Beatie Wolfe visualises oil industry "disinformation" in Smoke and Mirrors video

Methane data and dishonest oil company advertising are juxtaposed in Smoke and Mirrors, a new visualisation produced by artist and musician Beatie Wolfe in collaboration with visual effects studio Parliament.

Debuting last week at South by Southwest, Smoke and Mirrors doubles as a video clip for Wolfe’s song Oh My Heart, which was released in 2022 on the world’s first bioplastic vinyl.

While plumes of brown gas slowly engulf an image of planet Earth, the video displays phrases like “out to clean our air”, “unsettled science” and “don’t risk our future” – all slogans used in oil industry advertising from 1970 to today.

Beatie Wolfe’s Smoke and Mirrors visualisation premiered at South by Southwest

The final text overlay reads “net-zero” and beneath it “achieving net-zero emissions is part of our powering progress strategy”, and is from a 2023 Shell ad.

“Smoke and Mirrors is about visualising not just the methane data (smoke) in a way people can really absorb but also the disinformation (mirrors), which has caused the data to be denied, doubted and delayed through the decades,” Wolfe told Dezeen.

Smoke and Mirrors follows another climate-themed interactive video installation Wolfe made in 2021, which used her song From Green to Red and was displayed at COP26.

Still from Smoke and Mirrors showing an image of the planet Earth overlaid with text reading 'Out to clean the air'
The piece features lines from oil company advertising

Wolfe said the idea for Smoke and Mirrors came after seeing how that project “helped people to see the data differently and to absorb it via the power of art”.

“Realising that a big piece of the climate puzzle (how we got to this critical point) has been the fossil fuel industry’s response to the emerging environmental awareness of the 1970s and that methane emissions (30 times more potent than carbon for trapping heat) are increasingly linked with that industry, I wanted to illuminate this key parallel timeline,” she said.

“With From Green to Red, it was about looking at 800,000 years of rising CO2 levels, while this is about looking at just 50/60 years of rising methane levels but set alongside the advertising campaigns that have been running during this critical period in human history,” Wolfe continued.

The smoke visualisation in the video represents methane entering into Earth’s atmosphere while a counter at the top of the visualisation shows the levels quickly going up in parts per billion (ppb).

Still from Smoke and Mirrors showing a planet Earth clogged with brown gas and the words 'oil pumps life' overlaid on top
The piece also visualises atmospheric methane level data

The methane data comes from NASA and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), two US government agencies. The research on oil company advertising was undertaken by Wolfe, who credits work done by academics Geoffrey Supran and Naomi Oreskes as helping “enormously”.

The way the Earth is visualised is based on NASA’s famous Blue Marble photograph, taken from space.

A dedicated website for Smoke and Mirrors expands on the data and research included in the video.

Wolfe is a singer-songwriter known for integrating music and art, often by pioneering new formats for audio. In addition to From Green to Red, her previous work has included an album presented as a deck of cards.

SXSW 2024 takes place from 8 to 16 March 2024 at various locations in Austin, USA. See Dezeen Events Guide for an up-to-date list of architecture and design events taking place around the world.

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