Artistic experiments for contemporary stewardship

Seila Fernández Arconada (Independent artist-researcher co-funder of FCF collective. Moore Institute Visiting Fellow (Ireland) and Honorary staff at the University of Bristol, UK) and Bernard Fairhurst (Independent artist-researchers co-funders of FCF).

Functional Collaborative Futures believes the role of the artist is to explore, illuminate and challenge, and to apply contemporary artistic practice in response to current issues; liberating art from the art market and reaching new audiences. Art has a unique contribution to social understanding of contemporary concerns.

We see artistic works as experiments, both as response to research and to stimulate emotional and rational engagement.

Functional Collaborative Futures invite participants to join in artistic experiments in which debate, exchange and collaborative creation will support experimental transdisciplinary methods. Participants will collaborate in different interactive artistic experiments drawn from art, cultural geography, psychology, and ecology. A range of activities offer a creative interactive response to national referenda and other artistic observations designed to generate reflection and discussion that questions our relationship with the environment and how we operate as a society. Results will be evaluated as an artistic study (both research and praxis) considering how the application of artistic methodology supports new ways of thinking.

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FCF works through collaboration. This event is a continuation of the project “International exchange: resonating across borders” a current project between members of FCF. We wanted to exchange work and share experiences and to reflect our research which needed to be both based on circumstances at the time and to have time for reflection. We began by making work in response to the FCF manifesto and then responding to each other´s works across international borders. The exchange of work is done by postal service. This method allows a direct material exchange and includes an element of uncertainty. The limitation of the distance between us was considered to be a bonus, it is a mechanism to facilitate reflection.

This process has created a collaborative narrative with a number of artistic responses producing artistic experiments for this workshop. The project is a work in progress and currently expanding to other participants to create a narrative across more borders. Responses remain unpublished until this workshop when we will elucidate this artistic research. This series of work will be shared with the participants who will be able to engage with the material results of the process that generated the ideas for this workshop. During this session we will present examples of this interactive experiment such as “The Fallacy of False Choice” to demonstrate the products of International Exchange.

Participants will be asked to work in smaller groups and to follow different tasks that are experiments in our participatory lab. We aim to offer different ways of seeing by using a variety of methods and different techniques such as drawing, sound, video, creative mapping, artist books, etc. We will look at a range of dilemmas and paradoxes of contemporary society where people are attempting to make a positive engagement.

In this workshop we intend to facilitate tasks which develop associations between different disciplines and

1. Scientific Data and Popular Knowledge (The importance of observations). We will consider the relevance of climate based proverbs and sayings from different languages. Can they become data for our climate? What do they say about cultural traditions? How do they reflect a superstitious versus a scientific approach in the contemporary context of climate change?
Proverbs represent cultural maintenance, where it is comfortable to believe what has become a tradition. Climate proverbs appear to indicate that we want nature and weather to perform from our localised viewpoint. Climate change as a term is associated with unpredictability; however, proverbs for example “April showers bring May flowers” cannot keep up with the rapid changes of the world. This resistance to cognitive change reflects our constructivist style. New beliefs can only be adopted by abandoning older ideas. Participants will be given a number of proverbs to analyze and identify current relevance in historical data, living memory and contemporary local and international significance.

2. An exploration of the status of objectivity and subjectivity through considering health and safety procedures and collaborative drawing. Health and safety instructions offer clarity and an objective approach to sharing information, however the fundamental processes involved may be highly subjective and hazardous to the environment. In this experiment we will look at a series of objects from this approach while observing and drawing its physicality, a documentation of how the object looks like (visual representation). For this we suggest looking at the object from different angles while drawing it collectively in the same paper. The resultant drawing will be an abstraction representing a “reality” of the object in that particular moment.

3. Psychology of exploring symbols and critical thinking through the consideration of popular imagery in the form of road signs. These artifacts are designed for superficial engagement without eliciting much conscious processing and thereby helping to diminish critical thinking, this questions symbolic meaning and representation. In a visually redundant world road signs are used to explain the obvious and the mundane. Signs are used to inform drivers to “drive carefully” making common logic meaningless. With the result that things become “invisible” to our eyes as are brains are numbed. These familiar aspects of our visual cultural environment can be thrown into sharp relief when we step out of our familiar routines or visit a new community or culture and we are provoked into adopting a greater conscious awareness. In this experiment participants will be asked to perform a role-play as uninitiated visitors reflecting on local embedded messages.

4. Geology – creative mapping. Geological timing vs human timescale. Our impact on the environment is immediate however geological changes take millions of years. The geological context and geological time we live on can inform us about strengths and fragilities of the local landscape in order to observe, listen and understand our relationship with it. Looking at the rate of change in local settings during human history compared to the relative slow change in geological time, the Anthropocene compared to previous geological time zones. Comparison of local maps since the middle ages to explore land use, area of urban cover, removal of woodlands, and homogenisation of habitats references against the geological history of the same area. We suggest that a trip is made in the surroundings of the conference in Plymouth as our geological context: addressing aspects that stand out for us in the local natural environment within the urban context. This journey will be tracked with GPS generating a creative map out of our journey (including stories and images).

These are examples of tasks based on Functional Collaborative Futures principles (please check further information in FCF website, manifesto).
The experimental outcomes of the workshop will be evaluated to consider how the application of artistic methodology supports new ways of thinking.

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Seila & Bernard have collaborated together since both completed an MFA with distinction in Bristol UK in 2012. As FCF, they apply artistic and scientific principles to environmental and social issues.

Bernard is based in the UK. He has a varied background having previously worked for sixteen years as a science teacher with qualifications in earth science and environmental science; then as an educational psychologist for fifteen years, and more recently as an artist. Bernard is able to operate within scientific, human relations and artistic domains. He is currently engaged in five different collaborative projects.

Seila Fernández Arconada is an independent artist-researcher based in the UK. Currently Visiting Fellow at Moore Institute with the project Moving while doing, nomadic artistic perceptions in socio-environmental transitory times and Honorary Research Staff at the University of Bristol co-directing the project The Land of the Summer People.  Seila has delivered numerous cross-disciplinary workshops and interventions including AGU Conference (USA), On Earth (UK) and Communities Development in Post-Crisis Regions (Ukraine). She has exhibited internationally, recently in Imagined Landscapes (some:when project at RWA, UK), In Between Storage (Latvia) and ENCLAVE Land Art (Spain). Her work focuses in exploring artistic methodology, its boundaries and new approaches.


Balance-Unbalance 2017

Balance-Unbalance (BunB)
is an International Conference designed to use art as a catalyst to explore intersections between NATURE, SCIENCE, TECHNOLOGY and SOCIETY as we move into an era of both unprecedented ecological threats and transdisciplinary possibilities.

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