The following is the established format for referencing this article:Österblom, H., F. Gazitúa, and A. Leible. 2023. To split a stone. Ecology and Society 28(3):11.
Science and art are often disconnected but, if combined, can help stimulate learning and novelty and guide societal change. How then to bridge the divide between scientists and artists in a way that extends beyond superficial, short-term interactions? We describe an ongoing coproduction practice between a Swedish sustainability scientist and two Chilean artists—a sculptor and painter—striving to find ways to work together. Our transdisciplinary collaboration was initiated in 2013 and, although there has never been an agenda or goal for our interaction, there has been a mutual interest to investigate joint possibilities. Through a series of meetings, we tried but failed to accomplish anything for several years. By 2022, we finally created something tangible together, realizing it was not just material objects we were producing but also a meeting between worlds. We describe how this long-term partnership, driven by mutual respect and curiosity, created conditions for bridging across our respective knowledge and practices. By working, walking, and exploring together, we learned how to communicate, overcome challenges of different languages, and combine perspectives. We have recognized similarities in how we engage with material from the natural world and how we combine elements for novelty. Through our interactions, we have started to identify how coproduced science and art can stimulate a reconnection with the biosphere, thereby providing a foundation for transformative societal change.
A first meeting
“Tengo una piedra en Estocolmo,” said the man in the backseat. We drove along the Uruguayan coastline east of Montevideo, not yet next to the Atlantic Ocean but following the mouth of Río de la Plata, the river of silver. Argentineans call money plata, silver. Money and silver are the same thing, for obvious reasons. Just go to Potosí and you will see. The man in the backseat was calm and peaceful, with hands that knew real work. He introduced himself as Pancho (Francisco) as he entered the vehicle. Angela was also in the backseat, wild black hair and intense eyes. Her way of speaking and asking questions was meandering, curious. “Angela,” she said, with a distinct “g.” The language spoken was a mix of English and Spanish.
It took some time for me (Henrik), the non-native Spanish speaker in the car, to process this information. “He has a ... stone in Stockholm? What does that mean?” Pancho explained that it is in Humlegården, next to Linnaeus, and I understood which sculpture Pancho was referring to. It is a silent stone, lingering in the shade. It is called La Cordillera de los Andes. The four-ton stone (Fig. 1) had been transported from Chile to Sweden by ship. It was a way of giving thanks for welcoming those who escaped the Pinochet era during the 1970s. Half of the stone was left in Chile, just as the hearts and soul of those who left. We, the three passengers, did not yet fully grasp the significance of the stone or that we would soon travel together in the Andes to discover the place the rock had come from, sleep near pumas (Puma concolor concolor), and admire condors (Vultur gryphus). We did not know that we would explore the wind a decade after this first meeting.
The three of us had no idea that in a few years’ time, we would visit a tree documented by Linnaeus (Linnaeus 1745; Fig. 2). We did not know that the meeting represented a start of an exploration of the fringes, foundations, and subterranean spaces of science and art and the spaces between. That all happened later. For now, we were just riding in a car toward a meeting in Uruguay that had been organized by scientists affiliated with the South American Institute for Resilience and Sustainability Studies (SARAS) to explore creativity and the intersection between science and art. The sun was just shining. The road was just a road.
This text is an attempt to describe, in chronological order, an evolving and ongoing conversation and practice (2013–2023) between a Chilean sculptor: Francisco (Pancho) Gazitúa (FG), a Chilean painter: Angela Leible (AL), and a Swedish sustainability scientist: Henrik Österblom (HÖ). The scientific literature has suggested that accounts of this sort are rare; possibly, our experience can add to existing knowledge about how to connect science and art for biosphere stewardship (Pereira et al. 2019, Saratasi et al. 2019, Heras et al. 2021). We have interacted in formal and informal meetings described as science-led, collaborative, or arts-led (Saratasi et al. 2019; Table 1) and sometimes involving multiple scientists and artists in crowded rooms. We have worked, walked, and lived together in Uruguay, Chile, and Sweden, spending time in the Andes, on the coasts of the great Atlantic and Pacific Oceans, and on a small island in the Baltic Sea. We have stayed in hotels, lighthouses, and tents and slept under the Southern Cross, and we visited and worked in each other’s studios and field sites.
The text is a shared story, based on our individual and combined experiences, stimulated by reflections triggered by individual presentations to different audiences, conversations between us, working together with each other’s trades, or interacting in a larger group of scientists and artists to develop a joint product. We have maintained regular contact between meetings to learn about the questions we were asking and our approaches and methods for studying and interpreting answers to them through sculptures, paintings, arts exhibitions, scientific projects, or publications.
The method for collecting information can perhaps best be described as an ethnographic approach (although we claim no such formal training) and employing participatory observation, primarily documented through field notes and photography. Information collected between the science-led workshop in 2013 and the arts-led workshop in 2022 has been analyzed qualitatively to derive insights from each interaction. Table 1 provides details about these interactions (i.e., method, place, participants, and funding).
The text refers both to individual and shared experiences, and each of us communicate in first person singular (I or me) at different points. Each reference to an individual is followed by the initials of the person speaking at first mention in each paragraph. The relevant initials are similarly specified when the text refers to multiple individuals (we or our).
Crack openThe first SARAS meeting (Table 1) between scientists and artists was carefully designed by the scientists and took place in 2013 (Scheffer and Mazzeo 2019), starting on the day after our drive along the coast of Uruguay. It included substantial reading of scientific papers describing the potential in collaboration and how creative scientists are interested or engaged in art. Conversations were open and interested, with scientists in charge—organizing, setting goals, and carrying out the meeting. The aims were to produce a special issue in a scientific journal, to write scientific papers, to stake out a scientific claim—an emerging territory—and, perhaps, to write a book.
The meeting generated interesting ideas and the initial stages of writing scientific papers. It included good food, walks in the forest, using wood to construct a boat (Scheffer and Mazzeo 2019), taking breaks in hammocks, and enjoying the beautiful location that would eventually be home to the SARAS Institute. In 2013, it was just an empty lot, facing the ocean, leaning against the small mountains. We lived in a large hotel. We walked up a mountain. Then we walked back down again. The artists urged the scientists to read Borges, a writer capable of describing the essence of science (Borges 1946), art, and poetry (Borges 1960, Borges 1944; see also https://movingpoems.com/2012/11/arte-poetica-the-art-of-poetry-by-jorge-luis-borges/)—even infinity (Borges 1949)—with a few lines of text. There are some basic requirements when attempting to obtain respect between cultures. Finding ways to communicate is a prerequisite, and the language of Borges, transcending science and art, made so much sense.
Scientists and artists were building relationships, trying to close in on each other. It was mostly confusing but also exciting. During the workshop, participants watched a short film about the stone in Stockholm. It is from a quarry in Pirque, a small village outside Santiago, Chile. The film illustrates the process of transporting this massive sculpture to Sweden, the use of old tools, sculptors singing in synchrony as the hammers drive wedges to the sides of a sleeping beast. Suddenly, with a deep sigh, the rock just gives. She split right open, with a great exhale. There is something powerful about this change of power, flow of energy, of material giving way. Bonds breaking. The feeling of the rock that split in two, just as when an idea is clear, when writing flows, when a project is completed. The feeling of letting go. Few of the participating scientists had experience of working with artists or, if they did have experience, art had mostly been used as decoration for or communication of scientific results. This meeting strived to go further; there appeared to be a profound metaphor in a rock that splits.
Splitting is a first step of modulating the precise word in the speech of a sculptor because sculpture is a language. To split a stone is a way for me (FG) to begin a conversation that will go on for centuries with people from distant places and all walks of life, including with children in a faraway park in Stockholm. To be an artist (a sculptor) is to learn the language of matter and communicate with it. Learning the language of stone takes time because the words are as precise and accurate as those in a dictionary. Stones have an exact nature; granite, andesite, basalt, marble—each has its own message, a specific hardness, a way of fracturing, a specific weight. I do not know how much there is of me in my sculptures after thousands of hours in my workshop, but eventually these stones are telling their own story, speaking of their origin, with the brightness of their unique crystals. Their language never becomes commonplace or worn out like our spoken words. To capture the essence of stone, I go to its origin and investigate its matter—the way a fox burrows into its den. I relate to matter in its wilder state, the way the planet offers it.
Something had cracked open because something happens when scientist and artists meet (Table 1). But this was only a beginning. A first meeting in a car. A first meeting when we started to appreciate our different ways, trades, skills, and languages. Much uncertainty and confusion remained at this early stage, but there was a willingness to explore further.
Silence in darknessThe second workshop at SARAS took place the following year (2014) and was again led by scientists (Table 1). The meeting was productive but also illustrated how difficult it is to create shared, equal working spaces and mutual interests between science and art. Despite these challenges, we continued to work on the papers and ideas initiated the previous year, subsequently published in a special issue (https://ecologyandsociety.org/feature/112/) in Ecology & Society. This time, in Uruguay, I (HÖ) travelled with my family. We went on land across the continent, passed Aconcagua—the high point of the Americas—before descending toward the Pacific Ocean.
My family and I (HÖ) were welcomed to Pirque, the home of Pancho (FG) and Angela (AL), who let us live in their casita to learn more about their world, on their conditions, to learn about their method, material, place, and languages. Angela paints in giant proportion on epic canvases to illustrate Andean cosmovision with condors, eagles, flamingoes, horses, and people, using natural pigments and guided by skeletons. The studio is filled with amazing paintings, intense energy, and loud music (Fig. 3). In the studio beneath Angela‛s, Pancho makes his sculptures using a hammer, anvil, and forge, sculpting in wood, steel, and stone. This is where his German railroad hammer rests silently or descends violently in ways that make you fear losing either hearing or hands. Here, I felt welcomed to the world of artists, on their terms, in their studios and homes.
Together, we went on horseback to the Olivares valley to explore the Andes (Table 1). “This is where Charles Darwin travelled through. You can read about it yourself,” FG said and gave me (HÖ) his copy of Voyages of the Beagle (Darwin 1839). He also gave me a copy of Canto General (Neruda 1950). Reading Nobel Laureate Pablo Neruda is a good starting point for learning about people and nature, illustrating how a poet relates to the land and its history. Just like Linnaeus and Darwin, Neruda was inspired by careful observations of the living world. We, too, traveled deep into the mountains. While cooking outside over an open fire, we were getting to know each other in conditions where our professional roles were less important. The condors were soaring. The puma was somewhere in the night. A sheep had been taken by the big cat the day before. The dogs and the Southern Cross were keeping watch. We slept under the stars. This was unknown terrain, and the sky was open. The vastness of the Andes and the night were hard to take in. The world was silent. It was cold but comfortable. We were not sure where this was going, but we enjoyed the company.
A new, intellectual space had been opened up by visits to the studios of artists and spending time together in places of inspiration, but the distance between science and art was still great. Collaborative learning would take time. Conditions for learning were beneficial in a smaller group, under an open sky, without an agenda, and with time to explore (Table 1).
Laughing childrenIn August 2017, we (AL and FG) were invited by the Stockholm Resilience Centre (SRC) to attend an international conference on resilience with about 1000 people, mostly scientists (Table 1). We talked about how we use nature as inspiration in our art, how we investigate objects and their history. I (AL) talked about how I study the morphology of the animals I paint, how I embrace human culture and history in relation to the spiritual role of these animals. We described our method and how it is not that different from science—it requires careful observation. A main difference, perhaps, is that we are not afraid to express our own personal engagement and our love for the material (see videos by Leible  https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=pgTnfwMdIVA and Gazitúa  https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ayphbyci234).
After the session, we (AL, FG, and HÖ) invited attendees for a walk to Cordillera de Los Andes. Children who play in the park call it the Whispering Rock because it is hollow, and you can speak to each other through it. If you are small, you can hide inside. There was a group of children there when we visited, climbing in and out of the rock, running, playing, and tumbling about. I (FG) think that art should be in service of society. Sometimes art can be perceived as noble, untouchable, only for the educated and refined. Children know better than this.
During the final session of the conference, my (AL) puma was displayed on an enormous screen behind the speakers. It represents Kay Pacha—the living world. The colorful animal was looking down at the conference participants, producing a menacing yet beautiful framing of nature looking at humans. The size of the painting, displayed in the sky, and its intense beauty stimulated a sense of humility. Humans are possibly at their best when overwhelmed.
There appears to be a strong urge among sustainability scientists to find new means of expressing themselves. Presentations by and conversations with artists illustrated that many scientists long for inspiration by art (Table 1).
The world will be perfectIn 2018, SARAS hosted another meeting with scientists and artists (Table 1). This time, the focus was on creating space for interaction between young scientists and young artists who were primarily based in Latin America. We (AL and FG) were invited to speak about our work, and we introduced the places we are from, our histories. Scientists and artists present themselves in different ways. Scientists often focus on the study area, method, data, results, and implications. As artists, we seem more comfortable to introduce ourselves focusing on who we are, where we come from, the context in which we operate, our motivation, and our driving forces. It is a good idea to introduce yourself properly, not pretending to simply be a representative of data and ideas.
FG ended his talk by stating, “One day the world will be perfect.” This was presented as a rational conclusion, based on the trajectory of “things keep on getting better all the time.” It is strange how such a simple statement can be profound and seem impossible, but not if you chose to believe it. Sometimes established normality is taken for granted, which results in a failure to expand the mind into the seemingly impossible. Scientists need places like SARAS to learn new things, hear new thoughts, to unwind, to slow down, and to meet new people and have surprising conversations. Science is already a privileged occupation, but if innovation and novelty are to be embraced, something must change in the world of science, which increasingly focuses on metrics and material outputs (Paasche and Österblom, 2019).
Many scientists are trained to think in units, systems, or boundaries and about discrete objects and interactions between components. A simple statement by an artist can, however, illustrate the importance of thinking beyond such constraints (Table 1).
Speaking to a treeHow to find ways to connect science with art and how to go beyond using art as decoration—to integrate science with art? If a scientist (HÖ) could learn from spending time in the homes and professional lives of artists in Chile to learn about their craft, see their studios, and experience the places from where they drew their inspiration, perhaps it would also be of value for artists (AL and FG) to visit the field site of scientists? We (FG and AL) visited Stora Karlsö in 2019, the island where HÖ had worked on Common guillemots (Uria aalge) since 1998 (Fig. 4a). The island has an artificial seabird breeding ledge, developed with an architect and a local construction company (Fig. 4b), where you can watch birds up close (Fig. 4c and Fig. 4d). We (FG, AL and HÖ) went to explore the island, to catch and ring birds, and to watch the animals. We carefully explored the island on foot, taking in its beauty, history, and culture, which stretch back to the Bronze Age and beyond.
We (AL and FG) were particularly taken by Linnaeus Ash (Fig. 5a). It is an ash tree (Fraxinus excelsior) growing in a stone grave, which means the sheep have been unable to get to it for centuries. Linnaeus described it in his 1741 field notes when visiting the island (Linnaeus, 1745). It marks the high point of Stora Karlsö. We walked there together to feel the history, to experience time, and to discuss the Norse legend of the sacred tree, Yggdrasil, the center of the universe (Fig. 5b). To a scientist it was just a tree, a scientific curiosity with a long history. To artists, it was a magic encounter. After dinner we had conversations that lasted long into the night. The scientists on the island received instructions from us (FG, AL): “Use your intuition, practice it, explore it, embrace it. Intuition, intuition, intuition.” It was not training they were used to receiving.
As an artist I (AL) have learned that everything in nature looks to humans. Nature’s silence is like in a factory after a long day of work, when the machines have stopped and gone quiet. Nature looks at humans and waits for them to act, looking for a human who has not yet arrived (Fig. 4a). I think and work in a factory of light, a factory that is a creator of trees and mountains, where all species live in peace. This great workshop of the world stops and waits for humans to catch up with the rest of nature, to let go of their obsessions. Nature is content with growing old. It knows that life is death, evolution, and life—the universe knows how to overcome the crisis of mortality. And it does this because the formula of life is written in its molecules, the same stubborn life that is the destiny of matter.
We discussed how scientists (often imagine they) engage in a quest for truth, whereas artists search for ways to connect with and represent archetypes. Or perhaps that scientists, too, work with archetypes, but with limited knowledge and consciousness of this fact. Working with seabirds as indicators of ocean change, for instance, has connections to a long history of birds as messengers. Archetypes are important to understand and interpret both fictional stories and scientific ideas (Jung 1966).
At Stora Karlsö, we (FG, AL, and HÖ) discussed a joint project in Chile, scheduled for the December 2019 Conference of the Parties (COP25) meeting. An art exhibition with our (AL and FG) work had previously been on display in Mexico, titled La Raza Cósmica, inspired by Mexican philosopher José Vasconcelos (Vasconcelos 1925) and Nobel Laureate Gabriela Mistral. Pieces from this exhibition would be displayed in a Santiago subway station. Science would serve as decoration and complement the art. A text summarizing three decades of science on the biosphere was produced by HÖ and Carl Folke and was translated to Spanish, French, Arabic, Russian and Chinese. The exhibition never materialized, however, because the COP25 meeting in Chile was cancelled (see Tollefson 2019).
Although our 2019 meeting failed to result in a tangible product, it did advance our understanding of each other. The visit to the scientific field site Stora Karlsö helped to further bridge the divide between science and art and highlighted our shared appreciation of nature, culture, and beauty (Table 1).
Advancing in silence
In April 2020, we (AL and FG) wrote the following letter to our friends:
The streets are empty in Chile. All over the planet, day and night, the great machine has stopped! But it has not stopped completely. One night, a Puma left its rocky home in the heights of Mount San Ramón, walking along the Quebrada de Macul to the City of Santiago, advancing in silence the way felines do, traveling in circles through streets, passages and on empty avenues. The Lord of the Andes came down from the mountain. The Puma, the most universal of mammals in the Americas, ranging from Alaska in the north to Tierra del Fuego in the south, reclaimed its ancient range in the small valley we call Santiago. For one night, while we were sleeping, the Puma was The Guardian of Our Dreams. He spread his message, like a breeze coming from darkness, straight into our collective unconsciousness.
We slept in the new, unknown plague, all in a state of silence, dreaming as Nature-animals and returning to our origin of simply being. A microscopic virus moved us to a new order - where the economy does not serve, where power serves even less, where time ceases to be important, where the only coherent space is that which we have created for our loved ones, our homes, our peace, our bed. The Shadow of the Puma is walking past our house and studio, to reclaim its ancestral place.
The Puma represents the strength of life in our Andean culture. Every Step of the Puma through the city reinforces its teaching: Explore and recover your Ancient Being, which in humanity is not necessarily the land, but the destiny of each of us, from where we draw the energy to fight this microscopic death. Now we have all the time, like the Puma, to recover our poetic natures, our vocation to search for beauty and truth, and the mission that brought each of us into this world.
When the pandemic eventually faded, we (AL and FG) exhibited our work at the Hampstead School of Art in London. The exhibition, titled Anima mundi, represented a world soul as described by Plato around 360 B.C. in Timaeus. HÖ had business in town (Fig. 6a) and also worked on making sense of the pandemic (Österblom and Paasche 2021). Interacting in London was a surprising opportunity to meet again, to reengage with Yggdrasil in a painting by AL named after Linnaeus Ash on Stora Karlsö, the Tree of Life (Fig. 6b). HÖ had the opportunity to discuss and engage with The Andean Wheel, a new stone by FG (Fig. 6c). It was also an opportunity to discuss a future workshop in Chile, this time with artists in charge.
The pandemic helped illustrate the interconnectivity and fragility of life. Scientists and artists, interpreting the pandemic through different methods, expressed their longing for the natural world, a longing to reconnect with the biosphere (Table 1).
Transforming steelLife in the workshop, by the forge, is where I (FG) have learned to appreciate the basic elements. Over time I have become a relic of a specific past, a history that I have lived, with basic habits and intuitions that continue expanding with me today. I come from very low down and very far back, from an old story preserved in a cultural greenhouse: a small valley at the foot of the southern Andes. I grew up in a world where nothing was ever lost, it simply wore out; what remained was transformed into something else.
One summer when I (FG) was between 9 and 10 years old, I made a knife with the remains of a broken billhook. When the blade wore out, I exchanged it for another blade, made from the spring of a gramophone. When the handle of the billhook wore out, I changed that for one made of plywood and fixed the blade onto it with copper rivets. It was still the same knife when my hands and arms grew and I made it bigger, replacing blade and handle as each wore out in its own time. None of the original material remained except my need for it, just the name, the function, and my gratitude to what I have always considered to be my first instrument—any piece of work always begins with cutting.
Sixty years later, I (FG) still have the knife in my toolbox, and it will always be there waiting obediently. In its current version, the blade is a broken piece of a carving knife from Porto Alegre, Brazil, and the handle, made from Guayacan wood, still has the good habit of the three copper rivets. Most of the articles in my workshop follow the example of the knife: the chisels, tongs, hammers, and modeling pegs are made from other things. They are prototypes in a constant process of evolution. They have no fear of death because they know that other objects will emerge from their remains.
When I (HÖ) travelled to Chile in November 2022, my son—now a chef—came to visit. Before he arrived, we (FG and HÖ) started to make a knife for him. This is where we began to understand how scientists and artists can work together in the practical world of tools. A steel spring from a retired car tire shock absorber was cut and straightened (Fig. 7a) and worked in the forge (Fig. 7b). The steel was heated and then flattened, slammed by the German hammer (Fig. 7c), then, working by hand, sledgehammered on anvil to shape the blade before getting to the handle. Gentle, delicate, professional, precise, careful, experienced; it was evident that the sculptor (FG) knew the language of steel.
Then the steel was filed, grinded, and shaped (Fig. 8a) until we (FG and HÖ) had something that resembled the outline of a knife (Fig. 8b). A long, vague, sketch of an archetype, unsharp around the edges. The next day we decorated the blade and cut holes for the handle. And suddenly the blade broke, fragile like a dry twig (Fig. 8c). “It was the difference between the temperature of the blade and the anvil that did it,” FG explained. He also said, “It’s OK, it will be a different knife.” We had invested a fair bit of time on this knife and perhaps it would be for nothing? I (FG) continued working with the broken blade, heating it, tempering it (Fig. 8d), cooling it, and then we (FG and HÖ) sharpened it together.
When the boy arrived, he finished the knife with the master (FG), shaped and fastened the wooden handle, and completed what became a beautiful piece of work (Fig. 8e). Upstairs, we (AL and HÖ) were admiring and discussing Angela’s paintings, the puma—Kay Pacha—representing the living world (Fig. 9a), the condor—the heavens above (Fig. 9b), the whale—death in the underworld (Fig. 9c), and the White Buffalo Calf Woman—the savior of the Lakota people (Fig. 9d). Art manifests a lived reality that stretches back in time, moves toward the future, and goes deep into human culture. Paintings can capture essential elements of the human experience, of being alive, mortal, and part of a living biosphere in ways that science is unable to do (Österblom and Paasche 2021, Folke et al. 2021).
We engaged and worked with transforming material in the studios of artists, side by side, spending substantial time together discussing the history, myths, and methods that inspire art. The result was a greater appreciation for the different ways to use language in our respective trades; thereby we strengthened the understanding of and connection between artists and scientists (Table 1).
Playing with the windIsabel H. Langtry (IHL), principal of the Hampstead School of Art, arrived for the December 2022 workshop, as did Canadian sculptor Patrick Bermingham (PB), a former student of FG. We all lived in Pirque, in the home of AL and FG, and went to the mountains together for a day (Table 1) to test AL’s ideas for the workshop (Fig. 10). The original plan had been to go to the Olivares valley on horseback, and tents and logistics had been organized. The weather did not pay attention to these plans, and a dramatic drop in temperature resulted in conditions that could rapidly become uncomfortable, even dangerous. Instead, the meeting was relocated further south.
There were no plans for the subsequent workshop, which was organized by artists (Table 1). There was no agenda and no schedule. There were no hierarchies that placed scientists or artists in a position of power over the other. We drove south and into the mountains with two trucks filled with food and drink, saddles, and equipment. We brought amulets for the participants that we (FG, PB, HÖ, and my son) had made together in the forge with a hammer, creating images of the universe and the Southern Cross (Fig. 11). We drove down the freeway, turned off, and climbed uphill. It was the worst road possible, but the truck patiently climbed on, upwards, onwards, across rocks and streams, through dust, and along the river, until we finally turned in to our base camp, with nice tents on grass, underneath Patagonia Oaks (Nothofagus obliqua), chatty Austral parakeets (Enicognathus ferrugineus), and burrowing parrots (Cyanoliseus patagonus).
During the workshop, participants rode horses, talked in the mountains, made sketches of geography, discussed the elements, and tried to capture the essence of wind. AL integrated all participants into her project of the last 15 years, in the Andes and Tierra del Fuego, using fabric of white, red, and blue in six pieces of 1.5 meters by 40 meters (Fig. 12). The workshop created conditions for learning about history, culture, people, animals, and change in the Andes. We engaged with mathematical formulas for wind, conceptual scientific ideas about social tipping points, and artistic exploration of the elements. By working together, we appreciated some of the many ways that humans are part of, and intertwined with, the biosphere (Folke et al. 2021). This joint exploration of the natural world in the Andes, primarily using artistic methods but also engaging with approaches from the natural sciences, stimulated conversations between artists and scientists with complementary ways of interpreting the biosphere (Table 1).
Forging friendshipsDescending from the mountains, we all realized that we had found ways to work together, to communicate, understand, and respect each other. Our individual and collective experiences from the workshop were interpreted through text, drawings, and photography, and, facilitated by IHL, collected for a catalogue (Gazitúa et al. 2023). Producing the catalogue stimulated reflection on how artists and scientists combined can make sense of an interconnected biosphere. The workshop also inspired work together by the forge, creating sculptures and objects shaped by our shared experience. The objects we produced in the forge included a representation of the South American continent (Fig. 13), the feather of a bird (Fig. 14), and other sculptures.
The long drive uphill was not a detour but a shortcut to get to where we needed to be. It took time to get here, almost a decade, but we finally understood how scientists and artists could work together, inspired by a powerful landscape where the stone, wind, and river made the rules. It was only now, after a decade of slow exploration of how to work together, that it finally became clear how to inspire tangible results. The questions had been first asked in a car in Uruguay, then next to a small forge, and finally in the mountains with grand fabric of red, blue, and white illustrating the wild beauty and movement of the atmosphere and wind. We were exploring together, with curiosity and a shared admiration for nature.
To split a stoneArt and science were inseparable in historical times (Zhu and Goyal 2019), but modernity has created a gap between the trades that is hard to bridge. Art and science have worked side by side for centuries, with separate methods and mostly without means to communicate. Swinging the hammer together in a workshop or mounting long fabric on poles to engage with the wind, shoulder to shoulder, helped us develop an understanding of how much effort it is to bridge between worlds and how joint objects of interests can result in cooperation and learning. By working together, we found ways to combine our respective knowledge and perspectives, which has enriched our understanding of the world. We have made progress in combining science and art, but much work remains to be done.
During the meeting at SARAS in 2013, I (FG) could see nothing but differences between science and my art. The congress could have been more useful if we had thought more deeply about the topic of the separation between art and science, to delve into these profound differences, into the abyss of our particular histories, to explore our artificially separated ways. I was hoping that we would talk and work together, that the scientists would show us their ways and display their experiences. I was hoping we could wander around in their laboratories and yards, between their fragments, their doubts, and their conclusions and pick up whatever could be useful for us as artists. In sculpture, the pile of scrap pieces of steel or stone is always bigger than the same material left in the finished sculptures. I believe that art has to do only with unraveling the mystery of what we are doing in this world, walking around in a labyrinth. I would like to know how scientists do the same.
The most significant contribution for me (AL) was the invitation to the meeting with scientists at SARAS in 2013. Science interested in art! From there it was possible that the world would have a new chance to integrate science, philosophy, art, and religion—the four pillars of wisdom. The invitation was a Call of the Wild (London 1903), a call to our primitive nature, where we were and always will be together. In all our meetings we realized that artists and scientists has never left the wild.
A decade later, sitting at the table made of stone in Pirque, we (FG, AL, HÖ, PB, and IHL) spoke about fractures. The rugged surface of this beautiful table was made by hand. We observed the places where the wedges had been placed to split the stone. The artists spoke about their time together in Kornarija, Croatia, how they had loved working in the quarry there, how beautifully people sang. “They sing so well because they have learned to listen to the tone of the stone,” the artists explained. Their rhythm comes from singing while hammering together, driving in the wedges used for cutting columns up to 20 meters. The artists went on to explain the music of splitting stone and how hammers driving wedges results in sounds that one needs to pay careful attention to. One sound may indicate a need to drive harder, another that you are too far ahead compared to the person next to you. Another sound may mean that the stone needs to rest before splitting. The stone has been one for millions of years and requires careful attention and listening to its movement because, for the first time ever, the two halves of the open stone will know the light of the sun. Maybe this is what had happened to me (HÖ) as an individual scientist since 2013. Like many scientists, I had forgotten important ways of thinking (Scheffer 2014, Scheffer et al. 2015). Because I was now listening more carefully to the artists, had I in fact obtained help from them to split open, encouraged to explore and recover something that had been lost?
At the dinner table, where the masons had applied force, you could see the flow-like patterns of the stone radiating from each wedge, illustrating the transmission of power and the breaking of the rock that had eventually occurred. You could watch how the size and shape of the fractures changed with distance and how hills and valleys of the surface had hindered, released, or directed energy. A darker hill on the middle of the table was the highest point, an intrusion of basalt in the granite. “This is my Aconcagua,” I (FG) said, emphasizing that the worlds of science and art should never have been split. It is time to join forces and work together for a better planet. Before we can do that, however, we must find how we can best contribute. Perhaps as individuals we need the application of force over a prolonged period, applied by several people in synchrony, to expose the inside of ourselves where our abilities may lie hidden.
This work over the past decade has made me (HÖ) more open to new ideas, better at collaborating, and able to work with different disciplines, perspectives, and cultures. It has triggered an expanded understanding of the world. It has provided me with self-confidence to follow my intuition and to be bolder in the papers I write. The calm that the artists radiate and the power of their work has cultivated my patience and understanding that change takes time. I have explored the fracturing of stone, how rays of power travel across mountains and valleys in a splitting rock, spreading patterns of change in crystals. I have worked as an apprentice in studios of artists, explored colors, shapes and legends of painting, the heat of the forge, and the physics of essential elements in sculpture. This collaboration has taught me fundamental things about history, philosophy, poetry, culture, and nature, all of which is making me a better scientist.
Walking toward anima mundiTo integrate science and art has required getting to know each other to understand our respective languages, materials, tools, practices, and underlying assumptions and starting points, including the histories, places, poets, and explorers that inspire us. The greatest challenge has been to bridge the language divide, and by this we do not mean the spoken language of English and Spanish but rather the respective languages that scientist and artists use, how we address things analytically or with intuition, look for scientific explanation or embrace the world of mystery. We relate to logic, rationality, and magic in different ways, and we interpret our surroundings based on these entry points. Working together and alternating between scientists and artists as hosts for meetings (Chambers et al. 2022) has helped develop an understanding of the basic elements of science and art. We have worked on tangible objects, including a catalogue, which helped us develop a joint form of expression (Gazitúa al. 2023), and we have worked collaboratively by the forge, where we developed a mutual understanding of such a basic word as transformation, illustrated by the reworking of a rusty steel spring into a beautiful knife.
This collaboration has applied three of four general principles identified as associated with knowledge coproduction for sustainability (Norström et al. 2020). It has been context based (situating the process in a particular context and place), pluralistic (recognizing multiple ways of knowing and doing), and interactive (allowing for learning). The fourth principle (Norström et al. 2020), goal oriented (clearly articulating a shared goal), was secondary because the primary ambition was to provide space for learning and allow for emergence. Our approach to coproduction can best be described as compatible with Mode 5 as defined by Chambers et al. (2021:989), focusing on “navigating differences.”
Our interaction underlines the importance of meeting regularly but not having a set agenda. We have worked in an equal and respectful partnership, where there is no clear goal from the beginning and where time is the essential element for codesigning something of mutual interest. Our unrushed process was emphasized by the slow pace of stone and the importance of giving thanks to the material we work with. These illustrate the importance of wasting time—forging steel requires fire, an anvil, and time. Painting also takes time and requires careful attention to anatomy and the study of details. Being idle is an invitation to new ideas and can help guide toward longing and intuition that may be difficult to articulate (Fig. 15). Working together illustrated that failure is progress, whether it is a cancelled international meeting, a broken blade, or a change in plans. Uphill struggles lead to a change in perspective.
Science and art are complementary in their approaches to interpreting a present and potential future reality (Pereira et al. 2019). Previous studies have underlined the importance of time, trust, and equal recognition for such collaboration to be fruitful (Heras et al. 2021), and our study also highlights the importance of alternating between methods and places where artists and scientists feel most at home to progressively engage in collaborative activities. We found that science and art can facilitate learning about how to interpret and embrace the world with more senses and that such insights and expression can support the experience of being connected to and part of the living world. Artists can improve scientists’ abilities to put more trust in their intuition (Scheffer 2014). Integrating our respective knowledge systems and practices can help develop a more holistic and dynamic understanding of the relationship between humans and nature, which represents an important starting point for transformative social change toward sustainability (Abson et al. 2017, Schill et al. 2019, Chambers et al. 2021).
Support for a fresh printScientists and artists engaging in workshops of large groups can represent an interesting introduction to new prospects for learning, but it was while discussing paintings or swinging a hammer in the studios of artists, catching animals in a seabird colony, or riding horses in the Andes where we could experience our respective ways of seeing the world and make progress in learning from each other. We engaged in (failed) art-science projects connected to the United Nations, striving to influence international science and politics, and we focused on (successfully) achieving the correct, curved shape of a parrot feather in steel. We have always worked with mutual respect and appreciation for what we can respectively bring to such collaborative projects. We hope that our method of working together, as well as what we produced, can inspire a more collaborative and beauty-embracing world, where differences in origin, trade, and preference are respected—where we combine elements for novelty and thereby help each other appreciate the incredible magic of the materials, plants, and animals that have shaped us and that we, in turn, shape.
Long-term, collaborative projects between scientists and artists that are open, explorative, unclear, and possibly useless (as described here) are rarely realized because they can be regarded as inefficient, a waste of time and money. The new footprints we drew in the Andes, in Uruguay, and in Sweden is possibly the unique footprint of an ancient animal, a miserable animal who was lost and is gropingly returning to its old home after centuries of wandering in an absurd world, a world created by its human inhabitants. Our steps have resulted in surprising insights, unexpected outcomes, and a strong bridge between art and science. Previous studies (Saratasi et al. 2019, Heras et al. 2021) have highlighted the diverse results that strong partnerships can generate, and our study emphasizes the time-consuming process of developing them. We hope our experience can stimulate further such engagements, with unclear goals other than to investigate and learn from each other. For this to happen, funding agencies and universities should support scientists and artists to expand their creativity, including through artists-in-residence programs (Heras et al. 2021), scientists-in-studios programs, and artists-in-field-sites programs. The combined minds of science and art can help stimulate a reconnection to the biosphere (Folke et al. 2011) and motivate transformative change (Chambers et al. 2021, Folke et al. 2021). For this to happen, there is a need to mobilize un rio de plata. Such money will generate more novel tracks of this new animal.
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The authors developed the ideas and wrote the manuscript together.
We are grateful to P. Marquet, C. Folke, M. Scheffer, F. Westley, J. Marcone, A. Castro, J. L. Dörr, P. Birmingham, and I. H. Langtry for inspiration and support and to Marianne and Marcus Wallenberg (MMW 2022.0149) and Marcus and Amalia Wallenberg Foundation (MAW 2022.0097) for funding provided for Henrik Österblom. We also thank Mica Trimble and Silvana Juri for their support with the translation of the article (Appendix 1), and Avery Calhoun for copy editing.
Data/code sharing is not applicable because no data were analyzed in this study.
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Table 1. Event themes (sub-headings used in the article) and key lessons with summaries of the events' methods, location, participants, and funding. SARAS is the South American Institute for Resilience and Sustainability Studies.
|Heading and key lesson||Method and location||Participants||Funding|
Something happens when scientists and artists meet.
|Science-led workshop at SARAS, Maldonado, Uruguay (13–15 December 2013). Meeting indoors, walks outside. Hotel and restaurants.||19 (10 academics, 6 artists, 3 other)||SARAS funded meeting, participants funded own travel|
|Silence in darkness:
Collaborative learning takes time, and is easier in smaller groups, without an agenda.
|Science-led workshop at SARAS, Maldonado, Uruguay (15–18 December 2014). Meeting indoors, walks outside. Guest house and restaurants.||37 (27 academics, 6 artists, 4 other)||SARAS funded meeting, participants funded own travel|
|Collaborative visits to studios in Pirque and on horseback (December 2014), Olivares valley, Chile. Organized by Pancho (FG) and Angela (AL). Tents and cooking over open fire.||The authors, families, and a few friends||Private|
Scientists long for artists to inspire them.
|Science-led conference organized by the Stockholm Resilience Centre (SRC) in Stockholm, Sweden (21–23 August 2017). Indoors, hotels, and restaurants.||~1000 attendees, mostly scientists and a handful of artists||Artist travels and lodging sponsored by SRC|
|The world will be perfect:
Artists can imagine worlds outside existing trajectories.
|Science-led SARAS course at Maldonado (6–8 December 2018) with young, primarily Latin American sustainability academics and artists.||Two dozen academics, and some artists||SARAS and SRC funded meeting and lodging|
|Speaking to a tree:
Nature facilitates connection through beauty, animals, plants, and culture.
|Collaborative field trip to Stora Karlsö, Sweden (2–5 July 2019), organized by Henrik (HÖ). Lighthouse, own cooking.||The authors||Funded by SRC|
|Advancing in silence:
The pandemic created a longing towards the natural world.
|Arts-led walk around the Hampstead School of Art (17 June 2022), London. Organized by Isabel H. Langtry.||The authors and some family members||No funding|
Learning facilitated by myths, methods, materials, and food.
|Collaborative engagement in studios in Pirque, lodging in home of artists (3 weeks in November–December 2022).||The authors||No funding|
|Playing with the wind:
Scientists and artists explore and understand the world in ways that complement each other.
|Arts-led pre workshop in Canyon de Yeso, Chile (1 December 1 2022), organized by AL and FG. Lodging in home of artists.||5 (4 artists and 1 scientist)||No funding|
|Arts-led workshop in Chile (3–6 December 2022), organized by AL and FG. Horseback riding, tents, outdoor cooking.||13 (7 artists, 5 scientists, 1 other)||Multiple funders|