ECODATA Opening Keynote Session

13 July 2018

ECODATA Opening Keynote Session: Art and Science Discussion
October 8, 2020
The National Library of Latvia + Zoom + Live Stream: Youtube

Yvonne VOLKART, Marcus MAEDER and Rasa SMITE

This year’s RIXC festival is a collaboration with “Ecodata–Ecomedia–Ecoaesthetics” research group led by Yvonne Volkart at The Institute of Aesthetic Practice and Theory / FHNW Academy for Art and Design in Basel, Switzerland.
“Ecodata–Ecomedia–Ecoaesthetics” (2017-2020) is the Swiss National Science Foundation (SNSF) funded project that explores the role and significance of new media, technologies and technoscientific methods in the arts for the perception and awareness of the ecological. It took place in the Pfynwald forest in the Valais, southwest Switzerland, which is unique for both its state of crisis caused by the local aluminum industry and by its drought intensified by climate change. The forest has been under close surveillance of natural-scientists for more than 25 years. In close cooperation with The Swiss Federal Institute for Forest, Snow and Landscape Research, the artists-researchers – Marcus Maeder, Rasa Smite and Aline Veillat developed aesthetic projects related to this alpine forest. What kind of experiences are possible if a forest, the soil, the air turns out to be contingent and relational techno-organism, dependent on various actors? And what happens, if the audience is not anymore human only, but interspecies-correlated?
Proposing a new techno-ecological theory, project initiator Yvonne Volkart investigates technoscientific methods based on registering, collecting and interpreting data in the arts. How do the data affect us? Do they trigger care, solidarity, and empathy?
Celebrating the project’s closing phase in Riga, Marcus Maeder and Rasa Smite will show their artistic research results in ECODATA exhibition of the RIXC Festival, and together with project leader Yvonne Volkart and scientist Kisa Rissanen will participate in the discussion on art and science collaboration.

Dr. Yvonne Volkart is senior researcher and lecturer in art theory and cultural media studies at the Institute of Aesthetic Practice and Theory IAeP, Academy of Art and Design, FHNW Basel, and at the Master of Arts in Art Education, Zurich University of the Arts. Besides she is project leader at the department for art and architecture, City of Zurich public works office (since 2019). She lives as curator, author and art critic in Zurich. Regular contributions to Springerin, Texte zur Kunst, Kunstforum, Kunstbulletin, Flash Art Her main concerns are ecological, political and digital aesthetics; climate change; gardening, landscape, nature, and technology; New Materialisms; the non-human; trans- and intermedia; history of modernity; art and science; curatorial practices; queer and gender theory; history and performativity in the arts.

Marcus Maeder is a sound artist, researcher and composer of electronic music. As an author, Maeder has written on a number of topics in the fields of sound art, artistic research and digital media.
Maeder currently pursues his PhD in Environmental Systems Science at ETH Zürich. He runs the music label domizil, which he co-founded in 1996 with Bernd Schurer. Maeder has worked as an editor and producer for the Swiss radio station SRF and has been working as a curator and researcher at the Institute for Computer Music and Sound Technology (ICST) of the Zurich University of the Arts ZHdK since 2005. In his research at the ICST, Maeder is working on data sonification of ecophysiological and climatic processes and studying the acoustic and aesthetic requirements for making them perceptible. Maeder contextualises his scientific and artistic work in the fields of Acoustic and Soundscape Ecology.
On an invitation by French President François Hollande, Maeder presented his sound art installation trees: Pinus sylvestris at the 2015 United Nations Climate Change Conference COP21.
In 2017 Maeder presented his installation AmazonFACE: Ocotea at the Inter-American Development Bank in Washington – the same year where he and Roman Zweifel received an honorable mention from the STARTS Prize by the European Commission at the Ars Electronica Festival in Linz/Austria for their works under the moniker treelab.

Dr. Rasa Smite is an artist and researcher, working on the edge of art, science and emerging technologies. She is co-founder of RIXC Center for New Media Culture in Riga, and co-curator of RIXC Art and Science festivals ( She holds a PhD; her thesis “Creative Networks” (2011) has been published by The Amsterdam Institute for Network Cultures. She lectures on topics of networked media art, science and techno-ecologies at the Academy of Art and Design FHNW in Basel, Liepaja University in Latvia, HfG in Karlsruhe, and MIT ACT in Boston.
In her artistic practice, Rasa Smite works together with Raitis Smits creating visionary and networked ‘techno-ecological’ artworks, such as “Talk to Me” – human-plant communication, and “Biotricity” – exploring a poetics of green energy have been shown in HeK, Ars Electronica, ZKM, Venice Architecture Biennale, Futurium Museum in Berlin, and other venues in Europe, US, Canada.

In the discussion will also participate a scientist Kaisa Rissanen with her talk “Why Are Scientists Fascinated By The Odours Of Forest?”

What we recognise as the odour of forest is a plethora of volatile compounds released by the trees, the undergrowth, and the soil. These compounds play many roles in the forest: they are an important part of tree defence against environmental stresses and a way in which trees and insects sense their environment. They also participate in the complicated processes of the atmosphere.
Although the forest odours and the volatile compounds have been a subject of an increasing scientific fascination, we still have a lot left to discover. Questions remain about the potential of volatile compounds to protect the trees against pest insects or harmful fungi, their net effects on air quality and climate in different environments, and their diverse sources within the forest.
In this presentation, I discuss these questions and introduce a research project in which we explored an unstudied source of volatile compounds, the stems of pine trees. The project, conducted in collaboration with Swiss Federal Institute for Forest, Snow and Landscape research (WSL) in Pfynwald forest of Switzerland, revealed that the role of tree stems as a source of volatile compounds is probably more important than previously estimated.

Kaisa Rissanen is a post-doctoral researcher at Université du Québec à Montréal in Canada. In her doctoral studies at the University of Helsinki in Finland, she concentrated on understanding the interrelations between the physiology, resin and emissions of volatile organic compounds of Scots pine. As a part of this research, she collaborated with the Swiss Federal Institute for Forest, Snow and Landscape research (WSL) to study resin dynamics and emissions of volatile organic compounds from pine stems in severe drought conditions. Her current research explores water use of urban trees and how trees can cool the urban heat island.