Green Tease Reflections: Understanding Climate Complexity

26th November 2020

Photo of a flooded road. Text reads: Understanding Climate Complexity: Science through Art.

18th November 2020. This Green Tease was organised in collaboration with Blue Action, a research project looking into impacts of arctic warming on European climate and weather. The event brought together artists and researchers for presentations and discussion on how the arts and scientists can collaborate.

The event commenced with an introduction from Dr Hannah Grist from Blue Action, in which she outlined the aims of the Blue Action project, discussed the issues with effectively communicating climate change science, and suggested some ways that artistic approaches could help overcome these barriers. She discussed how data can be off-putting or fail to communicate to certain audiences, how effective imagery can make abstract-feeling issues more graspable, and offered examples of creativity coming from scientists.

Presentations

This was followed by 10-minute presentations from our three speakers:

  • Dr Iuliia Polkova, research scientist based at the Institute of Oceanography at the University of Hamburg, discussed barriers to public understanding of her own research and alternative methods she has used to reach people. She talked about how methods that feel clear to scientists may be unintentionally unclear to others and the need to make results more tangible by displaying them in different forms such as images or film. Presentation slides.
  • Dr Tom Corby, artist, writer and teacher, presented on his co-created artworks, which respond to and visualise climate data in various ways, and discussed issues in arts-science collaboration. He mentioned ‘Carbon Topologies’, which visualised carbon emissions data, and ‘Little Earths’, which provided a tactile means of experiencing Earth’s fragility. He emphasised the importance of finding new forms of transdisciplinary collaboration as a response to the unprecedented context of climate emergency.  Presentation slides.
  • Dr Martin Coath, scientist, science communicator and musician, offered a detailed look at how collaborations work and the complexities around developing shared goals and understanding. He systematically led us through the elements of collaboration, aiming to make explicit the ‘basic’ elements of this that often go unspoken. Presentation slides

Hannah’s introduction and the three presentations are available as a video below.

Discussion

The presentations were followed by group discussion time. Each group was provided with an imaginary ‘project brief‘ inviting them to collaborate on specific goals, such as finding new ways of conceptualising climate data, or on reaching particular audiences, such as rural coastal communities. Points that came out of these group discussions included:

Thoughts on arts-science collaborations

  • Long-term thinking is vital: arts-led approaches may take a while to reveal their value in that they often focus on how people think and feel
  • Data maps sensory information about the climate and then abstracts it; artists can close the circle by bringing it back to the world in physical and sensory forms
  • People have to be ready to adapt to change- through necessity, or through moving to that mental space. The role of the artist in this is to set the context. Art can only ever be a catalyst for what is happening
  • We need to overcome our fear of not being able to understand and discuss each others work, avoid feeling intimidated in order to allow ease of conversation and develop understanding
  • Important to develop a shared language, avoiding jargon or ‘loaded’ words

Thoughts on ‘Audiences’

  • The importance of not oversimplifying the ‘audience’ of your work or having too many preconceptions about what will interest them
  • Some attendees questioned the usefulness of taking audiences as a starting point at all, arguing that this will always be too simplistic
  • Work should be community led or developed in communication with communities to avoid it being merely imposed from the outside
  • Valuing the ‘expertise’ of audiences that research is targeting as well as the expertise of researchers
  • The importance of reaching different demographics and not just those who tend to most often engage with the arts
  • Audiences can be creative participants as well as ‘observers’ or ‘subjects’

Thoughts on Methods

  • Certain kinds of artistic practice are effective for mediating between or connecting different communities, providing space for meaningful discussion without being confrontational
  • The ‘messenger’ matters: work with existing groups or organisations to build trust
  • Taking art work and communication into public spaces rather than expecting people to come to you
  • You don’t need to communicate everything to everyone – important to tailor the message
  • Emotional aspect is really important- need to not fall into despair or too much hope
  • Providing a common experience of frame of reference through the arts that makes people more receptive or open to conversation
  • The process can be as important as the outcomes, developing a space for conversation can be helpful regardless of what is discussed

Next Steps

Hannah rounded off the session by outlining plans to work with an artist over an extended period on a future project promoting engagement with the work of Blue Action. She encouraged artists to register interest in this, with further information being available very soon. A number of participants also expressed interest in future forums for discussion between artists and scientists. Many of the conversations had only just begun with plenty more to be discussed. Further information is available on the Blue Action website or via the Blue Action twitter account.


About Green Tease

grey oblique lines growing darker, then a green line with an arrow pointing right and overlaid text reading 'culture SHIFT'This event is taking place as part of the Green Tease events series and network, a project organised by Creative Carbon Scotland, bringing together people from arts and environmental backgrounds to discuss, share expertise, and collaborate. Green Tease forms part of our culture/SHIFT programme. 

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