Fly on the wall

Lynden sends responses to her being fly on the wall at two Seeding Treaties meetings.


Memo to Lisa Robert. Please pass on or not any of these thoughts that you might find useful.

I attended a Zoom meeting re MEAA and Living Data paper for 2022. I was a fly on the wall i.e. did not speak or participate visually.

Here are my off the wall comments on the meeting.

  • Love the title” Circumpolar Navigations of Cultural Connections” for Part One. It is specific yet open ended.
  • Part 2. Seems a good idea to split into parts 1 and 2 because the readers of the document are going to need a “way in” to understand the relevance of Part 1 and to take it seriously. I see Part 2 as playing that role, one of connecting between what many people see as knowledge to what many people see as story telling or image making and not really relevant to real life in a serious manner.
  • Having task teams for parts 1 and 2 seems a necessity.
  • Essential to tease apart the concept of divisions and connections between art Science and Culture. This would be one of the main thrusts of Part 2.
  • The challenge will be how to engage people and keep asking yourselves who the audience is.
  • So, are you all talking about a written document? An e-book? Or a document with links to the resources and animations and visuals etc?
  • Keep emphasising that many different perspectives need to be acknowledged and considered in the process by the policy makers. It is in this light that the Living Data paper, or presentation, is being presented.
  • Politics and science and the economy alone have not fared very well so far for the Southern Ocean. It is time to take into account new ways of seeing.
  • You need the readers to identify with what you are presenting. Not merely take it in intellectually or because it is politically correct. So, in Part 1 possibly include stories of non-indigenous people and how/why they have a connection. These could be artistic statements or expressions or else simply little tales that are personable and easy to relate to.
  • You have to keep trying to link the reader in i.e. not have them see themselves as apart from the material.
  • How to create an experiential aspect as they navigate it. They could perhaps feel like they are participating in the creation or extending of Part 1.
  • Maybe in Part 2 include “life”. Isn’t that what combines those three things? What affects our lives and the way we live them? NB to ways of working…. How our minds think.
  • Simplicity is always best
  • Love the concept of flow as an essential theme or background influence somehow. Perhaps acknowledge two different ways of imaging flow in regard to culture and art….one indigenous and one “western” or non-indigenous.
  • Maybe including “life” in Part 2 and the non-indigenous person in Part 1 could provide sort of doorways or keyholes from the non-indigenous to the indigenous perspectives. Also, from science to culture and art.
  • Perhaps illustrate what a scientific/political/economic perspective has missed and why that is important.
  • NB that the paper is a perspective piece rather than an authoritative thing that needs scholarly references and review etc.
  • Flow of ice was mentioned as a possible organising tool for Part 1. Fluency in art, cultural flow, ice flow. Icebergs containing or holding and disseminating knowledge……utilise this artistically and refer to icebergs in Part 2 as well of course.
  • I think each part should refer to the other part so connections are clearly shown between the two approaches. That is what you are asking of the audience so it would be good if connections are overt in the two papers.
  • I think the key is our ordinary lives as human beings i.e. showing that any compartmentalisation of knowledge that we might employ sort of dissipates in our regular day to day existence. Day to day I depend on science and technology (I drive a car, choose my clothes from the weather report, brush my teeth with the latest paste, communicate via the internet etc etc), I am involved with culture (I go for a Saturday drive to a café for lunch, I watch a game of footy, I read the papers and a novel, I keep in touch with my son and brother etc etc) and the arts ( I listen to music, play my ukulele, smile at a painting sent to me via messenger, wander in a gallery and drink from a handmade mug etc etc). Our very lives combine the compartments. We need to consider the woes of the world holistically.
  • NB your paper/presentation will not save the world. Have a clear and simple aim and do that well.
  • Do not get caught up with how important it is. It is an important perspective, but it is one of many. Don’t lose a sense of joy and lightness in the whole thing somehow.

So, there you have it.

I have never been to Antarctica and have a no knowledge of indigenous stories from the Southern Ocean. I feel like a ring-in to something that is out of my area. I am sensitive to an Indigenous perspective but have definitely not explored this as much as many people in the Zoom meeting. Thus my reticence to participate more actively.

I admire the intention of the work and respect deeply the commitment to it. I also rather enjoy the chance to think about the issues that are arising from the project. I am unclear as to what and how I can contribute beyond the above humble comments.

Thanks for the opportunity,

Lynden Nicholls

Lynden fly on the wall feedback to MEASO zoom meeting on 17/6/2020

I think some of the key issues were captured in the following comments by Andrew and Lisa and Ellery. (I have paraphrased.)

1/Questions from Andrew:

How can we bring different knowledge systems to the table and treat them the same? How do you use culture and art for deep thinking and to explore different dimensions. Can this way of thinking lead to decisions? An evidence way of seeing things goes through this process differently.


Art has been used as a method of expression and understanding in previous cultures (and presumably in indigenous cultures). The change happens when people make their own art.


How can we bring prior knowledge to new data?

My discussion of this:

1/ Different knowledge systems deserve to be taken equally seriously whilst being accepted as different. They can inform each other and intertwine but each has a separate contextual, experiential and historical base. Through their mutual acknowledgment the full picture is enriched.

This enriched way of seeing the world leads to a more sensitive understanding than one of pure development, profit and advantage. An animal or a particular place is valuable not only for its chemical and physical makeup, it is valuable in and of itself in its natural state.

(I don’t love my son because of his scientific or even behavioural makeup I love him for a complex web of reasons including the bond we have developed over many years, trust, admiration of his life choices, pride, …. It is a complex tapestry. If he gets sick however I value science to assist in his recovery.)

Perhaps my otter poem gives another perspective on this. Here it is.

Otter reflections by Lynden Nicholls 2019

I am an otter. I am a person. I am an otter person and a person otter.

This means that I believe I personify many characteristics of otters. Yes, I anthropomorphise* them. Not in a cutesy way, in a respectful and total way.

I refer to my otter self as Ollie.

Reflections, words spilling out of me.

I feel their sensuousness. I feel it physically, totally. Full body contact with a surface… under the chin, along the inside of the arms and legs…. Rolling, spreading out exuding along the floor or a rock. Feeling the 360 degrees of water contact supporting and massaging. I feel the wind, the air temperature. I used to dance in the air on trapezes.

Fossicking, always alert to changes around them and me. Curious. “What was that?”

Whimsical. Quizzical. Twisting and moving in waves and figure 8s. Figure 8 as a symbol. I move in figure 8s when I dance and I did an essay on the symbolism of 8 for my Masters in Creative Arts.

Body shaped like a landscape, the hills and valleys of my country retreat, a colour that is hard to describe…. My colour, the colour of my bedroom walls.

My whiskers are feelers out to the world. They inform me.

I am low to the ground and can slink under the radar.

I love sharing my weight with my fellow otters. In dance. I love Contact Improvisation.

We can feel our hearts beat, the pulse of life from our mob of bodies.

Dappled light along the river, sun and shade, pretty magical. The river is life moving past me, with me. I delve into it when I want to. It feeds me, it refreshes me, it supports me.

I love my two worlds of the earth and water. I play in the water… play with my body, with my friends, my family.

I need to know, I need to check things out, to feel them, to play with them. I exhaust myself! I immerse myself in a sea of sounds…. The river, the birds, and quiet silence on top of that.

Then there is my secret. My holt. Not telling much about that. It is where I withdraw. I don’t have to be curious or explore or be aware. I just sleep and restore, replenish my energies.

My belly is soft, is private sometimes. I fold it away, it is mine, my personal self.

*“Anthropomorphic” was a word I knew in grade 2. I put up my hand saying I knew what it meant and was asked to write it on the blackboard. Correctly!

That is how I know otters. I am not all that interested in a more scientific way of knowing them. My deep and personal connection to them would be my motivation for wanting to preserve their habitat and indeed their species. Greater academic or scientific knowledge would not be relevant to my sense of connection to them.

Having said that I have come to know otters from closely observing them over a period of many years and from exploring their physicality and behavioural choices through anthropomorphic and theatrical processes. Through dance. I know that many people have been inspired about the animal world by watching my Animotions performances. They have been moved to relate to our natural world in ways that science or academia does not motivate.

My otter story is my own personal way of getting a glimpse of other ways of seeing. An indigenous perspective on our environment and our relationships to each other and the land have been developed over tens of thousands of years. Science has led us to destroying our planet.

I think humanity needs more than one dimension in our ways of understanding. Analytical so called facts and figures have not lead us to sensitively living with this planet. We live on the planet at the moment and treat it as a resource rather than our home.

Indigenous perspectives on place and animals connect in a different way. A way, I believe, that can perhaps save us all because it values nature in its essence rather than a thing to master. Analysis, reductionism, profiteering, political possession and competition have all lead us down a dead end, literally. We must give more prominence to another way of seeing, another system of knowledge that is encapsulated in indigenous tradition.

(Relevant here could be what is the relationship between our knowledge system and our value system. But, let’s not make it too complicated!)

2/ As Lisa says art has been used and is still used in indigenous cultures as a means of expressing this way of knowing and understanding. The layers of meaning and symbolism in the art reflect the interconnections between life choices, land forms and animals present in the land.

As far as this paper or presentation goes I am not sure if merely presenting lots of examples of indigenous art will lead people to a deep grasp and appreciation of this important parallel perspective. Part of me wants to say that merely presenting the art is a confident way to show our belief in it. Let it stand for itself but, why not help it along by talking, writing, around the concept of why we see it as relevant and important?

Appealing to the audience as people rather than as academics or scientists or politicians is the key here. I think this is where animation comes in because it is a contemporary form and one that I think can span science and an indigenous perspective.

3/ Bringing prior knowledge to new data….

I think we do that all the time. Things evolve and combine and influence. The movement is not “forward” it must spiral and turn back on itself and fan out rather than simply climb a ladder.

There you go.

Lynden Nicholls

Posted on Sunday, July 12th, 2020