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William Gladstone and Lisa Roberts present
Eramboo Artist Environment, Ku-ring-gai
Saturday 7 May 2016
With excerpt from the symphony ex Oceano
Courtesy Lynchpin - the ocean project


The Ku-ring-gai Ph Art+Science Projectopens up creative opportunities for Living Data contributors, as ten scientists and ten artists collaborate in partnerships to expand understanding of Australia's iconic Ku-ring-gai National Park.

Scientist William Gladstone and I collaborate to create an installation, Oceanic Bliss, for the Manly Art Gallery and Museum, to share knowledge and experience of a seagrass meadow.


William Gladstone (WG):

Just to position you in your thinking, Shona's space in right there next to us, so you would walk through Shona's and into ours, and there's a peep hole ... I think there's going to be a peep hole in the wall there ... where you can peep from Shona's into ours and vice versa. And we were just really enjoying hearing Shona's idea of having the floor - the wall painted up to about here, to represent the earth, and one of the ideas that Lisa and I have been playing around with, and maybe Lisa will tell you a bit further one, is having a projection coming down from the ceiling, which has a hemisphere suspended there, with a projector going onto it, to give you a sense of standing under water in a seagrass bed. So you're actually immersed in the seagrass bed, looking up through the canopy of the leaves. It's a very similar theme to what Shona's thinking, and we didn't even compare themes, as we were evolving our ideas here.

I'll just tell you a little bit before I hand over to Lisa, about what our subject is. Our subject is seagrass. As a marine biologist I've worked on seagrass for many years in Pittwater, right off where we were at Currawong, Mackerel Beach, Palm Beach, and also other places around the world. And the sort of science I do is the sort of biological understanding we need to conserve the marine biodiversity. That's what drives me and my science.

Seagrass is a very important ecosystem in Pittwater. It's biodiversity is very different to what you find in other parts of the sea bed that are unvegetated. It protects the shoreline. It sequesters carbondioxide from the water which enters from the atmosphere. And that sequestering ability is much greater than that of terrestrial vegetation.

So even though its area, totally around the globe, is much less than the terrestrial vegetation, the carbondioxide that it can sequester is about the same as terrestrial vegetation.

So scientifically it's incredibly interesting, and it's very important to us in the way we interest with the environment and the way we need to look after it.

I might just reflect on our collaboration. Lisa and I have worked on projects before. I've worked on some exhibition's she has organised before but this is the first time we have collaborated to produce a work of art. And it's been a big journey for moth of us. And I think at times our identity has swapped over, from who's the artist' who's the scientist - who's thinking in what ways. And to me that's a really good example of collaboration.

As a scientist I'm really interested in the creative process because it really underpins breakthroughs in science. It's a flash of creativity. It's not just mechanical or incremental growth of knowledge. It's those creative bursts that lead to breakthroughs in understanding. And I'm really interested in that whole creative process in the way we do that in science, and the way it's done in art as well. For me it's been a journey in understanding how Lisa thinks about the world, and I call her my great disrupter. Lisa will come with an idea I didn't think about before and suddenly I'm going off on that direction, which is really a great way to collaborate with someone. And it's not ... as scientists we're used to collaborating. We often work as groups of scientists together on a problem, because sometimes you just need a lot of brain power, or hands, to do some of the work we need to do. But it's the first time I've worked very closely with an artist. It's a very different sort of collaboration, and hugely rewarding and enjoyable.

Lisa Roberts (LR):

OK. Well I trained as an artist. I've been working with scientists since [2002] when I went to the Antarctic, which was an amazing life-changing experience. And the sort of conversations that I've observed, that scientists have with each other, are disruptive. A lot of very hard questions are asked at some of those meetings. 'Have you thought of this? Have you looked at it from this perspective?' And more and more you're getting scientists from different fields of science to come in and listen to each other, and ask questions that, as a marine biologist perhaps you wouldn't have thought of, with an astrophysicist, or a neuroscientist in your midst. So I think it's a logical progression to have more artists in your midst.

So, my training was in ... basically it started with dance, and I've always drawn, so animation was sort of a logical obsession that developed over my life.I was obsessed by Walt Disney, in those old films you might have seen, of him creating his first animations. He would have a real ... he would go to the zoo and look at real hippopotamuses, or they'd bring in a classical ballerina, and they'd draw from life. This is ages ago. They don't do that any more. (5:40/17:58)

So drawing from life and drawing living things has always been very important to me. And since becoming aware, in Antarctica, of the microorganisms that really are the basis of all life, to make our life possible, I started to look at live specimens under microscopes, in petri dishes and so on. And these (lifting engraved acrylic pieces) are some of the drawings that I've made. That's a live specimen that I drew at UTS, under a microscope, and this is another one, of a preserved specimen. And that's a diatom navicular, or boat-shaped diatom...

So my approach - rather than having a specific research question,... you have materials, and you start playing with things and seeing what's possible. And then you're in the world and you're fascinated by something and with the passions for moving, making, or working with particular materials, you make some kind of connection. And I describe it as a conversation that we have, with the environment... it's a conversation we have with the natural world, and depending on our backgrounds and our methods that we use, we also have a conversations with those materials... So I'm now having a conversation with scientists, and that's been really difficult to figure out how that might work because the thinking is so very different. But going to the Antarctic, I had to continue those conversations.

(8:06 / 17:58) It's very difficult to get access to scientists, so I took the ridiculous step of doing a PhD, really so that I could continue my conversations with scientists. I was able to just knock on their doors and break into their labs and - it was really. I tried the 'official' [outsider] way and it really didn't work. So I seriously, went in, literally, the back entrances of science labs all over the place, just so that I could talk to scientists. You go to the front desk and they'll say Oh now, you haven't got an appointment. Sorry (to Bill), but you're very difficult people to get hold of.

From the a audience:

She's very disruptive.

William Gladstone (WG):

You should see my diary. I'm very difficult to get hold of!

Lisa Roberts (LR):

But I think it's so important that we speak meaningfully, like we're able to do in this program (Ku-ring-gai Ph Art+Science Project). It's so unusual and we're so lucky. So, would you like to ...

William Gladstone (WG):

I know one thing that motivates Lisa and really underpins everything I do, in this and other things, is to be true to the science. Because it is a collaboration between art and science, and between an artist and a scientist, so we've been very careful - and I know this drives Lisa as well - the things we depict and want to share are really representing our scientific understanding. And that's what informs our conversations and also the art works... and I've got a collection, if you're interested, in what I call our scientific artefacts, which are products we produce as scientists, which is some of the information that I use as a scientist, that I assimilate over many years, and is now up hear (touching head), and drives my conversations with Lisa, and drives our thinking about what we want to represent. And the installation here (pointing to model), it's all about representing different aspects of a seagrass ecosystem and the interaction of people with it. And also bringing home the point that these are important and fragile ecosystems. And we'll do that by a series of video installations, made objects that Lisa has made here, that represent some of these diatoms which are the planktonic organisms that are part of the watery .. water that floats through and above the seagrass, and are critical in the photosynthetic food web. So we want to represent that in many different ways, via paintings, projected videos, by projecting a video that represents twenty-four hours in the life of a bed of seagrass, going right through the day, right through the night, projected onto the main winder here (pointing) so that will be visible to people oth inside and outside the gallery.

The other idea we have is that, that I mentioned before, about having a hemisphere suspended above the space here, with a data projector above it, that would be projecting some underwater video that I will take, which will simulate being embedded, or a part of a seagrass bed. Below that will be a space that is meant to be symbolic of the fragility of these ecosystems.