The Supertask is a paradoxical goal that we have set ourselves – creating a model of the whole world. Named after British philosopher James F. Thomson's term for a quantifiably impossible endeavor, our model will serve both as an artistic exploration of the nature of models and as a criticism of their postulated role in a contemporary view of the world within both science and society. However, rather than construct one all-encompassing model we are focussing on specific aspects of models and aim to create an unlimited range of pieces and experiments which each reflect on a particular question in regard to the modeling of our world.
Yesterday’s Today is the first instance of The Supertask and was commissioned by curators Sarah Cook and Jean Gagnon for an exhibition titled Q.E.D. which took place at Liverpool’s LJMU Gallery in September 2011. It focuses on one of the most common examples of modeling – the weather forecast. Being the product of a highly sophisticated yet reductionistic computational model of the climate, results in a representation of a slice of reality – a number representing temperature on the scale of degree Celsius.
In order to explore the deviation between model and reality we created an installation which would serve both as open-ended experiment in the scientific sense and experiential space in the artistic sense. It artificially generates the temperature which has been predicted one day earlier for the respective location. It thus allows a visitor to be in a sense inside the manifest computational model and to experience it in contrast to the reality that is surrounding it.
For the each instantiation of the project we first collect data by keeping track of the hourly weather forecast for the following day as released for example by a weather service such as the UK’s Met Office. An industrial air conditioning unit is positioned within the gallery space. To be able to keep a record of the real temperature beyond the comparative experience and to emphasize the experimental character of the piece, we also create a temperature graph on a wall or a window. For the duration of the exhibition, the temperature control on the air conditioning unit is set to the predicted temperature on an hourly basis by the artists or by gallery staff. The second hourly task is to collect real temperature-data by means of taking readings from a thermometer placed outside the gallery space. Manually populating the graph with the collected data against the pre-collected forecast data thus also engages the person who is performing the task into being an experimenter. Over time, a two-dimensional shape will be emerging on the graph, between forecast and measured data. This shape is in fact representing the aforementioned deviation between the two. In the case of the Liverpool exhibition, the temperature at times deviated seven degrees Celsius from the forecast. Only on the final day, October 2nd 2011, it matched the predicted temperature of 11 degrees Celsius.
In the larger context of The Supertask however, the heart of Yesterday’s Today is yet on another stratum. Rather than the deviation of the model from reality, it is concerned with the question of what happens where model and reality approximate each other until they become infinitely similar. In this reading and at the exhibition in Liverpool it was the door which was somewhat left ajar where the work came into existence, the small space where air from the computational model and from the outside world mingled and mixed.
The Supertask is an ongoing artistic research project of in collaboration with researchers Professor George Attard and Dr. Ali Tavassoli at the University of Southampton.