Institute for Future Environments the university for the real world

Common_Thread: where science and art entwine

22nd May 2020

QUT researcher and practicing artist Dr Keith Armstrong has been awarded an Australia Council of the Arts grant to develop an experimental science-art project entitled Common_Thread. 

Common_Thread will explore how we might use today’s times of isolation and uncertainty to imagine very different social futures. 

Through the project, Dr Armstrong will ask “How might we rebuild our ‘immune system’ against the inhumane ‘infection’ of ecological degradation?”. 

Dr Armstrong, QUT School of Creative Practice Senior Lecturer and Affiliate Investigator with the Centre for the Environment, will work in residence at QUT’s Samford Ecological Research Facility (SERF) during the project’s development, supported by Centre Director Professor Jennifer Firn and SERF Research Infrastructure Manager Dr Bek Christensen. 

 

QUT researcher Dr Keith Armstrong.

 

The project is informed by Dr Armstrong’s prior residencies at SERF and will reflect on how our recent period of social isolation has shifted our consciousness, but in ways we are yet to understand.

“SERF protects a remnant block of vegetation, isolated within a patchwork quilt of surrounding farmed land that typifies the perilously fragmented state of Australia’s habitats. Could this moment offer us a rare opportunity to reflect upon how ‘settler culture’ has also divided up and shattered Australia, disconnecting species, cultures and environments?” Dr Armstrong said. 

Common_Thread imagines that we are capable of grasping this uncanny moment, where collective and self-interest collide, to organise our ‘worlds’ anew. 

The project will present this vision via an artwork that represents the connections that bind us into the world, asking how ‘art-thinking’ can help us build common, richly threaded futures. 

“This work will draw upon my personal experiences of working in SERF’s isolated landscape, its rigorous scientific dataset, theories of radical social reorganisation and online dialogues with bordering landowners, and advocates for profoundly threaded, multi-species futures,” Dr Armstrong said. 

Dr Amstrong has developed his art practice over the past two decades, with a particular focus on ecological and social science projects.

 

The Remnant, 2011, detail from installation, Tree-line Environmental Festival, Mary Cairncross Rainforest Scenic Reserve, Maleny, QLD. Image by Dr Keith Armstrong.

 

“My longstanding project as an experimental media artist has been to frame my work within the realms of ecology, in the understanding that biological, economic, social and political factors are deeply entangled and codependent.

“I have sought to understand what capacities my practice might have to affect perceptual and philosophical shifts in the public’s imagination, an approach that I understand as necessary in modelling pathways towards sustaining futures,” Dr Armstrong said.

In support of the project, Centre for the Environment Director Professor Jennifer Firn said human beliefs are motivated largely by emotion and that art connects more strongly to human emotions than arguably any other discipline. 

“Science builds and overturns new and existing knowledge often in creative ways, but it aims to communicate findings objectively, or devoid of emotion. When it comes to environmental issues, in my opinion, art and science are unstoppable partners for raising awareness and touching the ‘evidence-based chord’ we need to inspire meaningful change,” Professor Firn said.    

Learn more about the research being undertaken at the QUT Centre for the Environment here.

Featured image: Black Nectar, 2014, detail from installation/performance, Bundanon Siteworks Festival, NSW. Photo by Dr Keith Armstrong.

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