Awareness and Digital Art: Using Technology to Foster Sustainability

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The artist Naziha Mestaoui is fighting for the environment through culture and technology with digital projects that seek to positively impact the population.

“The future is the one we create.” The Belgian artist and architect Naziha Mestaoui is unwavering in this belief and, for this reason, she is trying to call people´s attention to our environment through her work. One of her primary concerns is deforestation: since 1990, over 129 million hectares of forest have been lost (an extension almost the size of South Africa), according to the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) of the United Nation’s 2015 Global Forest Resources Assessment. Mestaoui has put her heart into raising consciousness and helping to reverse this situation.

One Heart, One Tree is the project the artist revealed to the world during the 2015 United Nations Conference on Climate Change (COP21), celebrated in Paris (France). This initiative, which was followed by over 1.3 million people, allowed anyone to plant a virtual tree through a smartphone application. The app gathered the user´s heartbeat which in turn gave life to a virtual tree, which was then projected onto the Eiffel Tower, along with a message written by the user, where it then grew to the rhythm of the user´s recorded heartbeat.

The project was not limited, however, to digital projections – it also aspired to generate real impact in the fight against deforestation: for every virtual tree projected, a tree will be planted through reforestation initiatives on all five continents in which the artist participated thanks to the donations made by participants.  Today, the number of trees to be planted has climbed to 53,428 and the program is being supported by ambassadors like the Oscar award winning actress Marion Cotillard and the Amazonian tribal chief Benki Piyako.

“I wanted  to create works that combine art, technology and humanity to show that we are not just totally interconnected with nature, but actually a part of it,” says Mestaoui, who believes it is possible to achieve reconciliation between humans and nature, and for us to once again feel in synch with nature thanks to digital art. These ideas stem from the artist´s travels to aboriginal villages in the Amazons, India and Oman.  

The artist, a pioneer of digital art, is widely recognized as one of the creators of 3D video mapping in real time, a patented technique which combines physical and tangible experiences with an immaterial world. In addition to transforming the most emblematic Parisian monument into a virtual forest, Mestaoui has applied the same technique to other projects. She founded her own company, Electronic Shadow, where she has explored immersive and interactive settings.  Her work has also been displayed at the MOMA in New York (US), the Georges Pompidou Center in Paris and the Tokyo Metropolitan Museum of Photography in Japan. “Everything is possible; we can do anything with our technologies and give them new, unexpected uses.”

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