Can Art Make Science More Accessible?

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Edward James Salisbury’s glass plate of Blakeney Point.

While exploring the journey that is Chrystel Lebas’ exhibit, Regarding Nature, one might observe the beautifully shot photographs of a land at twilight. However, upon deeper examination, the viewer discovers a more powerful meaning than pure aesthetic. A message is being conveyed here—one that could possibly spark a social change.

Chrystel and Kath Castillo, a field biologist at the Natural History Museum, collaborated on a project looking at landscapes from anonymous glass plates of Scottish Highlands and other British flora from the early 20th century. What they soon found out was that the plates belonged to famous botanist and ecologist, Edward James Salisbury.

Chrystel Lebas’ present-day shot of Blakeney Point.

Lebas and Castillo set out to track down these areas to recreate Salisbury’s photographs. They found the areas he went to, and took these photos to investigate ecological change from then to now. Many of the landscapes were spot on, however some species of plants had gone missing from the areas. This was especially prominent in the salt marshes at Blakeney Point in East Anglia.

In an informational video put out by the NHM, curator Dr. Mark Spencer stated, “Blakeney is an incredibly important site because of its shingle, sand dunes, salt marsh and mud flat communities. These are highly dynamic and come and go very quickly. Under climate change models they’re expected to change even more.”

Salisbury’s photograph of Loch Long from Glen Loin.

The photographs taken are visually stunning, and although Lebas took the scientific recordings of Salisbury and turned it into something beautiful, there is still a bit of a double entedre in her work. She is both observing the beauty of nature, especially at the time of twilight, which is a common theme in the collection; and clearly laying out proof of human-wrought and natural ecological change. Whether it be the development of roads and highways that diminished a forest or the amount of water disappearing due to exorbitant usage in developed countries. There is visual proof.

Artist and passionate environmentalist, Lilian Cooper described how the collection of photos intertwined evokes a message of safeguarding these disappearing pockets of the world,

Lebas’ image of Loch Long from Glen Loin.

“In recognizing the delicacy of our landscapes it subtly conveys the message that these are threatened, beautiful spaces that need to be looked after. Suddenly these places become part of our own experiencing and the connection strengthens the collective desire to protect these places.”

This explores an interesting proposition: why not use art forms to communicate to people? Especially due to the fact that it concerns such an important subject matter. Art makes a statement. It can and should be used to inform and possibly create change.

“Art can be of use to convey complex messages to a lay audience,” explains climate change expert and professor in environmental studies at the University of Geneva, Martin Beniston. He continued,

“One of the more obvious examples are the paintings of mountain glaciers in the 18th and 19th Centuries, that can be compared to today’s world via photographs or contemporary paintings; this provides testimony to the large changes that have taken place in mountain snow and ice, essentially related to a warming climate. Just one example among many others that help people see what is taking place without necessarily becoming experts in climate science.”

Painting of a glacier in the French Alps between 1850 and 1860.

Photograph of the same location from 1966.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The value in this undertaking of science and transforming it into art and vice versa proves to be a useful tool in the education of these concepts that may be hard to follow. Climate change is not always the easiest thing to understand to the common person. There’s the aspect of time, and how slow this process seems to be that causes people to have doubts and struggle to believe in it’s truth. It is also generally a dense subject matter. For one to truly be informed of climate change, much research must go into it. Studies and diagrams must be observed, and it can bore or fly over the heads of the uninformed majority. By using art, one can explain these issues much more clearly to the general public.

This is a pressing issue on human livelihood. Whether people choose to accept it or not, climate change is occurring and it will affect human life now and for generations to come.

Re-visiting – Pinus silvestris. Chrystal Lebas.

These claims are definitely supported; Professor Beniston also explains this impact on our daily lives,

“Because many of these changes are related to individual or collective behavior – particularly as consumers – that all have an influence on the resources (energy, food, water, etc.) that are needed to maintain current standards of living. Over-exploitation of resources leads to environmental degradation, pollution, greenhouse-gas emissions, and increased cleavages between the rich and the poor.”

The accessibility of these facts are necessary to be a well informed human being. The earth is our home, and what we do to it certainly does affect everyone in the long run. Seeing these issues presented in a visual way is a step in the right direction in educating people about the results of climate change. This, along with other works will hopefully encourage those who may have not been able to understand the effects of climate change; and also, inspire a change in their relationship with the environment.

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