Driving the 430 kilometers from Bengtsfors to Skåne and Lund is a wonderful journey out of forested land into open countryside. It takes about 5 hours and the only difficulty is when you come to Lund trying to find your way in its labyrinths of one-way streets.
This time I was attracted to Skissernes Museum. I was there when they re-opened the museum after renovation in 2017. Now they were gathering researchers and artists to an unusual meeting. Arts Meet Science. A meeting between art and science. A meeting where I hoped to see and hear about how faith and knowledge, intellect and emotion could find ways of cooperating and interacting. Seeing something that has always been so difficult, but always so necessary – that knowledge comes into being in the interaction of body, intellect and emotion.
The theme was climate change and how our knowledge of this can be translated into action for a sustainable future. The method was interplay between brain and heart. The participants were artists and researchers. Arts Meet Science!
In the academic environment, several of the artists became theoretical. Good, I thought, listening for heart and feeling among the researchers. Well, I did hear some evidence of that, but at the same time my critical ear heard a bit too much of mutual admiration and a bit too little of the actual work where art and research fertilized each other.
One contribution, however, stood out from the rest. Emma Johansson, a doctoral student in natural geography and ecosystem science. She unites art and research in an unusual way. For today’s conference she exhibited three colorful, naivist artworks.
Her research area is environmental change and people’s ability to influence the environment in a sustainable direction. In her work she is a combination of scientific researcher and artistic inspirer. The participants in her project are farmers in two villages in Tanzania, where the environment is subject to dramatic change. Large companies incorporate the best agricultural land, and small farmers are forced to move their cultivation to poorer fields.
It is evident that Emma Johansson is hanging out with people who know how to tell a story. She herself tells about her meetings with the old and the young in the African country villages in a captivating way. And storytelling is also a key element in her method.
In the villages she has gathered groups where people tell her and each other how things used to be. They tell about events that show how life has changed and they come up with thoughts and visions they have for their village in the future. Conflicts and disagreements come to the surface. There are different opinions of the big companies’ land grabbing, and the hardest thing of all is to agree about the future of their village.
But just telling stories is not an end in itself I understand. Emma believes in the value of giving tangible shape and form to stories and that’s when she asks farmers and villagers to start painting. In this process she meets both resistance and enthusiasm. But the practical result is the three paintings she has brought with her to show at this conference Arts Meet Science.
One painting shows the village as residents remember it as of 30 years ago. One painting shows how they experience their village today. A third picture shows what they want their village to be like within 10 years.
Emma Johansson is not a person who emphasizes herself. But she knows what her method can accomplish. When the pictures had been created, it was not without pride that the villagers showed them to visitors. Important in itself, but more importantly, they can plead their cause to companies and authorities when changes are being planned. This is new and Emma Johansson continues her research, not only recording what reality is like, but also giving people tools to discuss and think about different types of future development. That’s how art and science can interact.
I would like this project to reach the ears of education developers, school planners and aid organizations. For me, Emma Johansson’s presentation rang like good music in my ears throughout my long lourney home.
Arts Meet Science at Skissernas Museum, Lund, April 27, 2018
Emma Johansson at Lund University Research Portal
Johansson, E. L., and E. Isgren. 2017. Local perceptions of land-use change: using participatory art to reveal direct and indirect socio-environmental effects of land acquisitions in Kilombero Valley, Tanzania. Ecology and Society 22 (1): 3.