"Representing Climate Change: Ecology, Media and the Arts"
A conference and photography exhibition hosted by "The Cultures of Climate Change"
at The Centre for Research in the Arts, Social Sciences and Humanities (CRASSH), University of Cambridge
15-17 October 2008
While considerable attention has been paid to the problem of global climate change from the domains of science, policy, and economics, only recently have the arts and humanities begun to address the phenomenon on their own terms and via their own methods. This is an unfortunate delay, for in the efforts to educate the public about the nature of the phenomenon, scientists and teachers often draw on visual and verbal resources with which the arts and humanities have developed expertise—consequently the need for more nuanced and flexible conversation is clear. Emerging from the first year of The Cultures of Climate Change, an interdisciplinary research group at the University of Cambridge, this conference and its associated photography exhibition aim to redress that imbalance by taking representations as a ground on which all disciplines may meet.
Representations—whether in textbooks, museums, newspapers, or on gallery walls—are intimately linked to the ways that scientific knowledge is created, reproduced, received, and used. In the context of contemporary debates surrounding climate change, the use and abuse of representations of environmental phenomena have become even more loaded as different camps seek to sway an ‘undecided’ or uncommitted public to their vision of ecological change. But at the same time as scientific representations seek to accomplish their own ends, artistic works and representations (photography, paintings, novels, even operas) have emerged as another way of considering the phenomenon of climate change, even a form of activism in their own right—as shown by initiatives such as NorthSouthEastWest or the Cape Farewell project. This conference, then, seeks to find these meeting points between disparate disciplines and present them to the artistic, academic, and policy-based communities. Some questions we hope to address are:
•What ontological differences separate artistic and scientific representations of climate-related processes and events? In what ways can these differences be seen to unite them?
•Must photography about climate change address loss, disaster, and suffering in order to make its case? What are the effects of taking this specific kind of subject matter?
•How can different narratives (scientific, anthropological, political) surround a climate-related image, and what are the points of convergence and divergence with one another?
•Which representations of climate change (like glacial melt or bleached coral reefs) have attained iconicity, and which have been shunned? Why and how has this happened? Which more ambiguous images (like polar bears) have been hijacked for the purpose?
•How does looking at a representation of climate change (however interpreted) encourage or require us to reassess ways of looking at representations of non-climate-related environmental phenomena? What is an ecological way of seeing—a visual ecopoetics?
•Taking these questions more broadly, how can art effect social change on a wider scale? In what ways does a sound-art installation of a melting glacier lead to social action?
500-word proposals for 20-minute papers are invited from members of the academic, artistic, and policy-based communities. Proposals should be sent in PDF or Word format, and include contact information and an academic or artistic biography. Selected papers will be considered for a planned volume; deadline for all proposals is 1 July 2008 with notification following by 15 July. As stated, the conference will be joined by an exhibition of work from noted contemporary photographers, to which participants are invited to refer in their presentations. Further questions should be directed to Benjamin Morris, firstname.lastname@example.org, or Bradon Smith, email@example.com. Updates and further details about both the conference and exhibition can be found at the CRASSH website, http://www.crassh.cam.ac.uk/events/546.
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