Cristina Tarquini’s interactive story Medusae reveals what jellyfish can teach us about climate change
With global temperatures rising and our oceans warming up, jellyfish populations are booming – but that’s not necessarily a good thing. In her new project for Google Arts & Culture, Cristina Tarquini shows us why.
- Daniel Milroy Maher
- 3 June 2021
“I think of communication as a problem solving exercise,” says Italian art director and creative technologist Cristina Tarquini. “The aim is to fascinate and captivate the audience with a story. [Whether it’s] an installation, a website or a film, it is the storytelling that drives the output.” Born in a small city in the Abruzzo region of Italy, Cristina began experimenting with storytelling shortly after graduating from the European Institute of Design in Milan and Barcelona, and then later from Central Saint Martins in London. Her initial foray into this area came through the medium of film, specifically for the purposes of advertising. She experimented with the latest technology, utilising it to improve and enhance her messaging, soon becoming fascinated with how traditional methods of communicating can merge with tech to create “meaningful and memorable experiences”.
Having since founded her own company, Studio Crtq, Cristina now works for brands and institutions on projects revolving around the environment, climate change and sustainable practices, from a Covid Pinata to an exploration of acidic sea levels. One such collaboration, titled Medusae and created in partnership with Google Arts & Culture, tells “the incredible story of the jellyfish”, who have surprisingly benefited (at least in the short-term) from climate change. Warmer sea temperatures, among other contributing factors, have resulted in huge spikes in global populations of jellyfish, allowing them to expand their domains – to the detriment of almost all other marine species. For this project, Cristina wanted to create an interactive story using Point Cloud and data from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration and the IUCN to “explore the effects rising temperatures, overfishing, acidic waters and low oxygen are having on different jellyfish hotspots in the Mediterranean.”
After identifying the areas of interest for the project, Cristina recruited scientist and jellyfish expert Fabien Lombard to ensure the accuracy of the information she was gathering. Together, they used datasets to identify jellyfish blooms in the Mediterranean, which Cristina then visualised with clouds of points and info cards containing all of the scientific research translated into concise, accessible language. As users progress through the story, they can interact with blooms shown in different geographical locations, learning more about how climate change is affecting the jellyfish species found in these areas, and how these blooms are in turn affecting nearby fish populations and other marine life. “During this process, the collaboration with the scientist [Fabien Lombard] was really fundamental as I did a lot of summarising and rewriting to make sure the scientific facts were very simple to understand,” explains Cristina.
To enhance the user experience, Cristina also enlisted the help of sound artist Antoine Bertin to produce immersive soundscapes for the story, which were created using field recordings of different marine sounds found in various parts of the Mediterannean. These change as you proceed to new sections, transforming to correspond with the aspect of the story being told. “For example, in the acidification chapter, [you can hear] marine bubbles born from the volcanic activity around the island of Alicudi,” says Cristina. “This volcanic activity is changing the pH of the water, making it more hospitable for jellyfish than fish.” The result is an audio experience that draws you further into the narrative, making the data more digestible and creating an environment in which the user can ponder over the information they are being presented with.
Reflecting on the project, Cristina says it is important because it serves as a reminder that “we are responsible for the changes happening in the sea and the increasing number of jellyfish is only a result of our actions”. Medusae shows how something as seemingly innocuous, or even positive, as rising jellyfish populations, can actually be an indicator of negative processes taking place in our environment. Climate change can manifest in many ways and though some effects may seem harmless, even the smallest of changes can prove catastrophic if left unchecked. Creative technologists such as Cristina form a crucial part of the efforts to tackle this global problem, and projects like Medusae exemplify one of many different methods in which creativity can be utilised to communicate the urgency of the situation.
Click here to experience Medusae for yourself.
Cristina Tarquini: Medusae in collaboration with Google Arts and Culture (Copyright © Cristina Tarquini, 2021)
About the Author
Daniel joined It’s Nice That as an editorial assistant in February 2019 and continues to work with us on a freelance basis. He graduated from Kingston University with a degree in Journalism in 2015. He is also co-founder and editor of SWIM, an annual art and photography publication.