The current environmental crisis has transformed the relationship between the artist and nature, producing a type of art that advocates for the protection of the environment and our natural wealth. In recent years, we are witnessing a multitude of environmental disasters and, in this scenario, art is postulated as one of the main supports to demonstrate this problem, as well as to generate awareness among society. The work of ecological artist Thijs Biersteker presents subjects that highlight environmental emergencies such as air pollution, climate change or the collapse of the ecosystem, transforming scientific data into feelings that stir the viewer's consciousness.
His work, backed by world-renowned specialised scientists and organisations, forms a perfect combination of science and technology. Through the use of organic and digital materials, data, sensors, trees, kinetic movement, big data and recycled plastics, Biersteker creates large interactive sculptures that simulate the behaviour of plant beings through communicative experiences that are easily accessible both intellectually and technologically.

With his work Wither, currently shown at Barbican Centre in London as part of the exhibition Our Time On Earth, Biersteker produces a digital rainforest to show the acceleration of deforestation in the Amazon. In Econtinuum, soon to be seen at Le Pavillon Namur in Belgium, he collaborates with the pioneer expert in plant neurobiology Stefano Mancuso to show the communication between plant organisms through the use of sensors.

His last work released, MB>CO2 is another awareness piece in which Biersteker reveals the real damage of our Internet data translated into puffs of CO2 that are blown into a living biotope. Trying to prove that it is about time that we become conscious of the climate disaster that creeps up on us.
Thijs Biersteker Metalmagazine 1.jpg
First of all, how would you describe yourself to our readers?
I’m Thijs Biersteker, father to my daughter Vosse and ecological artist. Together with Marlies, my girlfriend, we live a part of our time in a small town outside Amsterdam and we escape into nature as much as possible in our old Volkswagen van from 1973.
When I’m not working with the team in my studio talking about the impact on nature we have as humans, I like to go into nature as much as possible, going for long hikes and surfing small Dutch waves.
How would you describe your work and what would you like to achieve with it?
As an ecological artist, I work together with environmental scientists to communicate the facts that they uncover about the climate crisis through interactive art installations that make you feel those facts again.
In my work, I fluidly mix the hard climate data and the aesthetics of art together to create an accessible understanding of what lies ahead in the years to come.
Wither, a seven-metre hanging rainforest-like work, is currently part of the collective exhibition at the Barbican Centre Our Time on Earth. This work shows us abstract deforestation data, putting in front of us the climate emergency and the importance of living more sustainably. What stage of awareness do you think we are at? And, according to yourself, how useful can the arts be in this matter?
In this world where science is uncovering overwhelming big impact, we think art has the power to make the complex challenges small and relatable and in doing so help us understand the bigger picture again. My work connects the factual and the emotional parts of the brain. By connecting the two I believe we have a higher chance of action. Something that is needed right now.
Thijs Biersteker Metalmagazine 5.jpg
Wither was created in collaboration with Unesco showing their deforestation data at a real rate making the leaves transparent and visible. Every leaf that becomes transparent marks the loss of one hundred and twenty-eight square metres of rainforest, six hundred and forty-one square metres each second. Can you tell us more about the functioning of this installation?
When you approach the work, you can already hear the clicking sounds of the leaves turning on and off. It gives you this sense of urgency when you can see the leaves disappearing. In the beginning, the work is aesthetically enticing, but once you read the line next to it, that every leaf marks the loss of one hundred and twenty-eight square metres of rainforest, the whole piece gets a deeper and more impactful meaning.
Working with Unesco has been amazing, their data team is providing us with updated deforestation data about the Amazon Basin in Brazil. The work breaks down the weekly deforestation data into seconds and devices per leaf. It turns that data stream about the hidden cutting down of rainforest deep in the Amazon jungle into a slice of rainforest disappearing right in front of you.
Another of your beautiful pieces Ecotinuum, is shown in Le Pavillon de Namur in Belgium from June 18, as part of the collective exhibition Biotopia. For this work, you worked with biologist Stefano Mancuso, known for his research on plants' symbiotic relationships. How do you choose your collaborations? Is there any scientist or researcher you look forward to working with?
I’m so in love with this work, as it is always surprising to me when I see it back again. As the work is controlled by sensors, feeding into algorithms that recreate how trees are talking to each other underground, the work changes every moment, creating new patterns and reactions to its environment. Working with Unesco, European Space Agency and Stefano is great and I would love to work with more scientists in the field of re-generation.
Your latest installation, MB>CO2, visualises in real-time how our data usage destroys the planet. The idea of this work came up after the exaggerated use of the internet in pandemic times. What was the melting point that made you realise that this work needed to be created?
I must confess something. When we started working on the artwork I did not know that the impact of our online behaviour was this big. After doing a bit of research, I realised that there were a lot of studies being done, but they were not reaching the public. That’s something that I encounter on a regular basis, and it is what motivates me. If research does not reach us, then how can it teach us?
It was during the beginning of the pandemic when we started to work on MB>CO2 at Woven Studio. In this fragile and insecure time during the pandemic everyone, including myself, was overwhelmed by it and adding the last push by shaming our internet usage was too much, so I started to avoid working on it. Sometimes working on topics like these becomes too confrontational, even for myself, but now that Covid is slowing down it's time to focus on what matters most: our planet.
Thijs Biersteker Metalmagazine 11.jpg
We must admit that most of us are still very unconscious of the cost of our internet-related actions. According to you, what could we do to reduce our carbon footprint in our everyday usage of the Internet?
It is simple. Use green energy in your house and don't send big email attachments. I think this is one of those things on which we, normal humans, can still have an impact.
We are entering a fifth industrial revolution with a period of technological progress led by Blockchain, Web3, cryptocurrencies and NFTs in the art world. How do you think this progress is going to coexist with a CO2-free environment?
It does not, the data centres, machines, everything needs energy and that is mostly coal-powered. What is laughable are coins and NFT initiatives that are ‘more’ environmentally friendly or plant trees that are acknowledging the problem and distracting from the solution. This is the second industrial revolution behaviour. The same thing that you see at greenwashing companies.
What’s your next crusade?
We have been leading in the field of sustainability in art production here at Woven studio, creating material passports and choosing sustainable and recyclable materials. We are building this out to start helping others in the next few years. We also have four works coming up talking about water and its impact, water in trees and mycelium communication.  Another work we are developing here is about re-generation of forests. I guess we need to balance out the negative environmental impact we have and the hope that nature will flourish.
Thijs Biersteker Metalmagazine 14.jpg
Thijs Biersteker Metalmagazine 4.jpg
Thijs Biersteker Metalmagazine 10.tif.jpg