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How can art and science collaborate to raise awareness for the sustainable industry?

Posted by Emily O'Dowd on Apr 5, 2017 9:41:12 AM

The Department of Search is an artsMelle Smets & Kris De Decker, Human Power Plant based organisation which was first set up in 2014. Soon after they developed the Zero Footprint Campus project where twelve artists come together to create artistic research at Urecht Science Park in the Netherlands. They have drawn on inspiration from their direct ecosystems and want to provide a new perspective about environmental harm. Sustainability is a highly topical debate attracting a lot of discussion and research. Despite this, not enough research is being applied to the local community. It prompted Zero Footprint Campus to re-design the space which attracts hundreds of students every day. The artists wanted to create a unique place to encourage more people to think about the surroundings that they interact with. This interesting initiative inspired our reporter Emily O’Dowd to speak to the curator and art advisor Carlijn Diesfeldt to discuss how science and art can effectively collaborate to question how public spaces are being used. Zero Footprint Campus is made up of several search projects and an artistic team who are dedicated to growing the impact of the project.

EOD: What inspired you to create Zero Footprint Campus? ( @zfcutrecht )

art.jpgCarlijn Diesfeldt (CD): I stCarlijn Diesfeldt, curator of Zero Footprint Campusudied at the University of Arts and Sciences where my main focus was contemporary art. It made me aware of the ways that art and science are interrelated and can achieve a common goal. This is a full-time project for me and I really hope that the science community will be able to see the value in what we do.

Art asks the questions whilst science shows the impact. Sustainability is an important theme at the science park but more needs to be done to encourage people to respond to their local environment and what we should be changing right here. If sustainability is the most important topic then why aren’t we prioritising it in our own communities?

EOD: How have you seen people’s attitudes towards sustainability change in the past five years?

CD: We have had a lot of support so far and some people have seen the importance of a long term art programme. We want to work alongside the community to achieve a common goal and hope that more people will give us a chance to continue. Art is so much more than you think; although it can’t directly solve the problems, it shines issues in a new light. 

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EOD: How do you try to raise awareness for sustainability?

CD: People are becoming more aware but if we look at the political situation in Holland at the moment, sustainability is not the priority for the most successful parties. I’m very worried about this but it just shows that we can’t wait for politics to do something! Art and the people can make a difference; if a system isn’t working then we must find a way around it.

EOD: Thank you for letting us know more about the project and we hope more people are inspired by what you do!

Sweater ShopWe also spoke to some of the artists involved in the project to find out just how they believe art can increase awareness for sustainable issues. The Department of Search's initiative is supported by the municipality of Utrecht in collaboration with the Utrecht Science Park Foundation, Utrecht University and various other knowledge institutions. Melle Smets and Kris De Decker have been working on their creation 'Human Power Plant' - an art piece which questions whether modern society could run on muscle power. Cynthia Hathaway has created 'Sweat(er)Shop', a creative space for many to be productive; “a pooling of various expertise to ‘practice what you preach’ onto the campus.” And Guido Marsille and Alexander Prinsen have collaborated to create 'Van Blankensteyn' which explores how orange peel, can produce a cleaning agent for the Utrecht Science Park by using fermentation as process technique.

The art projects:

Human Power Plant: Human muscle power has been an important source for mechanical energy throughout history. These days we count on fossil fuels and electricity, but this is problematic in the long term. Renewable energy can be part of the solution, but solar and wind energy are not always available. Human power is, at least if people could be motivated to produce energy instead of wasting energy in the fitness centre.

Sweat(er) Shop: Works alongside the community to make a University Sweater from the wool of 325 sheep roaming campus grounds. People can make their own sweaters with their own sweat, creating Vitamin D from the wool's lanolin from the application of scientific expertise is a test of local productivity and ownership. It takes time, muscle work, being outdoors... but the desire is certainly there. The Department of Search and 12 searchers are producing various formats and liberating spaces to capture and produce with this desire. 

Van Blankensteyn: This art project for the Zero Footprint Campus explores how "The Apple from China" (Sinaasappel), eg. orange peel, can produce a cleaning agent for the Utrecht Science Park by using fermentation as process technique. They are working with a scientific team from the University, the School of Applied Science Utrecht and the suppliers from University Campus Facility Service (Catering and Cleaning).

So how can art raise awareness for sustainability?

Cynthia Hathaway curator of Sweat(er) ShopMelle Smets and Kris De Decker believe that: “Science and education are very much about giving answers to pre-defined questions. Art can question these questions. Universities are very segmented so that every scientist is a specialist in his or her field, but there is little contact with specialists in other disciplines. The big challenges of these times require cooperation between disciplines. This is difficult to organise from within. As outsiders, we can bring people together and break boundaries.”

Adopting a similar perspective is Cynthia Hathaway: “You could also say we are the 'in-betweeners'. Not accustomed to staying in one place, artists are curious creatures making space for many to find commonality. Because after all, we are all searching so why not come together? Creating a space to talk, inspire, and come to new "what if's". We need all the imagination available and more than ever to create scenarios, think fast and naughty. By naughty I mean go where you normally don't go, combine unlikely partners, and take the risk to join forces.”

Speaking about where they hope to see the project in three years’ time, Cynthia thinks it’s simple – “making desire daily practice.” Whilst for Van Blankensteyn team, they envision a competitive organic fruit and vegetable farming as the pillar for clean and healthy products. “We stimulate local production units which turn local foodwaste into useful products. Our first case is to setup a global network of local units turning citrus waste into cleaning agents.” By contrast, Melle and Kris hope to design and build a human powered student building. “We have investigated the energy needs of students and our conclusion is that a student building could indeed be operated with human power.” But this initiative would require some fundamental changes in lifestyle. “It will be interesting to learn to what extent students are prepared to change for a more sustainable world.”


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Topics: BBWNFeatures