art education

Art, science and imagination

Daro Montag

The biggest problem we’re facing is a lack of imagination

Dr Daro Montag is a professor of Art and Sustainability at Falmouth University. There he heads the RANE research group, examining the relationship between the visual arts and ecological thinking, with the aim of contributing to a more sustainable future.

Talking points

Art and science are not always looking in the same direction.

For most of humanity’s existence, a living planet has been a given.

The biggest problem we’re facing is a lack of imagination

A whole cascade of problems caused by the population multiplied by our lifestyles – we’re victims of our own success.

Should we be looking towards unsustainable, and helping to steer that change?

We’re living in a bubble, and we need to be aware of it, thankful for it, but we need to do with less.

We are living in a privileged times, but they are limited. It is the responsibility of professors and artists to be thinking of alternatives.

As an artist I don’t really make a distinction between making pictures and the rest of your life.

It’s about stories you live by.

Art is not something you produce, it’s a way of being.

The growth of the smartphone camera is dangerous, if we experience the world through a lens we lose the connection, the world becomes 2D, not living – we treat the world as a dead object to be captured.

I try to make (my students) aware of what is happening, with art students there’s a door you can open.

You don’t separate art from the environment.

Art is activist provocation

The idea of being an artist who produces for a gallery is over – art is about a gesture. Art is a verb, not a noun.

(Motivation?) Fun. The global environmental message is very doomy. The world is in a very dire predicament, but that doesn’t mean we can’t try to do something positive about it.

This given situation, what we know, it’s our responsibility to get up and do something – but that doesn’t mean it can’t be fun and enjoyable.

It’s not about sacrifice and giving things up, it’s about weaving a better story.

(Activist?) Yes. Anyone wanting to change the world for the better is an activist. There are different ways of doing.

Activism isn’t about saying no, it is not just about protest. Activism can be about positive choices, fostering imagination.

(Miracle) That we realise that there is enough energy from the sun to meet all of our needs. And the crazy thing is that it is true…back to that lack of imagination problem.

(Advice) Educate yourselves – keep the imagination alive.


Beyond ecodesign

Yorick Benjamin

I don’t think “ecodesign” goes deep enough – it’s more about optimising the status quo rather than challenging it.

Dr Yorick Benjamin is the Director of Sustainable Design at the Falmouth University. His interest and background is in the pragmatic realisation of sustainable design products and methodologies and he has been active in a wide range of projects both nationally and internationally since 1988. Yorick’s latest work is a collaboration on the design of Sustainable Bus Shelters for Cornwall Council; 50 shelters of different sizes have been digitally manufactured using local companies and are in public use today.

Talking points

There is a need for much more responsibility in terms of product….closing loops, circular economy, don’t downcycle…

Material science has to focus on natural and renewable – almost forgotten since we industrialised

We’re only a small element, but what we can do is to show best practice in terms of using materials wisely, using them for appropriate purposes, and using them in ways that are improving people’s lives in a very obvious way.

Are design ethics and profitability in conflict?

Retrofitting sustainability to an existing design is very hard, almost impossible.

I don’t think you can retrofit at scale, it means changing infrastructure…I prefer to be supporting and growing the pioneers…the new providers.

It doesn’t matter if we get it wrong at the smaller level, so long as we learn and correct.

I want to see us make a difference and the way we do that is to make the physical artefact, get it into market to change people’s opinion and give them examples of best practice – in doing that it is OK that we get it wrong sometimes.

One of the hardest messages to get across is that you are buying product longevity…it is difficult to get that across when people’s profit horizon is a year or less.

A broader way of considering design: students don’t start with designing a tap, they start with water.

(Motivation?) Doing the right thing, making designers who are competent, happy, enjoy their work, make a living, but do the right thing and are actually ambassadors for sustainable design and the values that underpin that.

(Activist?) No…I’m hesitating, when I was younger I very much was an activist…we founded Green Drinks…I see myself as an enabler, a facilitator, but also having the vision I hope – which is to see the bigger picture, which is how we can make this gear up, get sustainable products out there.

There’s no point doing sustainable design if you can’t get products out there, you have to actually make something.