The work, Intertidal Zones (2023), explores how normalized conditions for observing nature are represented in computational simulations of water, inspired by the notion of watery embodiment as formulated by Astrida Neimanis (2012). Neimanis argues how watery embodiment can reveal how our human scales are tied up with those of animal and vegetable. Moreover, watery embodiment affords an understanding of our human bodies as bodies of water connected with the geographical, the meteorological and the technological.[1] In Wild Blue Media: Thinking Through Seawater (2020), Melody Jue mentions how thinking through water can reveal terrestrial biases that shapes how humans perceive nature.[2] Through these readings of water, the following question emerged, and gave shape to the process of creating the video: how do we think through water, when our tools and technologies for observing and representing our environment speak as humans standing on Earth?

Specifically, can we locate a terrestrial bias in the way in which we represent nature through code, in the form of graphics, animation, and 3D visualisations? From the late 1960s, the field of computer graphics has been concerned with realistic representations of natural phenomena like water, fire, and wind simulations, for purposes of military- and pilot training, automotive design, and the demand for special effects in the entertainment industry. However, many of these believable representations would fail to perform these environments in real life.[3] This search for ultimate realism caused debate between simulating nature in terms of physics, or in terms of accurate visual representations.[4] For example, in order to achieve photorealistic behaviour of watery surfaces, a shift had to be made from volume-, towards surface modelling resulting in a visual simulation of surface, rather than that of a body of water.[5] Starting with the first CGI animation of water, Carla’s Island (1981), this video explores computational representations of water, from 3D models to ‘wave’-effects, in combination with videos of personal encounters with water. This exploration made apparent the difficulty to dive into coded depths of water or, to even try to represent ‘being water’, as most visualizations offer waters without body and my own videos of water only offer a perspective of looking down upon.

The work offered an understanding of how computational simulations of nature are modelled according to a view from outside, instead of within. These simulations are based on human perception as privileged way of sense-making and understanding and are embedded in coded tools and plug-ins that continuously migrate into newer software. Therefore, these representations of nature through computation, become part of normative reflections on natural phenomena. The title refers to a possibility to think otherwise; to use computation to switch between terrestrial- and aquatic viewpoints, as if living in an intertidal zone, where one ought to life submerged in water, as well as standing on Earth.

Title: Intertidal Zones: computational waters that are less than liquid
Duration: 00:06:13:00

[1] Astrida Neimanis, “Hydrofeminism: Or, On Becoming a Body of Water,” in Undutiful Daughters: Mobilizing Future Concepts, Bodies and Subjectivities in Feminist Thought and Practice, ed. Henriette Gunkel, Chrysanthi Nigianni and Fanny Söderbäck (New York: Palgrave Macmillan, Pre-publication version, 2012): 99.
[2] Melody Jue, “Inscription: Vampire Squid Media,” in Wild Blue Media: Thinking through Seawater, (Durham, NC: DukeUniversity Press, 2020): 111.
[3] Donald P. Greenberg, “A framework for realistic image synthesis,” Communications of the ACM 42, no. 8 (August 1999): 44.
[4] Karen A. Frenkel, “The Art and Science of Visualizing Data,” Communications of the ACM 31, no. 2 (February 1988): 116.
[5] Ronald Fedkiw, “Simulating Natural Phenomena for Computer Graphics,” in Geometric Level Set Methods in Imaging, Vision, and Graphics, ed. Stanley Osher, Nikos Paragios (Berlin: Springer Science & Business Media): 9.

Screenshot 2023-04-07 at 15.01.46