Clare Bryden: Up in the Air

‘Up in the Air’ is exhibiting from Saturday, July 11th to Friday, July 24th

The Particulart Exeter exhibition, Up in the Air, on disply at the Gloriouse Art House in Exeter

‘Sulphur hexafluoride’, ‘Tetrafluoromethane’ and ‘Fluorform’ might not be words you expect to see as part of your everyday art exhibition, but then again, Clare Bryden is not your everyday artist (if there even is such a thing!). With a background in science, economics, energy and the environment, Clare’s ‘Up in the Air’ exhibit is one with a very particular message about our climate. Below, I speak to her about it all – including the importance of squishy knitted molecules.

You have a background in science and are also an artist – did you always know you wanted to combine the two together?
Not until recently, no – creating has always been important to me, but that might be writing, designing websites or growing food. I’ve been interested in art for a long time, but I didn’t actually create much else until recently. I’ve been interested in communicating the issues of economics for a long, long time. Working with Diana Moore initially gave me the impetus for the whole project. She’s a keen knitter and politicker, and is on the board of Real Food, which provided the exhibition space for our first Incinerator show. My role was being the big geek and doing the investigating – and it snowballed from there, really!

Your previous exhibition, ‘A Stitch in Time’, was about climate change. What’s the inspiration behind this current exhibit, and in what ways has the project evolved since your initial collaboration with Diana?
It’s about climate change too, and that’s the most important thing, as governments are meeting in Paris this December, and we hope they’ll have a ground-breaking agreement on the climate. For this exhibition, I experimented with new ways of presenting data, so the 3D representations of the molecules were hung in a 3D space, and the room becomes a proper graph with a scale. I also included a globe, a game area in the alcove with three games, and a make-your-own-carbon-dioxide-molecule knitting workshop. That was really good, and a composer called Emma Welton came along, and she wanted to record the sound of knitting needles clicking together.

The Particulart Exeter exhibition, Up in the Air, on disply at the Gloriouse Art House in Exeter

What was the purpose of making the exhibit interactive?
It’s a way of engaging people so it’s not just a quick wander-around, and lets people do something as a way of remember it. At the workshop, we had a really good time talking over various situations.

It was wonderful seeing how visitors engaged with the exhibit, too.
Did they give the molecules a good squeeze?

Yes, they did! Why did you choose knitting as your form of presentation?
Well, that goes back to the first meeting with Diana – she had the idea of knitting molecules and leaving them around town for people to find. I knew the basics of knitting, and the whole idea evolved into having an exhibition, so more people might actually see the work, and not just throw it away. During this time, I had a reflection on knitting; it’s a really nice way of getting something across in a non-threatening, comforting way. It requires you to slow down, and it’s also tactile, which is why I asked people to squeeze the molecules!

Has living in Exeter affected the exhibition for you in any way?
I used to work for the Met Office – I had various jobs there, one looking at the impact of weather on human health. I was also part of the team managing the government contract for climate research. Both the Met Office and Exeter university have world-class climate research, but sometimes they find it difficult to communicate, so I’m always interested in that – although, you know, not always necessarily knowing how to do it! Exeter also has lots of grassroots environmental and arts organisations, and there’s just so much generosity of spirit and time. I’m involved with Transition Exeter, I’m an investor in Real Food and also on the organising team of TEDxExeter, as well as being a director of the Exeter Pound – and lots of other things that don’t spring to mind immediately! Getting involved with all of these things affected the exhibit, and of course the Exeter City Council kindly gave me a small arts grant, and the Exeter Diocese sponsored me.

What was the biggest challenge of combining art and science you faced during the exhibition, and how did you overcome it?
Plenty of people combine art and science, and ASCUS supports it – so the concept itself was quite easy. I’ve got a mind that likes to make connections, so it wasn’t a problem – the biggest challenge was transport! So thanks to David and Sue, and Tim and Caroline, for help with transport and sticking everything to the ceiling.

If you could gather everyone who has seen your exhibit into one room and give them one piece of advice, what would it be?
I would say follow your energy and enthusiasm, and don’t be afraid to take a bit of a risk and experiment. Even if it’s quite small – like maybe an exhibition!

What’s next for you?
Loads! The private view is on Friday, and sadly the exhibit is coming down afterwards – but I’m going to carry on tweeting about the climate, and continuing to push the issue.  Particulart is going to feature in the SWIMBY musical and songbook. I’ve also got lots of ideas for where to take the concept, and maybe I will create a pop-up exhibit I can take around schools and so on, maybe on bees and pesticides. It’s coming up to the 30th year since the healing of the ozone layer, so I might focus on that, and also public health – I can knit alcohol and caffeine and cholesterol.

If you’re interested in exploring these issues with Clare, then send her an e-mail on Keep up with all the happenings of Particulart here, Clare’s blog here, and her twitter here

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