Aesthetics & Science : Identity & Composition.

We live in a gene-focused society, still fixated on singular deterministic rationales. Whether it is what ‘classifies’ someone as indigenous to a place or what the key elements are that determine a species or a local product… components are often viewed to be more critical than the whole. Defining features can be simultaneously vague: what makes local? When or how much makes native? This is one of the trickier junctions of science and society: which components are critical? And across what time scales? How does aesthetics affect our choice of what ecological and social landscape we want to preserve, and as representative of what? We can be as lucid as we like in our science communication but it falls functionless if we do not understand how it might fit the value systems of the listener/viewer. E.g. can NZ fully value and therefore understand biodiversity when a pastoral landscape is part of the current national identity? Potential project ideas on this topic:

1.              The Composition of Place

I have been a collaborator on a variety of films and installations questioning the associations between genetic lineage and cultural heritage (see Observations of an Alien which is more ‘Celtic’ the genetically defined marine crustacean Gammarus duebeni celticus, or projections of the modern Welsh Eisteddfod?). Expanding this work relating to identity issues (human: cultural and genetic), it is useful to explore parallels from science such as element composition in fish otoliths (which reveal spawning site ancestry and marine chemistry signals), or the story of identifying trace elements in honey (characterizing the identity of manuka honey is big business). How do parts relate to a recognizable whole? What components are defining? This project seeks to compare parallel narratives from science and society- prodding important questions in both worlds.

  • Human Genome as Museum (Sean Harris, UK,
  • potential collaborators could be sourced from Marine chemistry at U Otago

2.              Common Geology: Common Ground?

Newfoundland, England and the foothills of the Andes share common bedrock. The remnants of ancient continents connect now distant landforms: the primal continent of Ur now arises fractured among India, Australia and Antarctica; other continental remnants link North America and Greenland, as well as South America and West Africa. What commonalities might these rocks imbue? In plants, in people? Using OneGeology technology  and integrating stories of plants, animals and people, we explore the effect of ‘our common ground’.

3.              You think what you touch.

You are defined by more than the place where you are born, and yet outside does affect in. Beyond “you are what you eat”: You think what you touch (haptics)… and you are what you make (express). Modern integration of neuroscience, psychology, physiology (and more…) opens up exciting questions about that which we internalize and externalize… how does outside become in? What makes our own internal geography of place? Internal identity, mixed belongings? What does this mean for understanding cognition, synosia, and the union of humanities & science for effective education and communication?

  • Kaituitui Wānanga- Kaipara Harbor: How to invigorate a sense of place in local youth. Potential collaborator in Davina Hunt (Science Division) and  Marine chemistry, U Otago –e.g.  what is the trace element ‘signal’ of Kaipara? Can we draw the parallel with an ‘environmental tag’ in its human youth?
  • potential collaborator  on synosia at U Michigan, USA