Accepted Paper:

Artists as catalysts for biodiversity conservation: The art-academia culture clash  


Paivi Abernethy

Paper short abstract:

Both sustainability scientists and Art Ecology artists see themselves as catalysts for social change. What happens when they try to work together? I explore the promising potential of and challenges that arise in collaborations, e.g. when artists act as proactive agents in biodiversity conservation.

Paper long abstract:

Artists practicing Art Ecology see themselves as catalysts, almost like a Trojan horse, for social change towards sustainability. They try to create safe spaces for diverse stakeholders to engage in interactive art performances and discussions around contested topics, aiming to develop a shared understanding and bridge people for common causes. Researchers for sustainability transformation aim for similar goals. Yet when social artists proactively reach out to the academic establishment for collaboration, they appear to break some boundaries of implicit 'socially acceptable' roles assigned to artists and, unintentionally, end up challenging academic power dynamics and worldviews.

This paper is a self-reflective discussion piece illustrating the potential of, drivers for, and barriers to integrated art-science interface within biodiversity conservation. The reflections refer to a specific case study in Northern Germany, in the very early stages of research partnership development. Drawing from STS and feminist perspectives, I explore the blurring boundaries between academia and publics, clashing epistemologies, and changing power dynamics. Who is on the driver's seat in these collaborations? How do artists and academics perceive one another's worldviews? What is the role of academia in normative transformational research?

The aim of the manuscript is to critically explore the promising potential of collaborative research between artists and academics for sustainability transformation, and academic challenges when confronted with alternative epistemologies, such as artists acting as proactive agents in biodiversity conservation. This paper contributes to the discussion on power relations and diverse worldviews that hopefully will lead to more democratic epistemologies and just cross-sectoral interaction.

Panel T060
Biodiversity by other (all?) means: a theatre for post-natural futures