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Cultural collaboration on the Planetary Emergency

In this picture background is the Climate Capsule (Klimatska Kapsula) - a van created by artists who's graphics echoe nature & climate crisis. At the front is the public having a discussion

As part of Ecsite's Environmental Emergency Action supporting member organisations in their environmental sustainability efforts, we encouraged speakers from #Ecsite2023 who discussed the biodiversity and climate emergency to share the lasting impact of their sessions with both Conference participants and Ecsite members.

Session participant Claire Pillsbury, Associate Director of Exhibit Content Development at the California Academy of Sciences shares her notes and thoughts on the session "Cultural collaboration on the Planetary Emergency" which explored the potential of convening diverse disciplines and ways of thinking to foster alternative visions for the future. Take a look at the session page, including the speakers' details. The session slideshows & references are linked right after the summary.

The "Cultural Collaboration on the Planetary Emergency" session echoed the broader Ecsite emphasis on the climate crisis topics with the Environmental Emergency Action and also exemplified the innovation, creativity, and intellectual curiosity of our community.

The session was introduced and moderated by Marjolein van Breeman. She noted in her opening remarks that "The climate crisis is a crisis of imagination".

Marjolein then introduced artist Alexandra Daisy Ginsburg who spoke by Zoom. Ginsburg spoke of some of her research including engineering bacteria to make a colorful pigment in excrement. She is also co-author of the 2017 MIT Press book Synthetic Aesthetics: Investigating Synthetic Biology's Designs on Nature. She then made the point that what we measure shows what we value. In her work, she builds collaborations with scientists.

She briefly shared her 2023 exhibition, "Machine Augaries" for the Toledo Museum of Art. One of the intentions of this installation was to raise awareness that as light pollution has increased, the birdsong at the dawn of day (aka dawn chorus) has suffered and sound pollution similarly interferes with normal birdsong. She used bird song recordings from the extensive archive at Cornell University and a neural network to simulate the sound of a dawn chorus.

Finally, she described her project Pollinator Pathway, commissioned by the Eden project. As she described it, the "algorithm is encoded for empathy" in that the garden and plant layout it creates will support the maximum number of insects. She contrasted this with most garden design plans and suggested that we should transform ourselves from consumers of nature to caretakers of nature.

Next, Camilla Tham spoke about the Natural History Museum's project "Generation Hope: Act for the Planet". This annual event is for young people ages 16 to 25 years old who are climate activists. The goals are to comprehend, communicate, and connect: comprehend by engaging directly with the scientists; communicate with each other and influence others; connect by bringing together different expertise during the week. They held 18 different events over just 5 days. It was not just about science and data - also addressed climate justice, the importance of community, and how to collaborate with other youth activists. The youth activists had great leadership skills to share and received additional mentoring from the NHM during the week. NHM staff and the youth activists also addressed the importance of understanding emotions as part of climate concern participation.

Mairéad Hurley of Trinity College Dublin spoke about the project "Learning Ventures for Climate Justice". She started by citing the book "The Mushroom at the End of the World" which is an account of the highly desirable Matsutake mushroom that grows in forests disrupted by human activity and in turn, the mushroom nurtures trees. She summarized this dynamic as "Contamination as Collaboration" and commented that "changing with circumstances is the stuff of survival" and that "purity is futile".

With this framing as an introduction, Mairéad went on to share more about the Learning Ventures for Climate Justice project. It is a consortium of 11 partners in 9 countries with the goal of helping each partner communicate about climate change. They have been using the "Communicating Climate Risk: A Handbook" from the UCL Climate Action Unit. They also have been guided by Cheuk's and Morales-Doyle's article on navigating the "messy middle of partnerships in science education".

She showed a diagram of the "team development wheel" that is a cycle starting with Flounder, then proceeding to Conflict, then proceeding to Productive, then proceeding to Perform, and then to Flounder again. The multi year project has just begun and she encouraged the audience to follow its activities online.

Finally, Lale Dobrivoje shared the Ekotisak project which was an intentional art and science hybrid. The Climate Capsule (Klimatska Kapsula) is a van whose exterior and interior were created by artists. The intention was to make fully modular but customized equipment so the van could park and set up (there were graphic panels and seating inside the van that would be set up outside) nearly anywhere. Inside the van was a video of an art performance piece. Having the mobile van and the portable fixtures allows them to create a place for the public to come and discuss or just view what was in the van and the graphic panels. It was easy to set up in a wide variety of spaces and flexible to use.

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