Published April 9, 2021
There is a way UB media study PhD student Jason Livingston wants visitors to experience his “Goodbye, World!” installation, a collaboration with faculty member Jason Geistweidt now on display in the Burchfield Penney Art Center.
Begin by entering the stately and refined entrance of the BPAC at SUNY Buffalo State. Walk by the description of “Making Strange,” the exhibit that includes Livingston and Geistweidt’s work. Just ahead, note the manhole cover with lights emanating from below. Then look up: An enormous, yellow, digitally designed wallpiece made of foam depicting ancient hunters commands attention.
Turn around, as Livingston suggests, and “Goodbye, World!” with another animal display comes into view. This one features four toy polar bear heads mounted on plaques. Each polar bear head is attached to a small monitor with the name of a city and digital numerical readings.
By this time, Livingston hopes, the cuddly polar bear heads with the accompanying digital data attached to precise electronic wires have piqued the curiosity of visitors.
Livingston stands back, facing “Goodbye, World!” from about 15 feet away, pausing to imagine how visitors would experience the flow.
The impressive modern glass entrance to the gallery. The colorful lights and sound emanating from the manhole exhibit. The overwhelming impact of the massive yellow foam wall sculpture introducing the animal images. All are perfect setups drawing visitors into the four polar bear heads connected to digital monitors on the opposite walls.
“Our hope,” Livingston says, “is that since most people are curious, you start walking up and say, ‘Oh, that’s interesting.’”
Livingston, a UB presidential scholar, and faculty collaborator Geistweidt have prepared for this moment.
Each bear corresponds to digital monitors identifying them to four cities throughout the world: Sao Paulo, Brazil; Seattle, Washington; Svalbard, a small archipelago near Norway; and Shenzhen, a thriving commercial center in mainland China. Ask one of the Jasons for their global significance.
Each monitor displays the average temperature of these cities for that moment, then the actual temperature in these cities in real time, and then whether the actual temperature is higher or lower than the average.
If the current temperature is higher than the average, the polar bear eyes glow red. If the difference in average temperature as compared to current temperature is significantly higher, the red eyes glow brighter. The brighter the eyes, the more serious the effects of climate change in these areas.
“Goodbye, World!” — an ironic play on words for a familiar computer greeting that flashes to any creator of a simple computer code — is important first, because it represents the fruits of faculty/student collaborations.
“It’s a sign of a healthy and dynamic research community, where a preliminary idea presented in seminar can be fleshed out and refined beyond its initial spark,” says Geistweidt, assistant professor in the Department of Media Study, who Livingston called “a gifted teacher and artist.”
“The most enjoyable aspect of this project has been the exchange of ideas, the brainstorming and the camaraderie focused around clarifying an installation which makes tangible the interconnection among our communication networks, the power infrastructure and climate change.”
“Goodbye, World!” is a statement of the consumption of energy and data, and the global price of this often overlooked consumption. Polar bears are “poster children” for climate change.
“Our daily lives are fully integrated with computers, networks and electricity,” Livingston says. “It’s easy to forget that these invisible infrastructures use power. The more power we use, the more fuel we burn. As we’ve seen through the pandemic, global connectivity is accelerating. There are tough questions here about how we power these connections. What role can art play in drawing attention to these scenarios?”
Visitors are encouraged to consider the signs of global warning — glowing polar bear eyes — and how this affects the ecology of the planet. The fact the pandemic has greatly increased internet use makes the installation more relevant, says Livingston.
“Goodbye, World!” is a physical expression of this research, he says. “It's humorous, it's weird and it’s a little scary.”
The opportunity to share it with the public at the Burchfield Penney is a bonus, Livingston says.
“So often the work we do at the university is in the classroom, on campus, inside the university walls,” he says. “We were so excited to bring our artistic research off campus, to the public, to bring our interest in what art and technology informed by science can really do.”
“Goodbye, World!” and the rest of the Burchfield Penney’s “Making Strange” exhibition is open for public viewing from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. Thursdays through Saturdays, and from noon to 4 p.m. Sundays, through May 16.
A virtual tour of “Making Strange,” including “Goodbye, World!” is available here.