By Rob St.John
How should we value and manage our freshwater ecosystems? “Water Lives…” is a new science communication animation designed to draw attention to the important (yet largely invisible) biodiversity that underpins and sustains our freshwater ecosystems.
Produced at the Oxford University School of Geography and the Environment for BioFresh — a European Union project on freshwater biodiversity — the animation brings artists and scientists together to collaborate and communicate the concept that freshwater is more than an inert resource: instead a living, dynamic system inhabited by beautiful, important organisms largely unseen by the naked eye.
“Water Lives…” invites viewers to engage with their freshwater environments, perhaps value them in new ways and engage with how they should be managed.
The curious and otherworldly physical form of freshwater organisms such as diatoms provides abundant artistic inspiration. “Water Lives…” is a conceptual and cutting-edge work, emphasising unusual natural forms in a six-minute piece animated by Scottish artist Adam Proctor. It is sound-tracked by a specially composed piece of music by Tommy Perman from Scottish, BAFTA award winning arts collective FOUND, which samples a series of haiku about freshwater ecosystems written by acclaimed environmental poet John Barlow.
The content of both the animation and haiku was influenced by close consultation with BioFresh freshwater scientists Rick Battarbee from University College London and Ana Filipa Filipe from the University of Barcelona, alongside Alistair Seddon from the University of Oxford Zoology department.
This novel, cross-disciplinary team has produced a nuanced, multi-layered piece that not only contains sound, robust scientific information but that is beautiful, engaging and playful. It is a work that can be viewed entirely on its artistic merits, from which the viewer could take away a range of different information — from something as simple as “Freshwaters are more interesting than I thought” to something as intricate as “How can policy makers manage this complex entanglement of life?” — and a whole spectrum in between.
“Water Lives…” invites viewers to value the importance and beauty of freshwater ecosystems and engage with how they should be managed. It also suggests the productive possibilities opened up by collaborations between scientists and creative artists for the communication of environmental science and policy. As this work shows, such art-science collaborations have the potential to open up new, creative spaces for how we contemplate, value, and plan to manage our environment.
Rob St.John is communications and project co-ordinator of the BioFresh blog for the Oxford University School for Geography and the Environment in the U.K. For more information and artist statements please follow the link: http://www.geog.ox.ac.uk/research/biodiversity/governance/water-lives/index.html