over images of a moth produced by BioDAR scientist Will Evans using an Artec 3D scanner, in a remote collaboration with Olsen.

Other sections of the book include historical and cultural materials diversely associated with the history of radar and moths, such as frequency hopping Hedy Lamarr style, John Cage’s ‘Weather’ and Virginia Woolf’s ‘The Death of the Moth’. The book assembles a fascinating array of reconfigured data sets, visual collages and proposals for performance, laid out in book instantiation with full colour illustrations of artworks from the project.

At a length of just under 200 pages, the book combines a through-composed poetics of the project. The book is both a poetic world and a portal into several other instantiations of associated projects, images, music, films and artworks. This book is a thing of wonder, combining poetry, prose, and visual materials with remarkable dynamism and poetic intensity. The Institute are proud to be involved in publishing this book.