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Rasa Smite and Raitis Smits, "Atmospheric Forest" (2020). VR data visualisation.

The eight nominees of the prestigious Purvitis Prize were announced on January 28, one of them being the Atmospheric Forest artwork (2017-2020) by RIXC artists Rasa Smite and Raitis Smits in the ZKM Art and Media Center (Karlsruhe, Germany) at the Critical Zones – Observatories for Earthly politics exhibition (23.05.20.-08.08.21.)

The immersive “Atmospheric Forest” (2020) artwork by Rasa Smite and Raitis Smits, premiered in the “Critical Zones” exhibition, visualizes the complex relations between a forest, climate change and the atmosphere. It is a result of a three-year artistic research project on Pfynwald, an ancient Alpine coniferous forest, suffering from drought, which Swiss scientists have turned into a 'living observatory'.

Overall, the trees are not only oxygen generators, they breathe as well. Trees emit large amounts of volatile organic compounds that we can sense as a habitual scent of the forest. Scientists have long known about the link between the fragrant forest and warming climate, but are uncertain about its impact and scale. While some believe that the strong smell of a pine forest indicates that climate change can be limited, others suggest that the volatile emissions could make global warming worse. Predicting the effects of natural volatile emissions is much more complex than thought.

Atmospheric Forest reveals patterns of this complexity by visualizing the scientific data of volatile emissions and resin pressure in pine trees during one growing season. The viewer can navigate through the emitting trees, observe the forest from the bottom up, and follow the path through the tree trunk to get far up above the emitting forest, experiencing the interactions between the terrestrial ecosystems and atmosphere. Uncertainty regarding the effects of volatile emissions remains. However, the visualized patterns show that with climate change we are set for a more fragrant and more "atmospheric forest" in the future.

The artwork is on view both in the physical space in the ZKM Center as well as in virtual space on the digital exhibition platform:

This is not the first time that Rasa Smite and Raitis Smits have been nominated for the Purvitis Prize. In 2019, their exhibition titled "Fluctuations of Microworlds" was nominated for Purvitis Prize as well. The art scientist Inese Rinke, explaining the experts' choice, says that "the visualization of the swamp battery processes and the recording of the acoustic nature's secret energy tells an exciting tale about the unknown".

Founded in early 2008, the Purvītis Prize was launched to amass regular and systematic information about the latest visual arts events in Latvia, promote the development of new projects and original ideas, acknowledge the best achievements in Latvian professional visual arts and popularise the success of Latvian artists both in Latvia and abroad.

The Prize is awarded biennially to an artist or a group of artists representing Latvia with outstanding work, which is deemed to be deeply connected to the developments of the era and forming a bridge between contemporary life, spiritual ideals, and intrinsic values. The author rated highest by a panel of experts and a special international jury is selected as the winner. The Prize is the most prestigious and the most substantial art award in Latvia.


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