Rivers are icons of climate change. They are also highly sensitive indicators of present climate conditions, recorders of historical climate, and predictors of climate in the future. Climate scientists research all of these factors by observing watersheds and the ecosystems they sustain.
Conceived by Jonathon Keats, River Time is a multifaceted civic initiative intended to bolster public appreciation of river systems - and people’s understanding of their significance as climate indicators - by enlisting rivers as timekeepers. Instead of being calibrated by the pulsations of cesium atoms in remote laboratories, local time is measured by the flow of local rivers, speeding up or slowing down with the myriad environmental factors that affect watersheds daily, seasonally, annually, and over the course of generations.
An open-ended investigation of our relationship with time and place, River Time is simultaneously a provocation. The time kept by atomic clocks gives us the false illusion of control: being able to manage the present and predict the future. In fluvial clocks, time is alive with contingencies. We experience the complexity of the global environment. We come to terms with where planning and prediction fail us: the limitations of what we can know about the future - and the threat of hubris.
Originating in Alaska as a SEED Lab project of the Anchorage Museum, River Time is a global initiative, and will be deployed next on the rivers of Switzerland. River Time is also a case study in art-and-science collaboration, which will serve as the basis for research on interdisciplinary and transdisciplinary research by the Transdisciplinarity Lab at ETH Zurich (Switzerland).
Drawing on insights from the project Shaping Interdisciplinary Dialogues in Europe (SHAPE-ID), an ongoing H2020 project, this discussion will elaborate on pathways to collaborative research. The challenge of including the arts and humanities meaningfully in research and innovation initiatives is not new, but has grown more important in these crisis-ridden times. There is an urgent need for more collaborative work embracing interdisciplinary and transdisciplinary research across and between all disciplines. In this context, how can the arts and humanities be activated by scientific questions and deployed to address scientific questions of relevance to the present?
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