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MEET the Nature | Atmospheric Forest VR

Atmospheric Forest is an immersive VR experience by artists Rasa Smite and Raitis Smits that visualizes the complex relations between the forest, climate change and atmosphere. Trees are not only oxygen generators, but they breathe as well, and emit large amounts of volatile organic compounds into the air – we recognize it as a habitual scent of the forest. Scientists have long known about the link between a fragrant forest and the warming climate, but are uncertain about the impact and scale.
Atmospheric Forest VR artwork is the outcome of a three-year artistic research project on Pfynwald, an ancient Swiss Alpine coniferous forest suffering from drought due to climate change; the Swiss scientists from WSL Research Institute have turned this forest into a “living observatory”. 

To create the Atmospheric Forest VR artwork, the artists scanned the Pfynwald creating a virtual point cloud environment, and visualized the data provided by scientists. The data sets collected during one growing season included measurements of volatile emissions, resin production in pine tree trunks and changing weather. The artists transformed these data into animated particle flows, visualizing the complex interaction between the forest ecosystem and atmospheric processes.
The viewer can navigate through the emitting trees and virtual forest with observation towers, pink labels attached to the plants, measuring ‘bonds’ around the trunks, and other scientific ‘artifacts’. The viewer also can observe the forest from the bottom up, and follow the path inside the tree trunk to go far up above the forest, becoming a part of the emitting ecosystem.

Uncertainty regarding the forest emission effects on climate change remains. However, the visualized data patterns show that with climate change we are set for a more fragrant and more ‘atmospheric forest’ in the future. 

The VR work can be enjoyed every Saturday and Sunday, from 3 p.m. to 7 p.m.


Artists: Rasa Smite and Raitis Smits

Created as a part of the “Ecodata–Ecomedia–Ecoaesthetics” research project (2017–2021), led by Yvonne Volkart, hosted by the Academy of Art and Design (FHNW) in Basel, funded by the Swiss National Science Foundation, in collaboration with the scientists Arthur Gessler, Christian Ginzler, Andreas Rigling from Swiss Federal Institute for Forest, Snow and Landscape Research (WSL), and visiting scientist Kaisa Rissanen, University of Helsinki. 

Co-produced by RIXC (Riga, Latvia), ZKM (Karlsruhe, Germany), and Ecodata-Ecomedia-Ecoaesthetics Project (Basel, Switzerland)

Premiered at the Critical Zones exhibition (2020-2022) curated by Peter Weibel and Bruno Latour. 

Awarded and nominated – by Falling Walls 2021 – Science Breakthrough, Winner in Art and Science category, and Purvitis Prize 2021, biannual visual arts award in Latvia – final nomination.