Everyone’s favourite data illustrator Mona Chalabi has released a print series, commissioned by Absolut Art for Earth Day, that hopes to offer some comfort amidst the chaos. Numbers to Help You Breathe is a set of three illustrations depicting patterns and statistics from the natural world: the timing of a sea wave, the amount of lovebirds that learn to fly each day, and the rotation of the earth. By referring to the rhythms of nature and their relative time span, the illustrator aims to better connect us with them and, in turn, give us a moment of calm.
“It’s precisely because everything is changing so much day-to-day that I wanted to look for the constants,” Chalabi says. “It’s not to make you happy exactly, but to provide some comfort as an antidote to the anxiety induced by the world all around us.”
Undulation shows life under the ocean, annotated with the statement “In the time it takes you to read this, a gentle sea wave has crested twice,” the type set in a wave form to denote the fact itself. “Tides caused by the gravitational pull of the moon and the sun are one of the most reliable phenomena in the world,” Chalabi explains. “When wind speeds are low, the rise and fall of sea waves become faster. So a gentle sea wave will happen more frequently than a stormy one.” (Source: Coastal Engineering, 2009 & Brysbaert, M. (2019, April 12))
Avigation is a collaged chart showing 140 lovebirds (agapornis fischeri), the amount that learn to fly every day. “The different species of these birds have beautiful names: peach-faced, black-masked, grey-headed, yellow-collared, creamino,” Chalabi recalls. “I chose Fischer's lovebird because population counts were available and because it's pretty.” (Source: IUCN Redlist 2020 – taking the midpoint of population estimates).
“Of course we know that the earth is spinning every moment of every day but we don't think about it (maybe we would get motion sickness if we did!),” Chalabi says But the continuity of our physical laws in a period of such instability and uncertainty feels strangely comforting.” She adds that Nasa states the probability of the Earth stopping its rotation is “practically zero”.
Chalabi is data editor at Guardian US, and has contributed her data knowledge and insights to the New Yorker, The New York Times, NPR, Netflix and the BBC. She also co-created the Emmy-nominated video series Vagina Dispatches. Watch her Nicer Tuesdays talk about making it as a freelancer, here.
The Numbers to Help You Breathe series is available from Absolut Art from today, each print in an edition of 25.
GalleryMona Chalabi for Absolut Art: Numbers to Help You Breathe
Mona Chalabi for Absolut Art: Numbers to Help You Breathe, Undulation