In a recent conversation with Chris Fremantle, a leading thinkers, producer and researcher in the field of eco-arts, I learned about the work of Sacha Kagan, a German academic who in turn led me to Edgar Morin’s ideas around complexity and complex thought with respect to understanding civilisational issues. Both are worth delving into - some of Kagan’s work I can be accessed as pdf downloads.
Complexity in the field of research has nothing to do with complexity in the formal properties of a creative outcome. To conflate one with the other is a self-defeating misunderstanding. You don’t have to make complex or difficult work to deal with difficult themes or topics. And complexity isn’t the same thing as difficulty. The etymology would suggest that something complex has several strands to it, woven together, as opposed to something simplex or single-stranded.
Because critical investigations into civilisational issues such as climate change, sustainability and adaptation will converge upon the genesis and growth of eco-systems, such investigations will often be extremely complex and specialised, beyond the understanding of many artists, requiring the mediation of scientists, engineers and other specialists. Hence the establishment of the many successful arts/science collaborations that we see around us.
It’s crucial that artists in particular understand the complexity of the issues facing us with respect to climate change, sustainability and adaptation. Otherwise we risk taking an easy route towards reductionism, a lossy compression of important ideas, facilitated in the current era by the culture of browsing or snacking on shallow understandings promulgated through mainstream or social media headlines and snippets.
I’ve observed that the language we use to discuss and unpick these complex matters is problematic in some quarters. I see no need to use ‘big’ words if small words suffice, but if we need new terms (big words) to describe new or complex phenomena such as those found in eco-systems and eco-systems thinking, then surely we should make efforts to tackle the new language.