The subject of environment could perhaps be best understood and communicated when there is a fusion with art. If we want to enjoy a 3600 learning of topic such as environment and sustainability, that touches and influences our lives, then we must be creative, unorthodox and should be willing to experiment. We need to brew and blend our communication.
How can you teach subjects like ecology in a classroom with concrete walls and ceiling full of artificial lights? I recall few lectures on Human Ecology that were delivered by Professor Indira Mahadevan in 1975 under a tree on the campus of IIT Bombay. This style of teaching in the open and in the natural environment was rather new to everybody – to us as students as well as to the passers-by. People walking around used to be often amused or sometimes even join the “lecture”! Why not?
During the lecture (which was more of a conversation), dry leaves would fall (and sometimes even the crow shit!), or the raindrops would drizzle to moisten our heads. We used to feel that we were “living” the lecture. Learning in the natural sunlight with a gentle breeze and with faint fragrance of flowers, made us understand the importance of eco-systems much better. So that was the right setting to learn. Many of us don’t experiment such sessions today.
In 1990, I was invited by the students of Erasmus University in Rotterdam to deliver some sessions on Pollution and Poverty Nexus – Case of India. The students had organized a large lounge that had a long wooden table with tall stools. The room had dim lights and walls were damp with old paintings. Freshly brewed beer was generously served around that had oaky aroma.
I spoke extempore and the students flocked around me, all crowded, some sitting on the floor. They listened patiently with eyes focused on me. Once I was done, a student got up and played on a box guitar “Let it be” by John Lennon. He did it so very softly. A girl who had recently visited India played Anando Shankar’s famous number “Snow Flower” on a long brass flute. The sound of the flute was sharp and deeply penetrating. Was it done impromptu or by design? – I do not know. But all this inspired me to speak more as if it was my further reflection or more of an afterthought. When I finished this second round, many students told me that this part of my expression was more from the bottom of my heart, rather candid but very delicately put at the same time. Certainly the music in the interlude had influenced me and had clearly made the difference.
Street art, apart from serving as a beautiful decoration, can be a powerful platform for reaching the public and drawing our attention to certain issues. Graffiti is gaining more and more popularity in urban communications. Dr. Love, one of the famous Georgian artists is known as the crusader of communicating on urban air pollution. The artist has expressed his protest toward air pollution in the city through his paintings. Air pollution in cities is quite an important issue nowadays, since more and more green areas have disappeared and substituted with buildings. Moreover, rapid increase in the number of cars has worsened the situation significantly, practically leaving the city without fresh air. Many have appreciated Love’s work to confront air pollution as well as to make our society think about the problem through his art. See http://www.georgianjournal.ge/arts-a-culture/31599-more-than-street-art-fighting-air-pollution-through-graffiti.html. Artists in Delhi could take inspiration from the graffiti of Dr Love.
Dr Love’s graffiti above – a hospital patient receiving oxygen from a tree – was part of the three-day Upfest Festival in Bristol, UK. To illustrate the growing global problem of air pollution, Dr. Love painted the piece in his typical stencil style but added moss to give additional texture to his artwork. See – http://www.upfest.co.uk/artist/dr-love
In July, 1969, photographer Mark Edwards, was lost on the edge of the Sahara desert, and was rescued by a Tuareg nomad. This changed Mark’s life. Bob Dylan’s songs “A Hard Rain’s A-Gonna Fall”: “sad forests”, “dead oceans”, “where the people are many and their hands are all empty” had led a touching impression to the World. The World seemed to be on the fire.
Edwards thought of illustrating each line of the Hard Rain song. In the years that followed, Mark traveled around the world on assignments that allowed him to capture the photographs. The result became Hard Rain, an outdoor exhibition, book and DVD that brought global challenges alive in a moving and unforgettable way. See http://www.hardrainproject.com/d
Hard rain exhibition is an example of fusion between music and visuals. It has been seen by over 15 million people at over 50 venues on every continent including India (courtesy The British Council). It is a very successful photographic display that attracts huge public and critical acclaim, along with the support and endorsement of political and environmental leaders across the world. Mark’s photographs illustrate every line of Dylan’s prophetic song, setting the scene for a moving and unforgettable exploration of the state of our planet at this critical time. Hard Rain puts the puzzle together to show that there is ONE problem: aligning human systems with natural systems.
In addition to poetic and holistic interpretations of the environment, artists now regularly collaborate with scientists to exchange knowledge about water, air, energy and soil. This leads to a new expression of art. We as environmental professionals need to connect with the artists. But we seldom do.
I did an experiment of holding a workshop on Water in partnership with Mohile Parikh Center – MPC (see http://mohileparikhcenter.org/site/) in Mumbai. This was a part of MPC’s project captioned the “Geographies of Consumption”.
The workshop was organized at the premise of Rachana Sansad’s School of Architecture. It was attended by some of the famous artists of the city. In the opening session, three of my colleagues spoke on Mumbai’s water woes giving the highlights, statistics and the challenges faced. Once these short discourses were over, some of the artists worked on paper to reflect their understanding, their personal impressions and the messages they wanted to convey to the Mumbaikars. This kind of a “studio” led to creatives . This is how I feel we could attempt a fusion of science and the art. Can environmental science departments at the universities do such studios involving students, professionals, government officials in the presence of local artists?
Right now I am working with Navjot Altaf, a famed artist (see http://www.contemporaryindianart.com/navjot_altaf.htm) on communicating water situation in Mumbai. We are using the concept of pure and impure blood flow in the human body to depict water movement in the city – i.e. flows of purified drinking water and the wastewater drains that we generate. Here Navjot is using images from the angiography reports with the help of Cardiac Intervention specialists. The human body connection here is to message the need for citizen’s to feel responsible to the city as much as they take care of their own bodies. We plan to hold an exhibition in early January, 2016 once the narratives and photography are done.
And have you heard about River Listening? You should read article by Dr Leah Barclay at http://www.australianmusiccentre.com.au/article/river-listening
Dr Leah is an award-winning composer, sound artist and creative producer working at the intersection of art, science and technology. Her work has been commissioned, performed and exhibited to wide acclaim internationally, and she has directed and curated interdisciplinary projects across the Asia-Pacific.
Dr Leah realized the opportunities for hydrophone recordings as a measure for river health. The soundscapes of rivers can expose many qualities, including the active marine life. She found that the polluted and stagnant waterways were silent, often with a hum of anthropogenic sound from boats and machinery on the riverbanks. The healthy waterways were filled with sound ranging from dolphins, fish, and turtles to shrimp and insects.
According to Dr Leah, bioacoustics and acoustic ecology have emerged as extremely valuable fields for non-invasive environmental monitoring involving auditory recordings of the environment. While scientists have developed advanced software tools for species recognition, there is a growing need to consolidate the available tools and explore the value of listening to the data in new ways. There are also exciting possibilities to make this data available for a wider audience through digital technology and creative collaborations. Sound is so closely associated with the State of the Environment. I wish the Pollution Control Boards in India work on such exciting projects with the communities and universities and correlate the water quality data with the bio-acoustics. How exciting such a work could be!
I would urge the readers to visit http://www.australianmusiccentre.com.au/article/insight-sonic-ecologies-stretching-beyond-notes-on-the-page to know about Dr Leah’s work on Pamba river in Karnataka and Narmada in Gujarat.
Last month I delivered a keynote at the Global Conference on Sustainable Consumption and Production in Barcelona. Prof Don Huisingh was the Convener. Don connected me with Marco Casazza, a physicist and a violin maestro.
Marco Casazza got his academic degree in violin at the Conservatory of Music “G. Verdi “in Turin under the guidance of Maestro Paola Tumeo. He also has a master degree in physics from the University of Turin. See http://www.marcocasazza.com/Marco_Casazza/Music.html
I shared my slides with Marco in advance and whenever there was a “transition” or “pause” in the presentation, my slide showed a different background color. Marco standing with his violin on the other side of the stage then played an “appropriate” piece over 20 seconds. Once the piece was done, I continued with the next slide. I think the experiment worked well and I could blend my thoughts with Marco’s musical reflection to deliver the message creatively.
Recently, Daniel Crawford composed the song, called “Planetary Bands, Warming World,” to trace the rise of Northern Hemisphere temperatures since the 1880s. Four students from the music department—performed the song. Each instrument played the temperature range of a zone of the Northern Hemisphere and was tuned to the average temperature of that region. The cello tracked the equatorial zone, and the viola played the mid-latitudes. One violin played the high latitudes, and the other traced Arctic temperatures. Each note corresponded to a year lout of the 133 years data, and the pitch of the note represented the temperature. Higher notes thus corresponded to warmer years. One can “hear” the Earth getting warmer through the music. Accordingly to Crawford, music is better way to communicate Global Warming to the people than maps, graphs or numbers. But probably, you need both.
I am all sold for blending art with the environment, especially when delivering public lectures and while holding public events.
Other day I was invited to speak at a University to the students of environmental engineering taking them through the evolution of the subject. I asked the Chancellor – could we also invite faculty and students from the Department of Arts and Geography for my presentation? The Chancellor wondered why. Is that relevant? He said – they won’t understand what you will speak”. And I insisted saying that I will speak in a common language. Creative Fusion is my idea – not a one dimensional delivery of a lecture!
Cover photo taken from http://www.collativepro.com/how-to-be-creative-creative-thinking/