An Interview with Artist Tali Weinberg

by Amy Brady

This month I have for you a fascinating interview with Tali Weinberg, an artist who utilizes weaving, sculpture, thread drawing, and works on paper to visualize climate data. As she says in our interview below, weaving “is a way to speak beyond binaries.” She understands “big data” to be “a relatively patriarchal, capitalist, colonial form of knowledge” and weaving as a way to reinsert knowledge from women and indigenous peoples. The resulting artwork – Woven Climate Datascapes – is a thought-provoking and multi-dimensional way of asking questions and seeking answers about the world that goes beyond straightforward scientific inquiry.

Please tell us about your ongoing project, Woven Climate Datascapes. What inspired it?

The Woven Climate Datascapes project encompasses several series I’ve been working on since 2015, growing from an exploration of the ways we come to understand climate change: data, journalistic narrative, and embodied and affective experience. I weave climate data from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) into abstracted landscapes and waterscapes. I code the data and materialize it with plant-derived fibers and dyes and petrochemical-derived medical tubing.

Each series within the project starts with a different set of questions, but the overall impetus is this: Weaving the data is simultaneously a reification and an abstraction, a respect and a critique. Data is valuable in its capacity to condense a vast amount of labor, knowledge, and time into a form that can be consumed quickly. But its value as an abstraction is also its shortfall. It obscures its material origins and the violence climate change truly is. On the one hand, weaving draws attention to this illegibility and limitation. It becomes a space to reflect on what we do not see, whether that is the injustice of climate change or our personal relationship to a place. Further, a number of the pieces reflect on the ways the data has been aggregated – the process of breaking and dividing we go through when trying to understand – and that there are politics and assumptions embedded in these aggregations. On the other hand, through the act of weaving, I am building up information, weft thread by weft thread, thereby reinserting time and labor and reconnecting with the material and embodied knowledge from which the data was produced.

What draws you to the use of textiles and weaving in particular? 

Because data is a relatively patriarchal, capitalist, colonial form of knowledge, in this project weaving becomes a way to (re)insert other forms of knowledge – knowledge that is embodied, gendered female, indigenous, and relational more than representational.

At the same time, weaving, to me, is a way to speak beyond binaries. It is cerebral and embodied knowledge; material and relational; high and low tech; object-making and social practice; math and art; political and personal; tied to capital and care, domestic and industrial production.

I also draw on the long history of textiles – and weaving especially – as a subversive language for women and other marginalized groups. In this context, especially given the current political climate, the project could be seen as a sort of subversive, feminist archive.

As an artist, do you also see yourself as a kind of climate change communicator?

I see my work as a form of inquiry. It’s a way to engage with the world and pursue questions that are usually some combination of social/political, scientific, and personal.

I view the datascapes more as interpretations of and personal engagements with data, rather than as data visualizations. Their compositions are determined as much by elements of landscape and the body, by my own embodied and affective experiences of place, as they are by a data-driven understanding of climate change.

Given the politicized nature of climate change (at least in the United States), your work could be seen as a kind of activism. Do you see yourself as an activist?

I do think art has a role to play in the cultural shifts necessary to address the climate crisis. There is value in what art can do to focus attention, create space and time for shifts in perspective and perception, and hopefully evoke feelings of care, love, and empathy.

At the same time, I don’t want to compare art-making to the incredible, risky, vital efforts of those on the front lines protecting our water, air, land, and health – especially the indigenous communities and communities or color taking on extractive industries and fighting for environmental justice.

Who is your ideal viewer? Someone who already believes in climate change, or someone who doesn’t? Or perhaps someone in between?

Ideally, the datascapes have the potential to speak to those with varied perspectives on climate change. For those already engaged, I have seen the work act as a focal point for grieving and reflection. For those who would rather ignore climate change, the work is a way to open up conversations and make the crisis personal.

What’s next for you?

Thanks to a grant from Tulsa Artist Fellowship, I am currently finishing up Bound, a sculpture that traces multiple forms of entanglement in the face of anthropogenic climate change. Bound is comprised of over 300 sets of climate data which is materialized as 1500 feet of medical tubing wrapped with threads dyed with plant and insect-derived dyes.

It is a project that explores the relationship between the damage done to the earth and the damage done to our bodies by the petrochemical industry, even as our lives are reliant on and seemingly inextricably intertwined with this industry. Petrochemical-derived medical tubing is a pipeline that runs through and around our bodies, used in medical interventions for illnesses that often have the same causes as ecological destruction. This summer Bound will be in a group show in New York and in the fall, it will be in a solo show in Tulsa, Oklahoma.

Extending from Bound, my research for new work is focused on the knot that is climate change, extractive industry, illness/toxicity, and displacement (and more broadly, home, loss of home, our multivalent relationships to place).

This article is part of the Climate Art Interviews series. It was originally published in Amy Brady’s “Burning Worlds” newsletter. Subscribe to get Amy’s newsletter delivered straight to your inbox.

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Amy Brady is the Deputy Publisher of Guernica magazine and Senior Editor of the Chicago Review of Books. Her writing about art, culture, and climate has appeared in the Village Voice, the Los Angeles TimesPacific Standard, the New Republic, and other places. She is also the editor of the monthly newsletter “Burning Worlds,” which explores how artists and writers are thinking about climate change. She holds a PHD in English and is the recipient of a CLIR/Mellon Library of Congress Fellowship. Read more of her work at AmyBradyWrites.com and follow her on Twitter at @ingredient_x.

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Artists and Climate Change is a blog that tracks artistic responses from all disciplines to the problem of climate change. It is both a study about what is being done, and a resource for anyone interested in the subject. Art has the power to reframe the conversation about our environmental crisis so it is inclusive, constructive, and conducive to action. Art can, and should, shape our values and behavior so we are better equipped to face the formidable challenge in front of us.

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