I woke up tetchy this morning. Then I read about Tony Abbott and his new anti-science, anti-human being government, then I had a chat with Tim Minchin, and this is the yelp that resulted.
My tour schedule is often preposterous – Aberdeen then Cardiff, Stirling then Egham then Glasgow, Dublin to Spalding. The most precarious gig was attempting to get from London to Braintree, a journey that made me rejoice that I am not a commuter. Greater Anglia did not even offer a flamboyant alibi, the train just wasn’t there and that’s that. As the mechanised voice repeatedly offered its apologies for “any inconvenience caused” I am sure I noticed the hint of tearfulness, the Turing machine is almost upon us.
These frenetic journeys are not solely due to my bookers geographical ineptitude, he frequently says, “are you sure you want to do that gig then that one and that one”, and I, with my ego and desire to gesticulate wildly in as many locations as possible, say yes. Though I swore at the reflection of myself yesterday as I left London to go to Edinburgh to go to Dorking and back to Edinburgh, I was eventually glad that I had twisted my own arm so effectively again. I was hosting a gig at the Botanic Garden in Edinburgh, the first of their new monthly nighttime events. It was timed to coincide with the opening of a new exhibition where art collaborated with the oceans. Cape Farewell is an organisation that puts artists together with scientists. The artists are taken on expeditions to see how human use of resources and climate change are altering the natural world, then scientists react to what they have witnessed through their work. I watched paleo-oceanography meet poetry, photography collaborate farming, fiddles collide with foraminifera. An audience who had probably never heard the word foraminifera before, I know hadn’t, learnt of what we can know about the changing sea from their shells and fossils and how an artist has reacted to it via sculpture and video. http://www.capefarewell.com/seachange/particle-things-unseen/ Without wishing to echo The Spice Girls, here two cultures became one.
Art can create a potent entrance into a world of ideas that, considering their possibly disastrous consequences, we are surprisingly ambivalent about. The idea of “the two cultures”, this ugly arm wrestle between Dali and Dirac, is predominantly redundant, at least on the grassroots level. It seems less so in the mass media, where fashion spreads of frock coats you can’t afford and do not desire, take up far more room than scientific curiosity beyond button and fastener innovation.
Graphs can be hard to grapple, as can ocean acidity analysis, but something of beauty or intrigue, an imaginative reaction to reality, draws the eye, and from there, the fascination begins. This fascination that makes the voyeur want to know more. Science papers can be cold, they are attempting objectivity and that means that the language of poetry may not be suitable, but that does not mean that the story that lies within is deathly and drab. Art can act as a translator. My own shows are a hasty sprint through the jumble of my thoughts and reactions to what I have seen and read, I do not expect anyone to leave and say, “ah, so now I understand evolution by natural selection and quantum theory”, but I hope that I have offered just enough ludicrously delivered ideas to make people want to know more from a proper authority.
We need to find more ways of getting ideas to people, to demonstrate the consequences of the way we use the world at the moment. The mass media is not doing a good job. Conservative contrarians are wildly overrepresented, illusions of balance make a pantomime of too many subjects, ad hominem attacks replace research, Russell Brand is a revolutionary voice because, amongst the mainstream, most of the left are just a soft right who like the idea of social change and nice things, but a fear and desire the mighty businessmen with their granite jaws, solipsism and short term, cold sweat passion for fast profit. The contrarians, learning from Fox news, have found the swiftest way to manipulate is to play the part of the outsider, the little Norman Wisdom fighting the bully, the silenced voice of reason given ample airtime to holler about how they are given no airtime, to declare they are the victim while brazenly punching the already fallen.
With the major outlets of information so frequently falling short, the artists and scientists need to find new ways to get out there and take the stories and research and imagery to people. It is not to get out there to tell people what to think, but give them tales of the natural world and investigations into it that will allow them to form their own arguments and start to investigate for themselves. Ideas like climate change, social justice, international banking, are hide to comprehend in their entirety, the big picture can be suffocating, we need to find ways of framing the smaller pictures, to build from there. This is not about one big painting, but about a huge gallery. You can’t know everything about William Blake by viewing just one picture, but by walking through corridors of pages and etchings. We are a storytelling animal becoming comatose as the same stories play out in front of us as we sink further into an easier and easier chair, we need to make sure the important stories do not go untold as we go blind and deaf from the same old songs and the flashes of neon.
So what I am really saying is, come on artists, scientists, campaigners, we better come up with a plan. The commissioners and financiers are playing safe, I believe that people want more, but it is only by getting out there and showing what else there can be that there is so much more to see.
for details of gigs in Windsor, Hull, Totton, Edinburgh, York, Leeds, plus Christmas shows with Prof Cox and Cosmic Genome App, go here http://www.robinince.com