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Red Shift was commissioned by “Resilience 2008” an international science conference focused on dynamic changes in natural and social systems. The conference took place at Stockholm University in April, 2008.

My task was to find a way to personalize the conference building to the conference theme, without interfering in the functional space needed for participants. After many discussions with Swedish scientists and global internet searches for images, I settled on a photograph of sprats, a critical fish in Baltic Sea food chains. “Red Shift” links the schooling behaviors of fish and people, layering the experience of moving through and around the building with the stories of other species.

The project is called “Red Shift” as a pun on the European “Red List” for species on the edge of extinction. It also references the astronomical phenomena of light from stars at the edges of the universe shifting toward the red end of the spectrum because they are moving very quickly away from us. This is a large-scale example of how things may look different depending on your relationship to them.

As for sprats, they are a food for adult cod. But the sprats also eat the cod’s eggs. Before cod were fished out by humans there was a balance between the two; now the sprats have the upper hand. Though fisheries managers once thought a moratorium on cod fishing would return their stocks, the situation is now seen as a classic “trophic cascade” in population, a tipping point that may not reverse. It is an iconic story for scientists about system resilience – and collapse – and what makes the difference between the two.

The artwork was meant only for a week, but the university keep it for a full year. Here is a link to the conference website:: http://resilience2008.org

For more on Resiliance thinking, see People and Place: Ideas that Connect Us.

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