Sustainability Requirements Art

David Stefan, one of my research students, has collaborated with students from the Chelsea College of Art and Design to produce an art installation inspired by his research on goal-oriented sustainability management. If you are in London next week, this will be shown in the parade ground of Chelsea College, next to Tate Britain, until 27 May. There’s also a launch event on Monday 21 May for which you can register here.

This is how the project is described in the invitation:

Exactly how bad are bananas? Or anything else? Inspired by Mike Berners-Lee’s book “How bad are bananas”,  The Banana Theory Project will demonstrate the difficulty we face when deciding how to change our lifestyle to become greener. There is a lot of information out there about how to lead a greener life. In fact, there is often far too much information.  The volume of information can become overwhelming and this can make decision-making even more difficult.

Sustainability issues are big and systemic. Nearly everything we do has an impact on our environment: turning on a light bulb, washing our hands, eating a banana, event searching on Google or walking up the stairs! But knowing how good or bad the impact is doesn’t necessarily make the decision about how to change our behaviour any easier, especially when so much of the information is contradictory.

Voluntary life-style choices are unlikely to make a significant difference. Changes that will make a difference will be done through systemic organisation – by connecting and educating people. We have developed a tool to increase public interest and awareness about the impact of their everyday actions and to demonstrate the growing need to not only collect environmental data, but also to analyse and utilise it in a constructive way.

The website for this project at the following address.

And you can find an early paper describing David’s research here.

I know this will sound a bit hippie-ish, but given that we’re in London, the soundtrack for this has to be this song by the Kinks – I’ll add something more in tune with my punk soul another time.

What makes a strong researcher?

I was flipping through Simon Reynolds latest book “Retromania: Pop Culture’s Addiction to its Own Past” when this paragraph caught my eyes.

According to Harold Bloom’s theory of creativity, outlined in books like The Anxiety of Influence and A Map of Misreading, a ‘strong’ poet is one who’s heavily influenced by a predecessor but who resists that influence, fights it with every ounce of its strength. In Bloom’s Freudian-mystical account, the resulting Oedipal struggle entails the younger poet (who will have been initiated, turned on to the glory of poetry by a primal encounter with the elder’s work) swerving from the ancestor’s style, willfully misreading it or doing violence to it in some other way. The strong artist is impelled by a despairing sense of belatedness, the feeling that nothing new can be said because the precursor said it all. A titanic psychological struggle to self-birth oneself as an artist is required before the descendant ceases to ventriloquise the dead elder and finds his own voice. But a ‘weak’ poet (or painter or musician) is simply inundated, flooded by the ancestor’s vision.

Does this theory about creativity applies to research? Is a strong researcher one who’s been heavily influenced by predecessor’s work and makes violence to it to find his or her own voice? I believe there’s some truth in this. I do not mean that software engineering research should be like poetry. I’m with Bertand Russell, I like clarity and exact thinking. There are nevertheless strong parallels between creativity in research, poetry, and in fact most other kinds of creative work. All require some form of obsession with your work, and an urge to explore the unknown and move things forward.

I cannot finish this without some poetry. So here’s Niall Spooner-Harvey, one of London’s finest contemporary poets, and his already classic “All My Conversvatories Have Won Awards”.