CH art and science project in Iceland with Grímsson fellowship | Polarjournal
In Ísafjörður, Iceland, topics such as sustainability, man-made environmental change, science and art are intertwined in a very special project. The people behind it are a scientist and an illustrator from Switzerland. Image: Stürlast Wiki Commons CC BY-SA 4.0

When it comes to topics on climate and the environment, projects that combine science and art can be found time and again. Such connections between these two fields have also emerged in projects dealing with the effects on polar regions. Now, such a connection is being planned in Iceland’s Westfjords, near the Arctic Circle, by a Swiss illustrator and a sustainability scientist from ETH Zurich’s EAWAG Water Research Institute.

As the first Swiss winners of the new Grímsson Fellowship, the couple Elisa Debora Hofmann and Dr. Benjamin Hofmann will investigate the question of how science can provide answers to man-made environmental changes and manage change in a sustainable way. To this end, Dr. Hofmann plans to investigate this question in Iceland’s Westfjords, more precisely in the main town of Ísafjörður. However, the project is not intended to be a purely sociological work that ends up publishing the results as a paper in a scientific journal. His wife, Elisa Debora Hofmann, will be the illustrator for the project’s visuals. “We will work transdisciplinarily and broaden the perspective to create additional access to the topic,” the illustrator explains in an interview with us. “The plan is to end up with a visual essay and a digital exhibition with images and text, so that we can reach out to the general public, but also to the various stakeholders,” adds Dr. Hofmann. “We don’t just want to show facts, but also arouse emotions with the help of images.”

The plan is for the couple to spend four weeks in Iceland’s up-and-coming town of Ísafjörður in July 2024 and carry out their project in three steps. “As a first step, we will select specific research and innovation activities in the West Fjords and look at how science can contribute therein to finding answers to man-made environmental changes,” explains Dr. Hofmann. To this end, he will work closely with the local university center to learn more about such activities. One example is the biotech company Kerecis, which produces sustainable biomedical products from fish skin, and depends on the state of the surrounding North Atlantic. “Ísafjörður is very diverse and there are also projects on topics such as avalanches or algae cultivation that are related to environmental changes,” Dr. Hofmann continues.

How can science in the Anthropocene shape change through human-induced environmental change in policy and practice?

Dr. Benjamin Hofmann, EAWAG

In a second step, objects representing the identified projects will be selected and visually depicted. “In the process, I will sketch the objects in great detail, capturing their haptic surface two-dimensionally on paper, i.e. zooming in,” says Elisa Hofmann. “In contrast, my husband will lift the projects to a much higher level, that is, zoom out to put them in a larger context, especially that of the Arctic, and highlight the role of science in the projects.” Dr. Hofmann adds that the goal is to show how science is shaping sustainable change in policy and practice in the Anthropocene, i.e., in this era of the Earth that we have shaped so much. The visual representation will be done primarily through graphite and pencil drawings, which will then serve as visual building blocks that will be dissected to create new images in a third step. “These dissected parts will be assembled into images that will then show the social science perspectives,” says Elisa Hofmann. “While we will perform the first two steps in parallel, but each separately, the third will be creatively created in dialogue.”

The idea of a joint project had been with the couple for some time. But it was the call for proposals for the Grímsson Fellowship, which Dr. Hofmann came across, that provided the specific impetus for the submitted project. With success as the couple was able to prevail against 250 applications from 60 countries, which had also submitted projects. A total of 5 projects from different research directions were selected for 2024.

In the Arctic, climatic changes act up to four times faster than in the rest of the world. This is exemplary for other regions on earth.

Elisa Debora & Dr. Benjamin Hofmann

The fellowship recipients, who already know Iceland from previous trips, will enhance their stay by spending time in the birthplace of the former president of Iceland, Ólafur Ragnar Grímsson. A fact that will perhaps flow into the creative work of Elisa Hofmann, as she herself says.

What certainly will influence them much more is Iceland’s proximity to the Arctic. “Climatic changes have an effect here up to four times faster than in the rest of the world,” says Benjamin Hofmann thoughtfully. “This exemplifies other regions of the world,” adds his wife. “We can only address this big issue we are facing, which is to show the role of science in dealing with future environmental change, on a local level. But I think it’s at least a start that we’re going to make there,” Dr. Hofmann explains.

Dr Michael Wenger, PolarJournal

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