The theater group, PositiveFeedback, will unveil new work–Field Trip: A Climate Cabaret–at the Lamont Doherty Earth Observatory Open House on October 6. The piece was created through a PositiveFeedback-sponsored collaboration between the eco-theater collective Superhero Clubhouse and a group of scientists at LDEO. In this piece, the research of several prominent female scientists will be represented through a cabaret-style performance. Because it’s a cabaret, the audience can expect plenty of song and dance, but this particular cabaret will be set at the researchers’ field camp, in a world where a microphone and a camping tent coexist in the same space. PositiveFeedback recently spoke to Jeremy Pickard, the leader of Superhero Clubhouse, and Dr. Nicole Davi, a climate scientist at LDEO about how art and science can support one another.
The juxtaposition of artist vs. scientist is a popular image in our society. Even when we claim to be either “left-brained” or “right-brained,” we are subtly implying that there is a line in the sand, and a person must stand on one side or the other. While there are interesting lessons that can be learned by examining that line—the place where art and science diverge—a far more fascinating world exists at the place where the two disciplines intersect and overlap.
PositiveFeedback is an inter-institutional consortium whose mission is to explore the possibilities that lie at the intersection of art and science. By supporting collaborations between artists and scientists focused on climate change, PositiveFeedback hopes to amplify the communication ability of both disciplines and allow them to reach broader audiences. “Our goal is not for artists to appropriate the work of scientists, or vice versa, but rather for artists and scientists to reach an understanding of each other’s work in such a way that is truly collaborative,” says Lisa Phillips, co-Director of PositiveFeedback, “We seek to cultivate work that is not just interdisciplinary, but transdisciplinary.”
Jeremy Pickard, a theater artist whose work will be featured at the upcoming Lamont-Doherty Earth Observatory (LDEO) Open House, believes that art and science have more in common besides just a similar need for funding from grant proposals. “The best artists and scientists I know are explorers. We’re all interested in the world as an adventure.” Speaking as the leader of an eco-theater collective called Superhero Clubhouse, he believes that art is uniquely poised to help shape the narrative of science’s adventures. “Often when a scientific article is published, it’s interpreted by the public as something finished, something researched and complete. But it’s usually just the first step in a much larger expedition.”“We both want the world to understand us. We want to communicate truths to the public, and we offer each other extra dimensions in terms of how those truths can be grasped by the wider audience,” said Pickard, when asked how science and art can support one another. “Collaboration allows us to see the world in new and different ways.” He also believes that sense of significance that scientific work often carries can be a boon to artists, whose work can often be, as he described it, “dismissed as the stuff of childhood, or the stuff of fantasy and emotion.”
This isn’t the first time that Pickard has collaborated with LDEO scientists; thanks to support from PositiveFeedback, this will be his third presentation at an LDEO Open House. Last year, he collaborated with Dr. Nicole Davi, a scientist studying climate change at LDEO, to create a play about a boy who becomes lost in a forest where the trees are able to speak to him. The year before that, he crafted a performance art piece that was designed to spur conversation about natural disasters.
This year, Pickard is once again working with Dr. Davi, who is also a strong proponent of a partnership between art and science. She recently described a previous collaboration with a theater group, where she would find science articles and send them to the playwright and director. “It was amazing to see how they turned these articles into something that would be interesting for an audience to watch. Theater artists are storytellers, and I think that we could learn a lot from how they take what is important about a subject and present it in a way that the broader audience can relate to.”
Both Pickard and Davi believe that improved communication is the most important product of their collaboration. To the general public, a scientific issue such as climate change may seem like something removed from their everyday life. But when a scientific issue is viewed through the lens of art, it becomes more than just science or just art; it becomes something that people can relate to. As Pickard notes, “The key to reaching people is to look at your material and find the human story. You turn it into a narrative, where the characters are people that the audience can care about; people who have hopes and make discoveries. And then it goes from being something distant to something that the audience feels engaged in, something they can talk about.”
Field Trip: A Climate Cabaret will be presented at the Lamont-Doherty Earth Observatory Open House on October 6th. Admission is free. More information about the Open House can be found at http://www.ldeo.columbia.edu/news-events/events/open-house.
PositiveFeedback is an inter-institutional consortium designed to support the collaborations of artists and scientists focused on climate change. Its founding partners are The Earth Institute, Columbia University; the Center for Creative Research, New York University, and the CUNY Institute for Sustainable Cities. Through research collaborations and public engagement, PositiveFeedback creates opportunities for artists and scientists to connect with each other and with the general public, offering a new lens through which to communicate the challenges associated with climate change.
Superhero Clubhouse is a sustainable collective of artists and advocates working at the intersection of environmentalism and theater. They make original performances via a collaborative, green and rigorous process. Through the creation of allegorical mythologies, experiments in storytelling and science-inspired events, they work to ignite environmental conversations among audiences and communities in the pursuit of revolutionary theater and ecological coexistence.