This is the second blog from the 2-day Forum Citizen Science event in the northern German city of Münster. It’s also the fifth blog highlighting activities on a Winston Churchill Memorial Trust research trip to Singapore and 3 European countries (England, Germany and Austria). The second Forum CS day comprised concurrent sessions of project/research presentations and workshops covering citizen science and art, participant motivation, and key competencies for effective co-research.
The evening of Day 1 wrapped up with an entertaining ethnographic tour of the Botanical Gardens. We were treated to plants’ historical and medicinal uses, learnt about the specialised ecology of juniper and gin-making across Northern Europe and which herbs in the garden were used to flavour beer (and why). We sniffed plants smelling of Gummibärchen (well-known German sweets), and squeezed pelargonum species to release scents of citronella, peppermint and rose. A sliver of Stevia leaf chewed left many surprised at the burst of sweetness, and we were all left curious about the cake tree, whose fallen leaves smell like… cake!
‘Citizen science is epistemically relevant and socially robust’
The keynote delivered by Prof. Dr. Sabine Massen (Director of the Centre for Technology and Society, Munich) provided an overview of citizen science in the context of traditional science. She argued that innovation legitimises research activities and investments, while also being disruptive. For the latter she pointed to areas such as Public Understanding of Science, transdisciplinarity and citizen science.
Although much of the information presented was familiar to me, I question how we measure progress toward broader goals in citizen science. In ecology it would be baseline data collection to support species and/or habitat restoration and management, e.g., measuring the current population or spread of a species or state of health of an ecosystem. While the 10 Principles of Citizen Science (ECSA) apply at a project level, high level measures e.g., degree of agency/institutional integration require a different approach. In NZ, 12 working group meeting results, a 5-point Action Plan and a national 10y Science in Society Strategy form ‘ground zero’ for measuring progress at differing levels against.
Citizen science, art and research: alternative ways of seeing and doing
The first workshop led by Johanna Barnbeck (Creative researcher); Anna Maria Hartkopf (Mathematician FU Berlin) introduced the concept of creative research. This approach has evolved over the last 2 decades – it’s not science research but it’s not just making art either. Confusingly, some proponents of this approach exclude the possibility ‘…that works of art in themselves contribute new knowledge and understanding…’ – a core principle for citizen science (Frayling, p. 261 in http://clab.iat.sfu.ca/804/uploads/Main/RoutledgeCompanion.pdf). Others such as Borgdorff (2006) view investigation both ‘…in and through art objects and creative processes…’as the means to expand knowledge and understanding. Either way, to an outsider (like myself) definitions and boundaries remain slippery given the scope of possible methodologies and overall objectives (e.g., the weighting between research, creative outputs and social engagement). The facilitators described their own projects (language development and raising public awareness of mathematics) before we divided into two teams to co-design elements of new projects.
Bio-narratives: ethnography, art and engagement
This local collaboration was developed by Dr. Wilhelm Bauhus and Lena Wobido (WWU Münster), and artist Martina Lückener (Künstlerin). One objective was to re-connect people to their local agricultural environment and largely forgotten history through a creative investigation of the toxic ergot fungus. Now little known, ergot infestations resulted in hallucinations and severe cramping that could lead to death or permanent disfigurement. Rye is the host plant, a primary breadmaking grain. The fungus still exists, although new rye cultivars combined with stringent laboratory tests of milled grains have wiped out ergot poisonings.
The project artist, Martina, investigates shadows. Workshop participants were invited to imaging the severe ergot cramps while their shadows were drawn. They could reposition themselves to create a palimpsest of body parts to better illustrate contortive spasms. The paper cut outs were transferred to large sheets of black felt to render the shadows black. Some shadows have been recreated on weather-proof sheets of black coated composite board for eventual display outside in fields of rye. LSD is a product made from the fungus and has historically been used to trigger creativity – another link the project obliquely explores. A video of the project is here.
Next stop, London.
The Routledge Companion to Research in the Arts. 2011. Eds. Biggs, M. & Karlsson, H. Routledge: London & New York