Wellington Scoop

The science of art or the art of science…

Press Release – NIWA
If you think science and art have nothing in common, think again. At environmental science institute NIWA, it’s all about one inspiring the other.

The way artist Gabby O’Connor sees it, art is a delivery system for science.

“Science is complicated and it’s hard to make an end point – I think of art as a way to enter the conversation.”

Gabby is an installation artist but also a doctoral student based at NIWA’s Wellington site. She has twice been to Antarctica as part of a scientific research team and those experiences have contributed to a major work about how climate change is affecting oceans.

Called The Unseen, it is made from pieces of rope and cable ties shaped by communities and schoolchildren to communicate the connections between art, science and changing marine environments as they participate in the making of a contemporary art work.

The Unseen, funded by the Sustainable Seas National Science Challenge hosted by NIWA, was exhibited outdoors next to Nelson’s Suter Art Gallery last April and at that time measured about 50m by 25m, involved about 1600 people and 15km of rope.

Getting it to that stage involved five NIWA scientists travelling to workshops at 16 schools in the Marlborough region to talk about their research. The participants were then asked to “draw pictures” with the rope about something they had seen in the presentations or something they knew about the subject.

“This was all about creating future stakeholders, children teaching their families and giving them a little more confidence understanding the complexities of science.

“It was very successful in terms of generating interest and gauging the care of the natural environment by the people who live there.

“I am very mindful to do the science justice, but I also think about the audiences and how they process it.”

Gabby says art allows science to be experienced, not just read about. “It can capture hearts and emotions, even a strong negative reaction is good because it means someone has thought about the work.”

Gabby is now developing The Unseen for an exhibition in Auckland in mid-2020.

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