Expanding scientific data with gesture and line

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Carolyn Whan: Krill cycle
Carolyn Whan: Krill cycle

Krill cycle, by artist and conservationist Carolyn Whan, represents the cycle of relationships between krill, phytoplankton, whales and moonbirds (shearwaters). Perhaps the movement qualities in her lines relate to her early training as a dancer.

Abstract to accompany the presentation of the animation, Energies.

No sense of an environment as a whole can be known through scientific data alone. Scientists study fragments of environments. Data are compiled using methods that require that observers maintain separation from their subjects. However, when data sets are presented in ways that connect to our experience of environments, we can connect to this information at a primal level. We naturally experience environments through kinaesthetic senses. These are all the senses that we use to inform us of our relationships to the physical and biological elements we encounter.

Animation can be used to combine scientific data with subjective responses to Antarctica. Data sets can be accurately traced and animated. Gestures and lines that convey sensory responses can be made and animated to combine with these.

Since ancient times, an elemental language of gestures and lines has been used to describe human relationships to environments. The circle, spiral, and cross have been identified as the basis of these languages. These elemental forms arise from gestures that are most naturally performed by virtue of the structure of the human body. These forms can be used to describe environments, and to convey a kinesthetic sense of being within them.

The Antarctic environment can be described by the circle, spiral and cross. The circumpolar current, the spiraling circulation of cold bottom water, and the cross that marks the spot where lines of longitude meet, provided a framework within which to combine scientific data sets and subjective responses to Antarctica.

Energies conveys a sense of being within some of the data sets that describe Antarctica’s changing environment.

Energies was inspired by seeing the birth of a krill, and hearing the insights of scientists who breed them. From this moment, krill became the focal point for combining animations that I had previously made to represent forces within the Antarctic ecosystem. Krill are central in the food web through which Antarctic life forms connect. The circular form of a krill egg resembles the structure of Antarctica and the world. The circle is symbolic of wholeness and connectivity.

In 2002, I experienced in Antarctica a heightened sense of being part of an environment that is notoriously difficult to describe. I also witnessed gestures of profound disappointment in the scientists working there, when we received news of the refusal of world leaders to ratify the Kyoto Protocol. These experiences compelled me to find ways to combine a sense of being in Antarctica with scientific evidence of its changing environment.

3 Replies to “Expanding scientific data with gesture and line”

  1. I loved the moonbirds. I had their life cycle intimately described to me by a Tasmanian Aboriginal Woman of The Straits, Anita Maynard. A graphic artist, I had seen her drawing them flying: a dot with wings like an archetypal or primal image. I had been privileged to eat muttonbird she cooked, and had seen her husband, Ricky Maynard’s images of the moonbird people, and knew how they wished to own their own rookery again. I had made some inkworks of shearwaters on Cape Barren Island, after looking for their stuffed bodies in the museum.
    I had printed a tiny series of linoprints to show the short-tailed shearwaters’ cycle of life and how they make their 7 year journey, like an infinite loop around the Pacific. I had seen so many of their bodies strewn on our south coast beaches after storms out to sea. I had felt their light hollow white bones.
    There needs to be thousands of them. I imagine their black cloud winging thousands of nights through the moonlight led by their tiny pilotbird guide.
    Now I had seen something on TV of the humpbacks in the Arctic summer. The aim was to practice my ink techniques with the flying shearwaters, but as I worked, the place photographed in a National Geographic, the liquid silver of the reflective ocean surface and the plumes of the birds as they plummet down to fly under water, began to work its magic. What I knew was already permeating what I was seeing.
    So, The Krill Cycle became layered like the food pyramid with the greatest numbers at the bottom. The phytoplankton and krill were researched on the web. I loved the geometry of the plankton at the microscopic level, to the luminosity of the krill in a cloud of movement, to the giant humpbacks spiralling up through their bubble nets in the silver ocean of the Aleutian summer. I’d seen underwater footage of our southern ocean humpbacks feeding. I knew how important krill were to the ocean web of life, how their patterns on the satellites must trace the seawater temperatures as the phytoplankton bloom and the currents swirl around the ice continent.

  2. Carolyn,

    Only sometimes do I feel that all people and places are connected, and yet I am learning that this is the reality.

    Like the infinity sign traces the journey of the moonbirds (or shearwaters), your image and words bring this project to a close and a new beginning.

    Whale observer, Debra Glasgow, who I met on Flinders Island, first inspired me to go to Antarctica.

    Ken McAnergney, a Maori man, tells a story about one of his ancestors who travelled to with moonbirds Antarctica. He relates this story to his own journey there, during which he recognised Mount Erebus as the the smoking mountain that his ancestor described.

    The Aboriginal artist, Elaine Russell, says the circle symbolises how our stories connect us to each other and our lands.

    Antarctica belongs to no one and everyone, and yet, as a near-circular continent, where people from many places meet to measure and experience a most elemental environment, it seems to work as a symbol of connectivity between all our stories.

  3. Thankyou Lisa for the opportunity to add my work to your site, otherwise this picture may never have seen the light of day. Antartica is the continent that may save this millenium and only by being science-led but holistic will this be safely achieved. You are doing important conceptual, kineaesthetic and gaian work.

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Posted on Wednesday, February 24th, 2010