Friday, 23 March 2012

Singing from the same song sheet

Today I attended the introductory seminar of our new artist in residence Andy Crabb. Andy is an accomplished film maker and his project “Òrain na Mara/ Songs of the Scottish Sea” will extend over a period of two years. He will be working with musicians Chris Stout & Catriona McKay to produce four short films and a number of more technical documentaries. The work will involve collaboration with SAMS’ scientists and local schools and is supported by investment from Creative Scotland.

Forty lengths of the pool put me in the right mood for a long day today but I left the seminar with an even bigger internal buzz. Andy showed us some of his earlier work including the films that were the backdrop to the band Suede at some of its biggest concerts. This is an exciting project; not at the periphery of SAMS’ activities but right at the core of what we stand for.

The latest progress report from Marine Scotland (the branch of Government that is responsible for the marine environment) highlights the public opinion surveys that we conducted as part of the EU project KnowSeas that I coordinate. These surveys, conducted by a major professional polling company in seven European countries, have given us unprecedented insights into the knowledge about the sea of working age citizens and their views on who is best able to manage the problems it is facing. We demonstrated that people were poorly informed about the sea and very sceptical about current EU and national institutions.

Sadly, younger people often seemed less informed and motivated than older generations. On the other hand, the older ‘baby boomer’ generation (to which I belong) is far more sceptical of institutions; a pathetic 8% of UK interviewees felt that the EU was competent to manage the marine environment. With 12%, the Government didn’t fare much better! Confidence in scientists was much higher though, well over 50% thought they were competent to manage the marine environment. All of this is ironic of course because, for the most part, scientists would have no wish to be managers and prefer to give their advice to the Government and the EU!

Clearly though, apart from the ‘democratic deficit’ there is a serious knowledge gap and difficulty to form values about the marine environment. After all, only a lucky few of us ever get to see below the surface. Interestingly, when we asked what aspect of the marine environment was most important, UK respondents uniquely highlighted marine landscapes whereas most others pointed to the climate and weather. So people do value the attractiveness of our seas and coasts but have little understanding of the submarine world.

Many of the scientists in SAMS are happy to engage in the work of informing the public through innovative and classical means despite being very hard worked, especially in the current economic climate. The second Festival of the Sea is about to begin and this provides a focal point for these activities and we appreciate the help of our sponsors and local people in this work. Soon we will also be inaugurating the Scottish Ocean Explorer Centre to help bring our science to the wider public but more about that later.

So that takes me back to Andy’s project. Here is an opportunity to help form new values by helping people to connect with ‘the great unseen’. Unlike classic documentary makers who use a carefully crafted narrative to guide the viewers, Andy’s artistic work is entirely based on the medium of images accentuated by music. In a world that is crowded with messaging, sales pitches and, dare I say it, propaganda, this art form opens the mind and stimulates the formation of values by not telling people what to think; no risk of feeling patronised by silence. And, as we saw in the recent Oscar triumph of the silent film “The Artist”, Hollywoodesque dogmas are being overthrown by people hungry for something ‘new’. I look forward to our first contribution to this genre and the reaction it provokes.

No comments:

Post a Comment