Bridging the ‘two cultures’ divide

Artist, animator and researcher, Lisa Roberts, reflects on the importance of art-science collaborations in communicating Antarctic science.

There is an urgent need to connect more people to Antarctic science. Many stories I hear from Antarctic scientists relate to global climate change and these stories affect everyone. Many artists I meet express a compulsion to know and interpret the stories. These important stories need to be told often, in many ways, and made accessible to the public.

At the Antarctic Visions conference, many artists presented works that connect people to Antarctic science with high dramatic impact: Kirsten Haydon’s jewellery, the results of ‘Exploring Antarctica through making’; Judit Hersko’s performance narrative, ‘Unknown explorer’ (herself as artist-explorer); and Claire Beynon’s films and art works that reflect ‘Hidden depths: poetry for science’.

I presented animations and art works I had made as part of a PhD project, ‘Antarctic animation: expanding perceptions with gesture and line’. The animations combine scientific data and subjective responses to Antarctica, to communicate accurate climate change information. The art works in various media reflect key ideas in the animations.

The animations were made from information contributed by scientists, artists and other Antarctic observers. Key contributors included scientists Steve Nicol and Rupert Summerson, who also spoke at the conference. I had heard Steve's story of first encountering live krill, and Rupert's response to inland Antarctica in the form of improvised music, during the Imagining Antarctica conference in 2008. Their responses are combined with data sets in my animation Energies and work to connect people to climate change information at a sensory level.

The connections I made with people during Antarctic Visions have led to two unexpected ventures. First, to develop a proposal with other artists to communicate data that will be collected from the Antarctic sea ice zone in 2012; and second, to co-author a scientific paper, as an animator, about krill sex!

The second venture arose after I visited the Australian Antarctic Division and watched video footage of a new observation of Antarctic krill mating. Their circling, spiralling, crossing dance inspires me to animate. But what are the krill actually doing? Weeks later I received an invitation from So Kawaguchi, lead Antarctic Division krill scientist, to co-author a paper about the observation. As he explains krill anatomy and theories about krill mating, I make drawings to add to the paper. These may help to reconcile theories with observations. My next challenge is to make a beautiful animation of the mating dance. Moving pictures that appeal to the senses have a chance of connecting more people to science.