Session #1 – Artists in action

The role of visual art in environmental discourse

Emma Arnold

Abstract: While visual art may often be excluded from scientific disciplines, science and environment frequently figure prominently in the work of many contemporary artists. From paint brushes to knitting needles, from the gallery to the street, visual artists are approaching environmental issues in new, exciting, and engaging ways. Artists worldwide are tackling environmental issues in diverse ways, from the choice of their media to the subject matter they address to the intentions of their work. While these pursuits are not novel, they remain relatively untouched as topic of research within environmental disciplines.

This paper explores the work of various visual artists, examining how artists are addressing environmental issues in their audiences, intentions, materials, media, message, and in the spaces in which their works are found. In examining how artists are exploring these issues, the potential roles of visual art in environmental discourse are expected to emerge. Such roles are likely varied and multifaceted. Art may help us to understand our place in nature, question our values and behaviours, communicate ideas, or may be used as propaganda. Art may provide insight on the environment itself, providing historical information on past environments; may serve to document current environmental challenges; or may promote regard for the space in which it is found. Art may even contribute to the development of solutions to environmental problems by innovating new technologies or approaches. Understanding why art has remained absent from environmental discourse, despite these potential roles, may provide insight into why its inclusion may be important now.

Bio: Emma Arnold is a dual Canadian and British citizen who has lived and studied in Canada, Hungary, and Sweden. Her background is in environmental geography, environmental impact assessment, and environmental policy. She holds a Master’s of Science in Environmental Sciences, Policy, and Management from a consortium of four European universities: Lund University, Central European University, University of the Aegean, and the University of Manchester. She also holds a Graduate Diploma in Environmental Impact Assessment and an Honours Bachelor’s of Science in Environmental Geography from Concordia University. She has previously worked as a policy analyst developing environmental legislation and regulation for the Canadian government, as a design consultant for the design agency SNÖGRAFX, and as a freelance illustrator. She will be commencing doctoral studies in 2012 at the University of Edinburgh in the Institute of Geography, where her research will focus on the role of art in environmental discourse. She is also the founder of The Institute for Art and Environment, a think-tank generating knowledge and providing expertise on issues relating to art and the environment, promoting more holistic approaches to sustainability.


Shifting Paradigms: Artist as Agents of Change

Leah Barclay

Abstract: The global ecological crisis has become a catalyst for interdisciplinary collaborations at a time when a shift in thinking is urgently required. World leaders are now looking towards the validity and possibilities of creative methodologies as tools for change. This presents both a challenge and an unprecedented opportunity for creative practitioners to gain a critical understanding of the situation, and devise new processes for a sustainable future.

Bill McKidden recently said; “When art both of great worth, and in great quantities, begins to cluster around an issue, it means that civilization has identified it finally as a threat.” He views artists as the “antibodies of the cultural bloodstream” and fundamental to social change. But is the role of the artist purely to comment on the crisis? Or can provocation extend beyond expression to create a behavioral shift in deeply engrained unsustainable ways of thinking? Can artists confront the roots of the ecological crisis to facilitate the necessary shift? If the answers are yes, then how can these intangible, and often subjective, creative processes be measured?

This paper explores these questions and introduces a multi-platform methodology that could provide a framework to facilitate the paradigmatic shift required to initiate cultural change. The core of this methodology pivots of a site-specific creative project embedded in a multi-layered community cultural engagement process developed in response to the specific community. This evolving model is implemented by the artist, acting as a change agent spiraling between contextualized theory and practice. Rigorous methodologies to measure the results are explored through three case studies of multi-platform projects implemented in Australia and New Zealand. These projects are acting as a catalyst and represent an unparalleled opportunity for artists as agents of change in environmental emergency.

Bio: Leah Barclay is an Australian interdisciplinary artist and curator recognised internationally for her distinctive sonic language. Her work has been commissioned, performed, and exhibited to wide acclaim across Australia, New Zealand, Canada, Europe, India, China, and Korea. Barclay creates immersive performances and multi-sensory installations at the intersection of art, science, technology, and the environment. Her work spans film, theatre, and dance to hybrid performance, interactive media, data sonification, and site-specific installations. Her adventurous nature has led her to complete projects on the floor of the Australian ocean, desolate lava caves in New Zealand, and the evocative backwaters of South India. Barclay’s dynamic work has resulted in numerous awards, including the Premier of Queensland’s inaugural National New Media Scholarship, the Asialink Performing Artist Residency for South Korea, and the HELM Award for Environmental Art. She has directed and curated environmental projects across Australia, India, and Korea and serves in an advisory capacity for a range of arts and environmental organisations including Noosa Biosphere (UNESCO) and Ear to the Earth (New York). Barclay is currently engaged in a series of collaborative research projects addressing the value of creative methodologies in ecological crisis and is completing an interdisciplinary PhD under Gerardo Dirié and Kim Cunio at Griffith University in Australia.


Tracking Indicators of our Environmental Crisis by Means of Art: A Psycho-Historical Account

Nicolas Bullot

Abstract: Research seeking a scientific foundation for the theory of art appreciation has raised controversies at the crossroads of the social and cognitive sciences. Though equally relevant to an inquiry in the nature of art, the psychological and historical approaches to art developed independently and continue to lack a common core of theoretical and methodological principles. Historicists have argued that psychological and neuroscientific theories overlook the fact that artworks are artefacts produced and appreciated in the context of unique historical situations and artistic intentions. After a presentation of the debate, I introduce a psycho-historical theory for the cognitive science of art appreciation. According to this theory, an essential task of a science of art appreciation is to explain how the ability to appreciate a work of art depends on the appreciator’s sensitivity to and knowledge of the historical context of the work. Drawing from research on essentialism and the societal functions of artefacts, the psycho-historical theory predicts that appreciators understand an artwork when they succeed in deploying an attitude termed ‘artistic design stance’ that guides their historical inquiries into the original context and making of the work. Drawing from case studies, I demonstrate the relevance of this psycho-historical theory to assess how artworks engender awareness about the current global environmental crisis. Specifically, I argue that works of art can manipulate audiences’ emotional sensitivity to and contextual knowledge of usually-hidden facts and mechanisms that cause ecological perils.

Bio: I am a philosopher of Cognitive Science committed to multi-disciplinary research. I am currently developing a research project titled ‘How do we keep track of others? A philosophical and multidisciplinary theory of the tracking of persons and objects.’ The aim of this project is to develop and test a philosophical theory of the human ability to keep track of other persons and environmental facts. The epistemological goal of this work is to analyse how our knowledge of individuals and states of affairs is determined by linkages between our varied perceptual, conceptual and technical abilities to track them over time. The methodology I adopt is aimed at bridging the gap between the psychology and anthropology of tracking and philosophical issues in Aesthetics (How do we track artistic or cultural agency?), Epistemology (What are the connections between knowledge and tracking?), Ethics (How should we regulate the power obtained from tracking individuals?) and Philosophy of Biology (How did our tracking abilities evolve?). In the past, I pursued my doctoral research in the Philosophy of Cognitive Science at the Institut Jean Nicod (EHESS, CNRS, Paris). I was subsequently awarded short or long-term grants to develop my research at the Centre National de la Recherche Scientifique (Paris, France), the Middle East Technical University (Ankara, Turkey), the University of British Columbia (Vancouver, Canada), and the University of Toronto (Toronto, Canada).


Mapping from above / Mapping from below: Arts and Cartography. Cross Perspectives on Environmental Issues in Montreal

Sébastian Caquard

AbstractThe Art and Cartography commission of the International Cartographic Association (ICA) has organized a workshop entitled “Mapping” Environmental Issues in the City: Arts and Cartographic Cross Perspectives, in Montréal, in September 2010. This workshop was designed to encourage and explore the interactions between cartographers, artists, designers and any other area of ‘arts’ who work in the various aspects of spatial representation, through the development of original mapping projects inspired by a common ground: a geographic database compiled to study environmental issues in the city of Montréal. This presentation formalizes the results of this workshop. Expectations and conventions around “mapping” differ tremendously across different domains of knowledge and practice. While in cartography, mapping refers to specific techniques and concepts for representing information related to places, in the arts and humanities this terms is often envisioned as a means of interacting with places in different ways. This dichotomy between the cartographic perspective on places from above, and the artistic perspective from the ground was apparent during the workshop. This dual perspective has provided the overall structure for this presentation. The first section presents the cartographic projects offering a perspective on environmental issues from above, while in the second section, the artistic projects map environmental issues from the ground. Both of these approaches, and many others, are required for tracing environmental issues; as a way of leaving traces of their existence on maps, as well as tracing back their underlying causes and eventual consequences.

Bio: Sébastien Caquard is an assistant professor in the department of Geography, Planning and Environment at Concordia University. He completed his PhD in France at the Université J. Monnet de Saint-Etienne. His dissertation examined the integration of multimedia maps into public participation processes within the context of water management. Prior to moving to Concordia, he served as a research associate at the Dartmouth Flood Observatory at Dartmouth College (New Hampshire, USA), as a post-doctoral fellow at the Geomatics and Cartographic Research Centre (Carleton University, Ottawa), and as an invited researcher in the Département de Géographie of the Université de Montréal. In his current research project Sébastien Caquard seeks to explore the technological, artistic and scientific frontiers of cybercartography, more specifically in the emerging field of cinematic cartography ( Sébastien Caquard teaches environmental impact assessment. He is also the co-chair of the working group on “Art and Cartography” of the International Cartographic Association (ICA) ( and the co-editor of “Mapping Environmental Issues in the City: Arts and Cartography Cross-Perspectives” ( book recently published by Springer.