UTS Art and Science on environmental sustainability
An exhibition of artworks that express understandings of scientific data were showcased at the opening night of the 2017 Australian Society of Limnology Conference last week.
The Living Data exhibition displayed works presenting data relating to the study of freshwater in many forms including photography, painting, animation, and sound installation.
“The exhibition reflects a growing interest among artists and scientists to collaborate together because there’s lots of issues in today’s world that are environmental crises that both artists and scientists are interested in contributing to,” said Professor Bill Gladstone, marine biologist and interim Dean of the Faculty of Science.
“The combination of the artistic approach and the scientific approach appeals to the intellectual and the emotional responses that people can have.”
The exhibition was initiated by scientist and conference convenor, Claire Stives from UNSW and is also the result of the ongoing collaboration between UTS Scientists and Dr Lisa Roberts, artist in residence at the Faculty of Science. Dr Roberts joined the Faculty after completing her PhD at UNSW in 2010.
She now leads the Living Data program for artists and scientists to share knowledge about the natural world through public conversations, presentations and workshops and research.
“When it comes to problem-solving, either as scientists or artists, we collect evidence and then find ways of presenting that evidence that makes sense to other people,” Dr Roberts said.
“Scientists must present their evidence in a language that’s clearly understood by other scientists, whereas as artists we can present our findings in myriad ways, to appeal to people with different ways of understanding.”
The exhibition was also an opportunity for cultural expression by Aboriginal artists who used scientific data as a tool for storytelling. Artists contributing to the exhibition included students and teachers from the Eora College and the Victorian College of Art.
“Our culture has been around for thousands of years but it’s not stagnant, it is ongoing,” said Chico Monks, Aboriginal artist and teacher at the Eora College.
“Culture can be a very universal thing because of access to information these days – it’s all around us and within us.”
One installation, a collaborative work between Dr Roberts, and artists from the Eora College titled Watch out: Data and Spirit warning consisted of a door taken from previous UTS Science offices with painting, animation, data projection and 3D elements on its surface.
“Lisa took on information and presented that on the door, then allowed students to contribute any sort of work that had a relationship with freshwater. That’s the basis of the knowledge on the door,” said Mr Monks.
“In Aboriginal community, we’re all teachers. We sit on the same plateau and we share information. You never own information, it’s a collaborative thing.”
Another work titled Data Lens, a collaboration by Bill Gladstone and Lisa Roberts, is described as a metaphor for pooling knowledge gleaned from art and science.
“Artists and scientists work in very similar ways even though our products may be very different,” said Professor Gladstone.
The creative process that an artist goes through to create a work of art is the same intellectual creativity and process that a scientist goes through that leads to discoveries, so it’s a natural collaboration for us to work together.
“Answers don’t come overnight, it’s an ongoing conversation about how important it is to sustain our natural environment and what we can do about it,” added Mr Monks.
“I think that the conversation is going to go on a lot stronger from now on.”