In exhibitions, artwork is often contextualized within the artist’s life. Understanding the personal motivations of the artist is often necessary to understand their work. However, we rarely know anything about the scientists behind a study. We understand the motivations of the project, but not their personal motivations, or what they went through at different stages of the project. This is because we can understand the results and conclusions of a scientific study without necessarily learning about the people behind the numbers.
This is something that Julia Buntaine Hoel (SciArt Initiative’s Founding Executive Director, who has been guiding Tali and I these weeks) mentioned after our last conversation; and it is something I have been thinking about since then. Anyone with my same interest for understanding how vulnerable lakes are to changing climate could have produced a similar research work. But even if their results were comparable to mines and the conclusions of their studies were the same, we all have our preferences and styles, and that is also imprinted in scientific studies.
My interest in science communication grows as I learn from this collaboration. In the figure above (inspired by Tali’s work and the Warming stripes), each stripe represents the quantity, quality, and source of organic compounds of each one of the 71 lakes in central Ontario that conform my study. However, Tali’s work does not simply represent data. Through Tali’s creation process, data is organized, and natural patterns in the data bend and merge with her experiences and the decisions she makes as colors and shapes appear in the preliminary sketches and the computer simulations, elevated by the format of the artwork, the materials, and the techniques used in the process; by the number of pieces in an exhibition, and their arrangement to narrate the story behind them. My figure is missing more dimensions: my own experience (and those who I work with) while in the field, the quietness of the boat slowly drifting while we collect the samples, the changes in weather that inevitably changed our mood, an excited text message from those in the lab who are analyzing the samples from the day before as we drive to the next lake, the feeling of cool water on our hands on a hot August day, and the temporary relief of our cold hands in the lake water (warmer than the air) on a windy day in early October; the people who approach us while we launch our boat to ask about our work, and the people we approach when we want to learn more about them and the lake they live on; that gentleman who invited us into his property to access the lake while his grandsons where camping at the lake shore, and that group of three couples who waved at us hoping that our small aluminum boat could tow their ginormous vessel back to their cottage...
Is science more powerful when there is a narrator attached to it? What if we learned about the people behind the science, or the people who are interested in creating awareness? Is this key to release academic knowledge from University settings and incorporate it to traditional knowledge? Is this key to make a change?
Change makers: Taraji P. Henson and Katherine Johnson (left), Jane Goodall (center), Greta Thunberg (right).
A couple of weeks ago, Tali wrote about commonalities in our work. She concluded that our work is shaped by constraints, and that it is all about the relationships. I have been thinking about these as guidelines to SciArt collaborations (from our personal experience). If these really are guidelines (or considerations) to collaborative work, then we should add a third point to the list: dimensionality. SciArt collaborations should also aim to integrate facts and perceptions (and all the nuances from these relationships) to boost the impact of the product and inspire change.