Thursday, September 16
1pm EDT / 7pm CET
Livestream HERE

What are volatile particles? How can we measure and feel them? And why do we experience a fragrant forest as a consequence of climate heating?

In their 3D installation Atmospheric Forest, which is on show in the Critical Zones exhibition, artists Rasa Smite and Raitis Smits focus on the phenomenon of volatile emissions from trees and their visualization. In the course of Rasa Smite’s collaboration with the Swiss Federal Institute of Forest Snow and Landscape Research (WSL), she learned that under the regime of climate change, certain trees not only transform CO2 into oxygen, they also emit various gases into the atmosphere: forests breathe. Taking this artwork by Rasa Smite as its point of departure, this issue of Terrestrial University engages with in-depth scientific and artistic research on fragrant forests, taking the Pfynwald pine forest in the Swiss Alps as a case study. This 10,000-year-old forest in the Valais, southwestern Switzerland, is unique:  its state of crisis has been caused by the local aluminum industry and by drought exacerbated by climate change over the past 100 years. As one of the first long-term outdoor laboratories, the Pfynwald forest has been closely monitored for more than 20 years.

The project partners talk about tools, methods, and the scale of fragrant forests affecting climate change together with the question of how art can translate the invisible and alarming interactions between the forest and atmospheric ecosystems into an experienceable environment confronting people with the imperative necessity of system change.

Atmospheric Forest is part of the Ecodata–Ecomedia–Ecoaesthetics research project (2017–2021), which is carried out by Yvonne Volkart (lead), Marcus Maeder, Rasa Smite, and Aline Veillat in collaboration with Arthur Gessler, Christian Ginzler, Andreas Rigling, Swiss Federal Institute for Forest, Snow and Landscape Research (WSL), and Kaisa Rissanen, University of Helsinki and funded by the Swiss National Science Foundation and hosted by the Academy of Art and Design (FHNW) Basel.


Participants of this discussion will include:

Rasa Smite, artist (Ecodata project artist-researcher) – 

Yvonne Volkart, theorist and researcher (Ecodata-Ecomedia-Ecoaesthetics, we often use for short – Ecodata, project leader) – 

Arthur Gessler, scientist (researcher on forest ecosystems) – 

Kaisa Risannen, scientist (researcher on volatile emissions) – 


Rasa Smite is an artist and researcher, working on the edge of art, science and emerging technologies. She is co-founder of RIXC Center for New Media Culture in Riga, and co-curator of RIXC Art and Science festivals. She holds a PhD; her thesis “Creative Networks” (2011) has been published by the The Amsterdam Institute for Network Cultures. In her artistic practice, Rasa Smite works together with Raitis Smits creating visionary and networked ‘techno-ecological’ artworks, such as “Talk to Me” – human-plant communication, “Biotricity” on  poetics of green energy, and “Atmospheric Forest” visualizing the interactions between the forest and atmospheric ecosystems, which have been shown in ZKM, HeK, Ars Electronica, Venice Architecture Biennale, Futurium Museum in Berlin, and other venues in Europe, US, Canada. Currently she is a professor in Liepaja University, Latvia, and visiting lecturer at ACT at MIT in Boston.

Yvonne Volkart was leading the Swiss National Science Foundation (SNSF) funded artistic research project “Ecodata-Ecomedia-Ecoaesthetics” (2017-2020), hosted by the Institute of Aesthetics Practice and Theory at HGK FHNW Basel, Switzerland. Dr. Yvonne Volkart lectures art and media theory at the Academy of Art and Design FHNW and the Zurich University of the Arts ZHdK. In collaboration with Sabine Himmelsbach (HeK, Basel) and Karin Ohlenschläger (LABoral, Gijon) she co-curated the exhibition and book project Eco-Visionaries. Art, Architecture and New Media After the Anthropocene Anthropocene (2018). She co-organized the conference seeds & soil at Centre Culturel Suisse Paris (with Claire Hoffmann, 2019). Completed SNF-research projects include: Times of Waste (2015–2018). From 2009 to 2012 Volkart was co-curator at the Shedhalle Zürich. She writes regularly for Springerin.

Prof. Dr. Arthur Gessler is Director of the Long-term Forest Ecosystem Research (LWF), and Group Leader Forest Growth at the Climate Swiss Federal Institute for Forest, Snow and Landscape Research WSL, Birmensdorf, Switzerland. His research is geared towards understanding the processes that drive and regulate biogeochemical cycles, biotic interactions and biodiversity-ecosystem functioning at different scales is of central importance to our work. Only with this understanding we can assess and predict shifts in the function of ecosystems and landscapes subjected to fundamental changes in the prevailing environmental conditions (i.e. climate and land use). He is also is Adjunct Professor ETH Zurich.

Kaisa Rissanen is a researcher with a background in forest sciences and ecosystem-atmosphere interactions. Her Ph.D. research focused on the interplay between tree physiology, tree defense and the emissions of volatile organic compounds (VOCs) from different parts of conifer trees. As a part of this research, she collaborated with the Swiss Federal Institute for Forest, Snow and Landscape research (WSL). Currently she is a post-doctoral researcher at Université du Québec à Montréal in Canada. Her broader interests are related to tree physiology: how trees work, how their environment affects their functions and how their functions affect their environment.

Atmospheric Forest is currently on view in the Critical Zones exhibition curated by Bruno Latour and Peter Weibel