Artists have never been more important

Lake Ballard, image via Shutterstock
Tuesday 27 March 2018
6.00 - 7.30pm

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Law School Foyer, Eastern Ave, University of Sydney



Sydney Ideas

This event is sold out.

Scientists collect data and from it create information about the world, which is of great value to society, but not necessarily reflected in policymaking and political action. The failure of society to act on anthropogenic-driven climate change is the prime example.

This gap between information and action can be bridged by the humanities, in particular the arts. Artworks create links between field observations, such as climate records, through the visualizations of the effects of climate change up to artistic direct interventions in earth systems.

Artists are now coming together to work on climate change, to deploy research methods that inform art, while at the same time creating empathy for the planet place by place, species by species. These practices build the bridge from information to action – a cultural intervention without which we risk our own survival.

In this Sydney Ideas forum William L. Fox, Director of the Centre for Art + Environment at the Nevada Museum of Art in Reno, Nevada, whose extensive practice as a curator, writer and commentator crosses the arts and sciences, will address the claim that in this moment of planetary environmental crisis, artists have never been more important.


William L. Fox,  Director of the Centre for Art + Environment Nevada Museum of Art in Reno
Janet Laurence, Artist
Associate Professor Iain Maxwell, Chair, Department of Theatre and Performance Studies


Dr Killian Quigley, Postdoctoral Fellow, Sydney Environment Institute


William (Bill) L. Fox is Director of the Center for Art and Environment at the Nevada of Museum of Art; a writer whose work is a sustained inquiry into how human cognition transforms land into landscape. He has published poems, articles, reviews, and essays in more than seventy magazines, has had fifteen collections of poetry published in three countries, and has written eleven nonfiction books about the relationships among art, cognition, and landscape.

Janet Laurence is a Sydney-based Australian artist who exhibits nationally and internationally. Her practice examines our physical, cultural and conflicting relationship to the natural world. She creates immersive environments that navigate the interconnections between organic elements and systems of nature. Within the recognised threat to so much of the life world, she explores what it might mean to heal, albeit metaphorically, the natural environment, fusing this with a sense of communal loss and search for connection with powerful life-forces. Her work is included in museum, university, corporate and private collections as well as within architectural and landscaped public places.

Institution/Awards: Laurence has been a recipient of Rockefeller, Churchill and Australia Council fellowships; recipient of the Alumni Award for Arts, UNSW; visiting fellow at the NSW University Art and Design; Australian representative for the COP21/FIAC, Artists 4 Paris Climate 2015 exhibition; visiting fellow of the 2016/2017 Hanse-Wissenschaftskolleg (HWK) foundation fellowship; and artist in residence at the Australian Museum.

Ian Maxwell is a graduate of the Victorian College of the Arts School of Drama, where he majored in Directing, Ian is now Chair of the Department of Theatre and Performance Studies. Subsequent to that training, he embarked upon academic work at the University of Sydney, where he completed his PhD, an ethnography of Hip Hop culture in the suburbs of Sydney in the 1990s in 1997. He has published extensively on a range of topics, including his 2003 book, “Phat Beats, Dope Rhymes”: Hip Hop Down Under Comin’ Upper (Wesleyan), chapters in several collections and a number of journals. In 2008 he was awarded the Marlis Thiersch Prize for research excellence in an English-language article published anywhere in the world in the broad field of theatre and performance studies for his essay on Victor Turner. In 2017, Ian directed Prince Bettliegend as part of the Out of the Shadows festival, a cabaret/revue devised and first performed by citizens of the ghetto at Terezin, Czechoslovakia.

Killian Quigley is postdoctoral research fellow at the Sydney Environment Institute. He completed his PhD in English at Vanderbilt University in 2016. He is co-editing, with Margaret Cohen, Senses of the Submarine: A Cultural History of the Undersea. Killian’s writings have appeared recently in MAKE, Eighteenth-Century Life, The Eighteenth Century, the newsletter of the Australian Coral Reef Society, and SEI’s blog. He convenes the Reading Environments group at the University of Sydney, and is at work on a poetic and aesthetic history of the ocean entitled Seascape and the Submarine.