What art/science have I seen?

Posted in CF Writing, Exhibitions by chrisfremantle on November 19, 2009

Ex- at the Zoology Museum, Glasgow University.

First, you have to go and find this gem of a museum in Glasgow University, proper old-fashioned place, not over-interpreted (though not quite sure about the size of containers for the live snakes).

This exhibition is the result of a field trip to Payamino in the Ecuadorian part of the Amazon Rainforest by a group of zoology students accompanied by Kate Foster, environmental artist, and Martin Muir, a photographer.  The students were documenting and recording bird and amphibian biodiversity as well as learning about the life, culture and change.

The exhibition includes work by the students as well as Foster and Muir.  The students have presented photography and drawing.

Foster’s sketchbooks seem to capture some sense of interconnectedness.  Few of the drawings set out to isolate and analyse a single ‘thing’ in a ‘scientific way’.  Rather they explore relations, interactions and situations.  A small sketch at the back of one book of a ‘luggage jam.’  Tyre marks on the runway.  Most pages have text in amongst drawing.  Across two pages she has drawn a stream of ants some carrying cut pieces of leaf and others returning for more.  The quality of drawing: suggesting movement by lightness of touch, suggesting pattern, suggesting context without providing one.

One of the students raises the issue of value.  They are documenting and recording biodiversity under threat from oil extraction, soya farming, etc.  What is the value of the biodiversity? And is it measured in monetary terms?  This was crystallised for me recently when, on the radio, I heard a spokesperson for Natural England discussing the economic importance of bees.  They said bees were worth £200 million to the UK economy.  The next item on the news was about the commitment of £4 billion to some aspect of the financial crisis.

We say that we can’t put a price on life, but we are only talking about ourselves.  We don’t understand that we can’t put a price on ecosystems, or on biodiversity.  NGOs try and get us to make donations by showing us pictures of ‘charismatic mega fauna,’ but, and its horrible to say, the loss of polar bears or tigers will have a limited effect on ecosystems (as I understand it), where worms, bats, ants, small birds and especially bees have dynamic and exchange based roles.  Our image of hierarchical food chains makes the big animals look like the most important, but if you begin to think about the other operations taking place at the ‘lower levels’ then your perspective changes.

The student was asking what to do: one answer is to think about what connects Scotland and Ecuador, now economically, and also in the past colonially.  Bring forward the connections, make them visible.  Make us aware of, not distant jungle lushness, but the ways our lifestyle in Scotland is implicated in the changes taking place there.

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