“All life, and all art, have a common field of tension: to live versus to survive.”
These are the words of the electronic artist Rolf Aamot, an artist whom express his view of climate change in art. In 2016, the art museum Kode presented “Maximal information per time unit!”, an exhibition of the lifeworks of Aamot. This was my first meeting with him and his work.
I was fascinated using pictures and sounds, or visual music as the artform is also known as, but what gripped me the most was one of his texts: “The brain and the climate are our vulnerabilities”. As a new climate researcher at the Bjerknes Centre for Climate Research, it dawned on me that artists like Aamot can achieve things we scientists cannot. text of his was important on a different level than my own outreach activities. I present facts about my own and others research, Rolf Aamot presents something different. Artists have a different way of reaching out to people. I myself have often been both moved and provoked by art. Art makes me feel and think in different ways than science. Since this exhibition, I have pondered about the role artists play in the climate debate. As a scientist, I convey facts. As an artist, Aamot conveys emotions.
“Art and science seek knowledge about encompassing nature we inhabit. From different viewpoints we convey our insight. This is the requirement for our living and survival strategies. It exists a collaboration between sight, brain, motor function. Different forms for life have different approaches. Our way back to the “animal stage”, and destruction, is way shorter than we can comprehend.”
These are hard words. Aamot is a lot harder on humankind than I am. As a climate scientist I am trained to remove my feelings from my research. His feelings percolating through his art. And his words. This is not just different viewpoints, this is another way of reaching out. If I were to use the same words as he, I would – as a scientist – be accused of being an alarmist and activist. Because I would be biased, and my findings would not be considered objective science. This is despite the fact that my research show both alarm and activism are warranted. We climate researchers have learnt that politicians and journalists are dismissive of our findings if we are as provocative as Aamot. He continues.
“The human animal’s self-destruction and the changing climate are a threat towards all life on our planet. Our unique intelligence, that in our brief history, about 40 000 years, and our overconsumption of the earth’s resources, give us a responsibility, that we cannot drown in the omnipresent blood fog. We can act creatively and rationally, if we don’t let ourselves be ruled by “Fear, greed and stupidity” as professor Stephen Walt, US, puts it.”
My colleagues and I are a bit shocked by the word picture “omnipresent blood fog”, but it is striking. I hope that this is what can get people to act. When the science is not enough. If we look at the situation here in Norway, we know that we need to overhaul our economy to reach the climate goals that was agreed on in Paris, but we discuss whether or not to expand the oil industry into new areas. Science can give us facts, but we act based on emotions. Art can stimulate the emotions needed to instigate real change. Of course, artists can convey emotions that point in various directions. However, Aamot is clearly pushing the mitigation agenda, which aligns nicely with the narrative from my science and the science of the Bjerknes Centre.
With such a clear stance in the climate change debate as Aamot has, I wonder from where this stems. He tells me that he first became aware of the issue back in 1952. As a 17-year-old won the competition to paint the murals at the Museum of Natural History at the University of Oslo. He collaborated with Professor Anatol Heintz and his staff about the history of the dinosaurs. During this time, he learnt how climate changes affect all forms of life. Even then the scientist there was worried about the human influence on the climate. This was long before the world acted and established the UN intergovernmental panel on climate change, which is the organisation that Aamot gets most of his knowledge about the climate change nowadays. He also checks trusted sources on the internet to validate facts. Though, he does not only need to seek out knowledge himself. After his two exhibitions, “The Brain and the Climate are our Vulnerability” and “The brain and the Climate”, he got feedback from experts from all over the world. In great quantity.
I asked him if he thinks that there are things that scientists and artists can learn from each other.
“Art and climate have in common: The game about each.
My objective related to climate change are to highlight the invisible. All climate and societal changes affect the art and humans with is neural paths. Sight and brain register the changes in living conditions and creates visual concepts.
– How important for climate research is our knowledge about sight, brain and motor skills?
For an artist all three are decisive, but all the same the knowledge about these are supressed in the within the field of art. The same conundrum is valid for our unique brain with its fabulous rapid ability to combine, that all the time is just ahead of our conscious thoughts. The creative human lets his brain’s preselection steer the art process. Communicating knowledge that disturbs, that many try to escape from, is demanding. Here it needs poetic realism, and potential for ecstatic community and collective experience.
Climate researchers can learn from visual artists to sense, unconscious and conscious, visually. Art and climate have a common field of tension, life versus death.”
The pictures, sounds, and words of Aamot has shown me that he and other artists are giving us as a society something I as a scientist can never do. Art makes us feel. It can give the collective experience that is needed to make people stop running from very real dangers we face. Aamot points out that art and climate are both about life and death for us humans and can thus inform each other. Climate is a component in much art. Art can make us feel the state of the climate. Art can give us the urgency we need to act. By working together and understanding each other, I believe both artists and scientists can help us avoid the “animal stage” and desolation.