Turbidity Paintings

Thomas Asmuth  (University of West Florida, Pensacola, FL, USA) and Sara Gevurtz (Virginia Commonwealth University, Richmond, VA USA)





In the project titled “Turbidity Paintings”, principal investigators Thomas Asmuth (UWF) and Sara Gevurtz (VCU) are artists who propose a new visualization methodology to record images and collect data on water quality. The core of this is to develop a system of image collection using do-it-yourself technology. Collected information will be used to construct a library of time specific images encoded with data metrics from a variety of domestic and international locations.

“Turbidity Paintings” explores and challenges the divide between the arts and the sciences and directly questions the role of the artist when dealing with science and scientific data. Art and science are not so vastly different in their approaches. The role of the artist and the art in this project is to create an experimental model by which to develop new ways to create a dialogue around, in our example, water quality.


Communication of environmental science research presents a problem of abstraction in which “one cannot see the forest for the data.” This problem is particularly acute in developing consensus regarding highly controversial and politicized topics, such as human impact on the environment and climate change, in which traditional methods of data presentation and visualization can distance and confuse the general public. This is further illustrated when major religious or political leaders decide to weigh in. For this project titled, “Turbidity Paintings”, artists Thomas Asmuth (UWF) and Sara Gevurtz (VCU) propose a new visualization methodology to record images and collect data on water quality for presentation in a manner that is understandable and undeniable to either a general audience or experts in the field.

In this investigation, the artists will utilize data collected from a do-it-yourself (DIY) underwater rig or submersible.  The rig will have a color card set and a camera that will allow for the taking of photographs at a series of prescribed distances (e.g. 1m, 2m, 4m) below the surface of the water. The artists hypothesize that they will be able to demonstrate the relative clarity by how much of the colored card is visible in the image. For example, if the water has low turbidity, then the expectation would be to see a chromatically more vibrant card, and the reverse if the water has more turbidity, the colored card should be less visible due to more debris in suspension.

The collaborators will not alter the media for any aesthetic, following the traditions of ‘procedural art’ and chance operation in art found in 20th Century artwork such as those in the work of Sol Lewitt or Brian Eno. Adhering to the automatic methodologies of the described art practices will also preserve the documents as a historical scientific record, essentially creating a database, allowing for the ability to conduct comparisons in future environmental studies. The images are to be printed on an archival medium such as specially coated aluminum sheets for exhibition. Image and reading files will also be stored digitally in a repository for future study.

Along with the images that would be obtained, other data would be gathered. This data would come from sensors added to the rig. Examples of other types of data that we have gathered include dissolved oxygen, temperature, Nitrate, Nitrite, among others. These would then be encoded into the label for each image. The idea for “encoding” the title with the data is a nod to On Kawara’s methods of titling his work in the “Today” series.


Thomas Asmuth is an Assistant Professor at the University of West Florida where he teaches courses in digital media. He received a bachelor’s of arts degree from San Francisco Art Institute and a master’s degree in digital media at San Jose State University.

An advocate of transdisciplinary collaboration, he often involves other artists, engineers and scientists in his work. He is collaborating with artists and environmental scientists on “Turbidity Paintings,” a project funded by the Florida Research Fellowship. Asmuth and his team presented their work at the International Symposium on Electronic Art 2016 in Hong Kong.


Sara Gevurtz is an Instructor at Virginia Commonwealth University. Gevurtz received a MFA in Digital Media Art from San Jose State University.  She received her bachelor’s degree in biology. Her artistic research focuses on ecological and environmental issues.

Gevurtz has shown work and published nationally and internationally, including an article in the journal Plastik Art & Science by the Pantheon-Sorbonne University, “Paris 1” in 2013. Currently, she is working with both artists and scientists on a project using submersibles to collect images and data on water quality. This project was presented at an artist talk at ISEA2016 in Hong Kong.

Balance-Unbalance 2017

Balance-Unbalance (BunB)
is an International Conference designed to use art as a catalyst to explore intersections between NATURE, SCIENCE, TECHNOLOGY and SOCIETY as we move into an era of both unprecedented ecological threats and transdisciplinary possibilities.

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