Image by: Euan Stewart, CCB Student on placement in the Research Strategy & Policy department

How art is applied to changing lives and experiences

By Lucy Young, Creative & Cultural Business Student on placement in the Research Strategy & Policy department - 25 April 2022

Research Fellow and lecturer at Gray’s School of Art (RGU) Chris Fremantle reflects on how he applies art to changing lives and experiences.

Where does art truly belong? Do we need it to survive, or does it just look nice on a mantlepiece? Even more pressingly, can we use art to solve our worldly problems? Lecturer and research fellow at Robert Gordon University, Chris Fremantle asks the question: How do we use art to solve climate change? This is the main topic of a project that he is greatly involved in called NewLEAF.  
NewLEAF focuses on investigating how quickly tree species can adapt to our changing climate. The project is funded by the Natural Environment Research Council and has contributions from researchers in ecology, evolutionary biology, forest pathology, epidemiology, economics, social science, data science, mathematics, and the arts.  
Some findings so far have proved very promising: Mr Fremantle said in an interview, “We've now worked out that it's a really bad idea to plant [trees] on upland peatlands, because [peatlands] hold an enormous amount of carbon and planting trees on that requires draining it, which dries it out, which releases the carbon.” 
Mr Fremantle has been a lecturer and research fellow at the Robert Gordon University since 2014. He has taught critical and contextual art studies alongside dissertation and research skills at Gray’s School of Art since 2018. 
His previous research outputs have included a project at the Queen Elizabeth University Hospital in Glasgow. During a renovation, the hospital invited creative practitioners to make the building a less clinical and more comforting space. Mr Fremantle spoke about his influences and his background research which he conducted to complete this project- his visit to a children’s hospital is a particularly interesting perspective of the practical impact that art can have:    
“When we were doing working on the Queen Elizabeth [University Hospital] we went to Yorkhill, which was the Children's Hospital. We saw that the interview room was clearly a linen closet and at some point, somebody said, no, we can't keep having these conversations in the corridor. With families, we need a room to have these conversations in.” 
“[The interview room] had a strip light on the ceiling, and three seats in it. And that was where a consultant would take you to have a conversation about your child and what was going on.” 
“These rooms are planned in by the architect. They're part of the specification. They're not carved out converted linen rooms. 
You don't want strip lights. Actually, you might want a mirror so that if you've been crying you can wipe your face, clean yourself up, and sort yourself out before you go back out into the corridor where everybody can see you.” 
“You know, I can't change the conversation, but it can make the context of the conversation one which is dignified.” 
Art is often viewed solely as a way to provide endless entertainment, but researchers like Chris Fremantle are working every day to apply their work to making a physical difference. Art and creativity are everywhere, and if we give them a chance to, they might just change all our lives for the better. 
You can find out more about Chris's research on OpenAir@RGU, the open access institutional repository of Robert Gordon University. It contains examples of research outputs produced by staff and research students, as well as related information about the university's funded projects and staff research interests.

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