This week’s episode was with Jen Conde, an artist and graphic designer who takes great inspiration from Moreton Bay.
A quick diversion…
When I’ve talked to people about why I do the Moreton Bay Online Podcast for my PhD, people are often surprised that I’m not simply talking to marine scientists – they know most about the environment, right? They spend their whole professional lives dedicated to understanding ecology or biology or abiotic processes! Their very livelihoods depend on their understanding the natural world!
Scientists are brilliant. Really they are. They’re curious, determined, resilient. They’re always battling for the truth. There’s so much to love about science and scientists. The reason the MBOP is not solely about the science of Moreton Bay goes like this:
➡ Becoming a scientist, in the way we are most familiar with science in the western world, requires one to develop a quite specific method of understanding the world (epistemology). Scientists to a large extent agree on how we can “know” stuff – but people who are not trained in the same way do not necessarily share this understanding of how they, or we, “know”.
➡ That means that no matter how much scientists (or people who share their epistemology) agree amongst themselves, they struggle to understand, and be understood by, people who share a different way of knowing or experiencing the world. And vice versa.
➡ The risk of not recognising that others hold different epistemologies is that we assess each-others’ “knowledge” or “ignorance” within the context of our own epistemology. This is a bit like judging the quality of an apple by whether we can grate its rind for a lemon tart! Ignoring or dismissing the way others experience knowledge and the world (or simply not realising that it’s different) increases polarisation between people. It’s a huge barrier to building high capacity communities, and cuts us off from creative, communally-shared, ideas and solutions.
➡ When it comes to conservation (which is what I’m interested in) simply introducing facts and evidence may actually increase polarisation, and lead to a doubling-down on positions. Clearly this is not what we want! We want to generate consensus despite differences, and build a shared vision of stewardship.
What does all this mean? Fundamentally, there is no “one way” of being in the world. And since conservation is a human problem, not a scientific one, if we’d like to increase a sense of environmental stewardship in our societies we must acknowledge, explore and even celebrate other modes of being, interpreting, and expressing the environment.
That’s why MBOP celebrates artists, and fishers, and other local residents, and all the other non-science relationships with Moreton Bay! Interviewing artists like Jen, I’m SO HAPPY to know she’s looking at, and interpreting the bay in such a unique, distinctive, and beautiful way. When I view her work, it informs and enriches my own knowledge of and relationship with what I see out there.
To less philosophical things…. practical common ground
Art and science can be hard to reconcile, and after leaving a career in the arts to do a Bachelor of Science, I can attest there can be a substantial gulf between them – or at least between the “industry,” or institutions, of each.
But look beyond the institutions and you find similarities. Both disciplines are intensely professional. Both artists and scientists continually experiment with and discard new methodologies to achieve the best results; both know that their work will be exposed to intense scrutiny before it is accepted.
The best artists create work that has deep, thoughtful, grounded context (just like the review of literature in a scientific paper) and the best scientists explore ideas that have been born in spontaneous creative connections, generated from their breadth of knowledge and experience (just like the “inspiration” an artist might feel.)
Both art and science have proud traditions of generating awe, inspiration, reflection, and wonder in others.
This is why art is so important to conservation, and why Jen’s work is an essential component of the big picture safeguarding the future of Moreton Bay. Her work is grounded in deep observation of the kind that scientists are very familiar with. And (understanding epistemology) her work expresses those observations in a unique, personal way that is undeniably true.
Art as tool for conservation
Artistic pursuits, and artistic outputs, be they visual or performing or digital, represent incredibly useful tools for conservation (and for sciences too, but that’s another post).
We know about the power of images to shift our thinking and inspire reflection (as we discussed earlier in the podcast series with Chris Walker). Storytelling through performance, novelisation or visual arts can make theory real to people (as we talked about with Sue Pillans). And digital media art such as virtual reality games can connect people with nature in ways they would never be able to achieve in real life; even, in some cases, inspire them to protect nature MORE than if they had experienced it in person!
What’s the saying? “Where attention flows, energy goes”? If that’s true, we certainly have the collective energy to look after our Bay, because so many people are filled with wonder and admiration – not only for the Bay itself, but for the individual and personal art that is created by Jen and all our local artists.
I’m immensely proud of, and grateful to them.
Find Jen’s work
Guides to Moreton Bay
Ever come across something unusual on the seashore and be really curious as to what it is? Did you know there’s an app for that? The app Jen and I talked about – Coastal Life of South East Queensland – was developed by Qld Museum and Griffith University (plug for my supervisor, Dr Tim Stevens, who contributed greatly!)
Here are some more links to help you identify local species (on or under the water):
- Wild Guide to Moreton Bay
- Nature Guide to North Stradbroke Island – Minjerribah
- Mangroves to Mountains (plant life)
- Undersea Jewels (nudibranchs)
- Marine Plants of Australia
- Field Guide to Marine Fishes of Australia and South-east Asia
- Shorebirds ID booklet (free from Birdlife Australia!)
- Shorebirds of Australia
- Whales, Dolphins and Seals (worldwide)
Web pages / freebies:
- Dept Agriculture Fisheries (fish)
- Queensland Museum (you can also ask an expert through the QM site!)
- Nudibranchs of the Sunshine Coast
- Qld Wader Study Group (shorebirds)
- Birdlife Australia (lots of downloadables!)
- Identifying wrack (stuff washed up on shores) – this is from SA, but many will be found here too!
- Dept of Environment (marine mammals)
- Protected species