Living Data Lab meeting

Artists and scientists talk about how pigments are produced in phytoplankton.

Artists and scientists talk about how pigments are produced in phytoplankton .

Scientists Kirrallee Baker and Arjun Verma talk with artists Leanne Thompson, Catherine Nolan, Caterina Mocciola, me, and designer and curator Anita Marosszeky. On the table is a model I made with Kirralee, of the phytoplankton Ditylum brighwellii. We made it with discarded culture flasks she used to cultivate these organisms. Ditylum brighwellii is a eukaryotic cell.

Kirralee and Arjun explain how pigments are expensive for phtyoplankton to produce and how the colours of their parts reflect their different functions. See excerpt of video record.

Arjun describes an exhibit he is planning to make with cultures, of a series of filter papers to visualise an algal bloom. The group suggests ways to give context to the series such as through graphs, and photos of satellite, microscopic and human views.

Leanne explains her concept for an evolving installation that invites and displays responses to the exhibition. Her aim is to show how the exhibition impacts on people, and over time expresses a groundswell of engagement. Kirralee suggests tracing paper be used to signify transparency of our research process. Through discussion with the group a design is sketched that serves both as art work and data visualisation.

Anita leads discussion about mapping the Tower building exhibition space with Living Data exhibits and announces our agreement to produce a publication to document the Living Data research journey.

Anita proposes clear acrylic boxes to contain models of phytoplankton forms for the Understand-a-scope installation proposed for the UTS Library lightwell. Her idea first arose from the need to easily clean and change the models we propose to suspend in the space. Kirralee and I recognise the connection to Justin Seymour’s scientific model used to compare oceanic communities at vast and minute scales:

Justin Seymor. Model designed to study how 'microbes control the chemistry of the ocean ultimately influences the planet’s climate'.

Justin Seymour. Model designed to study how ‘microbes control the chemistry of the ocean ultimately influences the planet’s climate’.

Read more at UTS Newsroom. Kiralee then suggests that numbers and abundances of species may be represented in each box and that further information about variations in these factors could be attached to box surfaces. Suddenly in our minds a protective box becomes an integral component of a model of a scientific model!

When I say that Living Data exhibitions aim to offer a sense of connectivity to a greater whole, Kirralee notes that temperature is a dominant theme in all our work. She suggests we look at visualising land as well as oceanic responses to global warming and temperature variability. We identify UTS scientists who may who have data we can combine to reveal patterns hitherto unseen. Will their combined data sets reveal similarities in how marine and terrestrial systems respond to global warming?

Caterina explains how her dance practice of contact improvisation embodies connectivity between people as well as environments they move through and the challenges of working in isolation. I agree and share my feelings of isolation and despair which I attributed to thinking so much about climate change. Kirralee acknowledges those feelings but says she feels uplifted by her knowledge of how the phytoplankton she is studying adapts to rising temperatures. As she explains in her 2013 conversation with Simon Pockley, some phytoplankton will survive despite what humans do. This opens up discussion about the vanity of humans in privileging our selves above all other life forms. I wonder if my feelings of despair come when personal vanity intrudes into a deeper (uplifting) knowledge of my self as part of a greater whole. I find Kirralee’s expression of understanding of connection through science uplifting. It is also uplifting to openly share feelings as well as logical explanations.

Kirralee and Arjun explain how as scientists they do not work in isolation, but as parts of a global push to understand how the world works and is changing.

About Lisa Roberts

Project leader
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2 Responses to Living Data Lab meeting

  1. Lisa Roberts says:

    Yes to opening up to opportunities to contribute to sustainable living with our selves, each other and with the world. And yes to feeling good about the small part we can play in that tremendous process!

  2. I wonder, is the activity within a drop of seawater random and chaotic, or rhythmic? If anyone knows the answer to this, I would love to hear it, as I am very interested in rhythms.

    What stuck with me about what I heard Caterina saying yesterday is that she is also looking at lack of connectivity, and what happens in its absence, which sounds like a new direction for her. I felt moved by her words, because connection and lack of connection is fundamental to being human, but can be easily overlooked. And yet many of our biggest pains in life come from lack of connection, be it the end of a connection with a beloved, or being able to ignore important information (like climate change) and not act on it. I also imagine connection is crucial to science. Without making the right connections while designing an experiment, a valuable idea may not be able to be proved …

    The roots of the sadness that I have felt, thinking about climate change are complex, and what helped me open to a wider perspective (which both honoured the feelings, and allowed me to get unstuck) is noticing that a sort of god complex can arise. We feel that we have to save the world from disaster, or… But of course no one person can be responsible for that act, and if they were, it would rob everyone else of their own power to bring about change, which I see very much as inside job, a personal journey. I realised I don’t want to be saved by someone else, but I love the idea of people partnering, sharing their strengths and seeing change arise out of that. Idealistic … most probably. But this tiger cannot change her stripes :).

    I think a realistic way that can support mass change is good Government policy (look at how effective seatbelt-wearing, drink-driving and anti-smoking campaigns have been), but that subject is out of the scope of this comment.

    I too, love the idea that scientists are now coming together to share data and grants and ideas. How paradoxical that this new development seems to have arisen from decreasing Government expenditure on science, which is generally seen as a bad thing. It brings to mind the idea that something that looks negative can actually be positive.