Creative process and climate science

Eveline Kolijn. Breath of Life

Eveline Kolijn. Breath of Life

Eveline Kolijn writes:

Dear Lisa and collaborators,

Thank you for including me in your discussion. I feel I am on another planet, living in land-locked Alberta, Canada, and surrounded by many climate change denying politicians and the polluting oil-sands. It pains me, that the current prime minister from Canada, Stephen Harper, is some sort of mentor for the Prime Minister of Australia, Tony Abbott. I disagree with their views and policies bent on muzzling climate change research. Therefore I found it heartening to read an opinion in my national newspaper, The Globe and Mail today from the former chief statistician of Canada, that it is an economic fallacy that carbon taxes are detrimental to an economy. I am quite convinced that you would like to keep politics out of the discussions, but it is a short and easy to read essay and handy to know.

I do have a question: I am aware that my perception of topics in the arts in Australia is quite limited. How does climate change feature in the arts in general in Australia?

Although there are quite a few artists in Canada that explore the topic of climate change (for instance Lorraine Beaulieu), it is not a very dominant theme at all. The urban environment and personal topics such as memory or gender issues is much more common and also seems to be considered more cutting edge by many curators. Canadian wilderness is a traditional topic as well, but an old-fashioned romantic version, devoid of environmental issues. Even though Canada borders three oceans (Atlantic, Arctic and Pacific), I find the topic of ocean science even more obscure. Living in this land-locked province, it is very obvious that the oceans are not on people’s minds. What happens in the oceans is far away. What starts to trickle down to some degree is the issue of plastic pollution in the oceans.

To increase awareness that the oceans do matter, I am planning to link my new project on breath, lungs and lung-cancer with art-pieces on diatoms, such as the Ocean Veil and Luminous Specimens. Juxtaposing a topic like lung cancer with marine biology, may trigger curiosity to find out why and what I am combining. Here in Canada, we perceive our forest as the “lungs of the Earth”, but we need to know the oceans are the “lungs of the Earth” too. I hope that my art-pieces make people notice and become aware of this fact. The art is there to be publicly noticed. The information follows from the science.

I am an artist who shares the delight of a scientist in figuring out how organisms connect, operate, are formed, and develop in an environment. Even terrible things can be interesting. Looking at images of lung tumors, I was struck by the cauliflower type shape of them. Googling “fractals and cancer”, I discovered this is a known fact in the science community, and that calculating the fractality of tumor cells can help determine how aggressive a cancer is. As an artist, you can visualize and bring these topics to a general public. Science is so often perceived as “too difficult to understand”. Art can be a bridge in this discussion.

I finally want to add, that a growing important voice in the climate debate and the use of Canada’s natural resources is coming from our aboriginal First Nations people. Pipelines and exploration of natural resources have been blocked or changed on treaty lands. The worldview of the First Nations is different from our “Western” one; and also different from maybe a scientist’s point of view. However, it is surprising how they do meet sometimes. It is interesting to consider indigenous voices in this debate. Learning values from other cultures is essential.

Thank you for reading some of my observations, which were spontaneously triggered by Lisa’s invitation. I hope that this instalment of Living Data will be exciting and successful.

Kind regards, Eveline Kolijn

About Lisa Roberts

Project leader
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2 Responses to Creative process and climate science

  1. I agree, it is disheartening that a few current ‘leaders’ are turning away from science, and in so doing, are losing their only chance to engage with the data of climate change. That the decision is driven soley by economics is flabbergasting. One word keeps entering the debate, and the use of it allows certain people to cleave to their ignorant view. That word is ‘belief.’ If you turn away from science, then all you have to do is have belief. Belief that you are right. Belief that nothing has to change. Belief that it will all sort itself out … somehow. What else could you have but belief, if you think (in the case of our Government) that science is so unimportant that you don’t need a science minister and you refuse to engage with climate change science, in order to make up your own mind about the state of things? Who needs facts when they have belief (or blind faith as it’s also known)?

    I too find that in Australia, art which engages with climate change is not dominant, but it does exist, A recent example is Fiona Hall at RoslynOxley9: At this stage in Australia it seems that artistic interest in climate change is only a niche area, which perhaps reflects wider community disengagement. When I speak to people about it, climate change is generally seen as something that is too big to look at head on, and an air of helplessness quickly sets in, as people say, ‘what can I do? I’m only one person…’ Having said that, I think there is growing interest among artists in engaging with this subject.

    I agree that generally, people seem to think of the world above the water when they think of climate change. Perhaps it is because the ocean is simply too foreign, unless you have experienced it first-hand, for example, when diving. One of the things I have really enjoyed about being part of Living Data this year has been learning just how important the health of the oceans and its myriad of inhabitants, from the microbes to the minkes, is to the health of the planet overall.

  2. Lisa Roberts says:

    Hi Eveline,

    I can’t separate politics from this conversation and suspect that our drive to inspire concern for the natural world is shared by more artists in Australia since Abbot was voted in as Prime Minister. There’s nothing like outrage to inspire art!

    There are artists in Australia whose work expresses environmental concerns but I don’t see much in mainstream commercial galleries, nor in government funded galleries such as those in universities. However things are changing as artists and curators recognise the need for change. Cape Farewell, Sur Polar, Lynchpin and Living Data are nodes within a growing network. A significant node in Australia is Climarte, founded by Guy Abrahams. For me it is significant as a model of change in mainstream thinking. Guy used to be a lawyer. His mother was Christine Abrahams whose gallery in Melbourne was famous for challenging the status quo. It seems Guy quit law, inspired in part by his mother, to galvanize change in perception through the arts.

    Sydney’s commercial and academic Galleries also seem to favour the common themes of “the urban environment and personal topics such as memory or gender issues”. But I am hopeful that as artists are inspired by such work as yours, that they will look beyond themselves and take a stand on the environment.

    My hunch is that when people see the beauty as well as the truth in art, they will think as well as feel, and understand the consequences of everyday collective actions, like throwing out plastic.