Reflections from the Tuesday open plenary session “Resilience science, creativity and art in turbulent times.”

I’ll just throw this disclaimer out at the very beginning: there’s no way I can adequately do this plenary session justice given how visually stunning and viscerally ‘right’ it was. The theme can be boiled down to combining art and science and the importance of “losing time”.  Dr. Martin Scheffer, a self-proclaimed musician who just so happens to do science often has a tension of feeling guilty when he tries to relax and switches off the science brain.  However, it’s in “losing of time” where the left and right brains mix and ideas emerge.  We must prioritize losing time so that we can be at our most creative.  There’s a well-known anecdote that a musician was at his wits end, working five hours to write a song, but made no progress.  He was exasperated; nothing was coming to him.  He gave up, laid down on the couch (to lose time), and that’s when John Lennon’s “Nowhere Man” came to him in an instant.

Good artists, and scientists as well, change the way we view the world, and we need these different worldviews in order to move forward in a sustainable manner.  In a 2011 cover of The Economist, the periodical introduced the broader world to the Anthropocene, acknowledging that “humans have changed the way the world works.  Now they have to change the way they think about it, too.”  And as Scheffer states, changing the way we think and view the world can simply start by talking to people we don’t normally speak with, but it’s in this mixing of ideas and viewpoints that creativity and new ideas emerge and transform into new and novel products.

This is exactly what happened when Scheffer and Tone Bjordam began combining art with science. Their work together has a true, nourishing collaboration where both the artist and the scientist have unlearned and re-learned and their roles have intertwined in unexpected ways. One output of their powerful collaboration is  “Critical Transitions.”  This is an artwork created by Tone accompanied by music composed and performed Martin where; “Dazzled by myriads of such minimal motions, how can we see that they sometimes erupt into transforming change? Emerging in chaotic and turbulent transformation, how can we see where we are going? Science seeks universal early warning signals for critical transitions, but often we may only realize the world is not the same anymore in hindsight.”

Lets take a breath and reflect on this…

We need to acknowledge creativity and the arts, particularly within turbulent and often transformative times.  In Columbia, President Juan Manual Santos recently won the Nobel Peace Prize in his pursuit to end a 50-year war.  This resulted in the rebel leftist group, FARC, to start the dismantling process and convert the movement into a proper, legal political regime.  Clearly – no small process where, on the ground, there are multiple transitions with over 80 different ethnic worldviews, surrounded by uncertainty happening simultaneously.  In these tumultuous times, Brigitte Baptiste of the Humboldt Institute in Columbia works towards taking advantage of this opportunity by challenging Colombian worldviews within a world that often seems like it’s collapsing.   She states: “reinventing indigenous identities into the discussion softens the way we see the worldview.  There is always a certain amount of ambiguity, but language and the arts can help understand the fuzziness in navigating transitions.”  A final and important point Brigitte made is that she and her team are also intentionally “queering ecology” and bringing these voices and viewpoints into the forefront to incorporate into critical transitions.   Having these different viewpoints, and especially combining arts and the sciences will be a critical component moving forward in turbulent times.

Your Resilience2017 correspondent:

Kelly Siman is a Biomimicry PhD Fellow at the University of Akron. Her research focuses on the social-ecological resilience of Ohio’s Lake Erie shoreline, adaptive management and polycentric governance structures, and biomimetic applications that support long-term system resilience, moving away from “random acts of restoration” to a holistic, data-driven approach to management. Kelly is a Project Drawdown Research Fellow with Paul Hawken, a member of the Resilience Alliance, and Resilience Alliance Young Scholars and is passionate about a healthy environment for future generations, communicating climate science and data to decision makers, and applying resilience thinking.

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