By Leah Barclay (Originally published here for the World Listening Project)
At a time when the world is experiencing unprecedented ecological threats, the Balance-Unbalance International Conference is a global initiative designed to harness the talents of innovators working at the forefront of the arts, science and technology to explore transdisciplinary approaches to sustainability. The 2013 Balance-Unbalance Conference recently took place from 31 May to 2 June within the UNESCO Noosa Biosphere Reserve on the Sunshine Coast of Australia. The three-day event brought together a dynamic and diverse range of participants from 24 countries, including artists, scientists, activists, philosophers, sociologists, architects and engineers.
Balance-Unbalance was founded by Argentinean/Canadian artist and academic Dr. Ricardo Dal Farra in 2010 with the main goal to develop the role of the arts and artists in dealing with environmental challenges. After successful events in Montreal and South America, this was the first time the conference was hosted in the Asia-Pacific region. Features of the program included over 120 presenters, three keynote panels, 12 Pecha Kucha presentations, 60 papers, 25 performances and installations and 30 panels and trans-disciplinary activities. Although the program covered a wide spectrum of disciplines, there was a strong representation of both creative works and academic presentations that explored sonic art, listening and acoustic ecology.
The goal of Balance-Unbalance is not just in hosting events, but bringing like-minded individuals together to collaborate and take action. Ricardo Dal Farra is an acclaimed composer, so it’s not surprising that one of the first major outcomes from Balance-Unbalance was related to music. Dal Farra is particularly drawn to the work of Jacques Attali and his seminal book Noise: The Political Economy of Music, where he explores music as not just simply a reflection of culture but a “harbinger of change”. The ‘Art!⋈Climate’ competition was initiated at Balance-Unbalance 2011 in Montreal and is devoted to the power of organised sound. Developed in partnership with the Red Cross/Red Crescent Climate Centre, ‘Art!⋈Climate’ is a competition for sound art related to “the effects of climate change and the world environmental crisis”.
The 2013 competition called for entries addressing two themes; one broad category including anything related to climate change and extreme weather events, and another concentrating on mosquito-borne diseases like malaria and dengue, which are affected by climate factors. The Red Cross was interested in functional creative resources to publish on the Climate Centre’s website and use for workshops, training materials and educational games. Therefore the winners of the competition would become part of a catalogue at the Red Cross/Red Crescent Climate Action Centre.
There was 72 compositions submitted from across the world and the inaugural winners were announced at Balance-Unbalance 2013. The winning works were selected by a jury of internationally recognized electroacoustic music composers and new media artists including Joel Chadabe (USA) and Leigh Landy (UK). In addition to the official ceremony, the winning compositions were programmed in a multi-channel listening space at Balance-Unbalance that allowed delegates to experience the works throughout the conference. The winning artists included Ian Clothier (New Zealand), Damián Paúl Espina (Argentina) Nigel Helyer (Australia), Una Lee (South Korea), Katharina Vogt (Austria) and Richard Garrett (UK).
The ‘Art!⋈Climate’ project showcased the possibilities of combining a large-scale humanitarian organisation with artistic practice. In addition to creating a database of functional creative resources, ‘Art!⋈Climate’ attracted global attention and encouraged a dialogue around the role of sound and creativity in responding to climate change. This project highlights the role of Balance-Unbalance and certainly sets a high standard for initiatives to follow.
Balance-Unbalance 2013 explored how artists can participate in the challenges of our ecological crisis. The event inspired creative thinking and transdisciplinary action to create perceptual, intellectual and pragmatic changes. Balance-Unbalance is not just a conference, but the catalyst for new ideas, collaborations and most importantly actions in shaping our collective futures.