Collaborators: Emeritus Professor Libby Robin & Professor Anthony Jakeman, Fenner School of Environment and Society, ANU College of Science
It is not necessary to search for the intersection between art and science because, since Leonardo da Vinci at least, it is already there. Today, there are too many divisions and too many specializations. Speaking in terms of my interest, perspective, it is like differentiating between fish-eye lens and a microscope, or the Hubble telescope: extreme comparisons obscure the common ground.
The insight I gained into the Fenner School was and is touching for me: this school is humble, persistent and the research builds on hope. At first I thought art couldn’t add anything the Fenner School’s work with the ‘real world.’ Then I read Cameron Muir’s 2019 report about seabirds and plastic pollution at Lord Howe Island. Ghost species and shadow places.
Knowledge about the suffering and death of seabirds from plastic waste has existed since the 1960s. But this story touched me deeply. Cameron’s report gets under your skin; it is art that has found its way into science. I was there on Lord Howe Island, meeting the researchers and picking the birds up with my hands. A small wave in the nervous system of the reader becomes bigger and bigger, and one day will lead to actions and change. That is the potential of art and science united.
My affiliation with the Fenner School opened up new topics for me and in my visual work these are just beginning to find forms worthy of this knowledge. The Fenner School is about reality and hope and the researchers there are deeply interested in the world we live in.
Claudia Chaseling was awarded a PhD in the School of Art & Design, ANU, in 2019. She works as an artist in Berlin and Canberra. Claudia Chaseling created a site specific work for the Higher Degree Research Meeting Room, Fenner School of Environment & Society, Australian National University.
Dr Deirdre Feeney
Collaborator: Dr Geoff Campbell, Department of Quantum Science, Research School of Physics, ANU College of Science
I have always been curious about how glass, when shaped and polished in a particular way, uncannily transports an image of an object across space and time. After beginning to investigate optics and the transfer of light to generate a projected image, I discovered that a mirror too, when formed in a certain way, has the ability to disrupt the path of light and consequently change a projected image. As a Fellow, my time in the Research School of Physics (RSP) allowed me to build upon my knowledge of the materiality of image making and incorporate mirror tests into my work.
With Dr Geoff Campbell, a quantum physicist, I ran a ‘pilot study’ to investigate how changing focal lengths on a variety of optically polished mirrored planes, embedded into my optical image systems, can effect the transfer of light within the system and hence the projected image. We used the RSP’s ultra-precision lathe, a high spec machine normally used to create optically finished components for telescopic and quantum physics research.
The lathe can make an unlimited range of shapes with a mirror finish but until now had delivered only basic designs for physics research. Pursuing my own creative investigations into image-making opened up new possibilities for a major piece of research infrastructure at the RSP. We produced a small series of faceted mirror tests, with some exciting results. This project has opened up new ideas for future research and, as a collaborative team, we have received external funding to develop the project further in 2020.
Another part of my VCCRF project was to create a series of ‘3D’ projected images using my knowledge of glass and 3D printing to create series of translucent objects as sources for projected images. Carefully controlling and testing various forms and material thicknesses to affect the transfer of light, I produced a series of ‘empty space’ images with varying focal depths, which visually read as 3D spaces but are in fact, images of light.
Deirdre Feeney was awarded a PhD in the School of Art & Design, ANU in 2019 where she is a sessional lecturer and continues to develop her multi-disciplinary research-led practice. She is also currently an iLEAP Learning and Teaching Fellow at ANU.
Dr Rebecca Mayo
Collaborator: Associate Professor Cris Brack, Fenner School of Environment and Society, ANU College of Science
Do you know this tree?
A 1954 column in the Sydney Morning Herald provided the title for this work. Each Saturday, the author, under the pseudonym ‘Waratah,’ provided factual and anecdotal information about an introduced or local tree species common to Australia. Charles Meere (remembered for his 1940 painting, Australian beach pattern) illustrated each column with a wood engraving.
I approached Associate Professor Cris Brack as a collaborator because I was interested in the how his expertise in measuring and monitoring trees, coupled with his interest in urban forest management (i.e. street trees) might generate new ways of thinking about my own research and practice. I am concerned with how research and art practice, underpinned by an ethics and practice of care might establish new ways of experiencing urban ecologies. Using site- and species-specific botanical dyes I create printed textiles for use in situ or in the gallery. In this research, I wanted to develop ways for audiences to witness, or participate in, the process of species-specific plant colour producing images on cloth.
Brack’s research on forest measurement and management has contributed important knowledge to the development of optimal sampling strategies, modelling tools, and decision-support systems for trees and associated biota at stand, landscape and continental scales. Contemporary artists and scientists share the ability to gather huge amounts of data. The challenge for both is how to interpret, visualise and communicate this information and to what end. In this project, I have used hand-held lasers to document individual trees on campus, as well as direct autographic methods such as frottage. Tom Jovanovic has been crucial to this part of the project, operating the hand-held laser and processing the files.
The laser beam shoots out of the machine, and it creates a point every time it is interrupted by an object. The resulting point cloud is a record of moments in time and space where (in this case) a particular tree is growing. These dots, which appear to hover in space behind the computer screen, are translated back into dot matrix structures necessary to screenprint tonal images. Printmaking has typically taken photographic images, indexical to light, and translated them to a halftone for printing. The indexical relations between a laser beam, the resulting point cloud, and finally the dot matrix of printmaking, have opened new research questions I am only beginning to investigate.
The next stage of this research is to test out the ‘live’ printing machine. It will be positioned beside selected trees on campus. Using colour from these trees, the pre-mordant printed cloth will reveal visual information about this tree. Building on the Sydney Morning Herald’s question, this work asks, Do you know this tree growing right here?
Rebecca Mayo was awarded a PhD in the School of Art & Design in 2019 . She is a lecturer in Printmedia and Drawing in the School of Art & Design.
Dr Dan Stewart-Moore
Collaborator: Dr Will Grant, The Australian National Centre for the Public Awareness of Science at ANU
My research project seeks to question the validity of debating climate change and its causes. A debate presumes that a topic is untested or unknowable; climate change is neither of these. We have allowed this form of doubt to be perpetuated and it has cost us time, lives and homes.
The work is an interactive piece that displays the words ‘Our house is on fire’ on a grid of 95 hexagonal pieces of recycled HDPE plastic. The viewer is invited to step on pedals that engage mechanisms in the artwork to display the text. Two events in 2019 accelerated the development of this concept. Approximately 500 hectares acres of land burned in Australia over the 2019/20 summer and Greta Thunberg spoke at the World Economic Forum in Davos:
Our house is on fire, I am here to say our house is on fire. According to the IPCC we are less than 12 years away from not being able to undo our mistakes. Adults keep saying we owe it to the young people to give them hope. But I don’t want your hope, I don’t want you to be hopeful. I want you to panic, I want you to feel the fear I feel every day. And then I want you to act, I want you to act as if you would in a crisis. I want you to act as if the house was on fire, because it is.
Within twelve months of Thunberg’s speech, 33 people died, more than 2,000 homes were destroyed and an estimated one billion animals perished in an unprecedented fire season in Australia. Sadly these events were predicted in the Garnaut climate change review in 2008.
This work represents my acknowledgement of the hurt that many Australian’s feel; The loss of homes, loved ones and the devastating impact on Australian flora and fauna. Climate change is real and we have to act now. We must, because our house is on fire.
Dan Stewart-Moore was awarded a PhD in the School of Art & Design, ANU in 2017. His research interests include the nexus of humanity, nature and technology.
Collaborator’s statement by Dr Will Grant:
I am very excited to have been able to collaborate with Dan Stewart-Moore in his Vice-Chancellor’s Creative Research Fellows scheme. Climate change is, of course, the most pressing problem facing the world today. After a summer of terrible bushfires, floods, hailstorms and dust clouds, the urgency of this problem is only more pressing. But despite scientific clarity on this issue - and clear community desires for solutions - our policy leaders continue to twiddle their thumbs. Why? Why are we as a community paralysed with inaction in the face of such an existential crisis?
Is it selfishness? Fear? Money? All of that? ... Whatever.
Whatever it is, it’s clear that our efforts to communicate the urgency of the problem - and to find a way through to that world where we can all live happily - have not yet succeeded. I’m a relentlessly optimistic person but summers like the one we’ve just had have been a blow straight to the heart. Dan Stewart-Moore’s work in the Vice-Chanellor’s College Artist Fellows Scheme represents a compelling engagement in this space. Stark yet arresting, it speaks directly to what I’m feeling right now: despair, fear, hopelessness, anger - but also that somewhere in the ruins is hope, somewhere in our community is a pathway through. As Daniel noted in his artist’s statement - drawing on the compelling voice of Greta Thunberg - our house is on fire.
We all need to join Dan in responding to this call.