Meet Kat Austen: The environmental artist using science equipment to make music
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Kat Austen seems to be a creative chameleon, ever-adapting to new roles, from scientific labwork to environmental writing to the creation of music. Her early academic career was grounded in chemistry however, after realising that this was not the ideal path for her, she retrained in sculptural work. Her PhD in chemistry and subsequent artistic training now influence her work in tandem. Chemistry remains “ever present” in Austen’s life, contributing to the messages she transmits through her performances and installations.
Austen's current work is the result of an expedition to the Canadian High Arctic, supported by Friends of Scott Polar Research Institute, One Ocean Expeditions, and Bonhams, and is a feature of the Artist Arctic programme. In addition to this impressive role as an Artist in the Arctic, Austen is also the artist in residence at the Faculty of Maths and Physical Sciences, University College London.The title of her recent musical piece, “The Matter of the Soul”, plays on a variety of concepts. Firstly, Austen says that the word “soul” indicates the emotional depth of this work. Secondly, the piece considers both metaphorical and physical forms of “matter”. She explains, “the whole piece is about the way that a meta-structure changes when the individuals that comprise the meta-structure change”. The progression of the music shows the various phase transitions taking place in the artic, considering the movements of individuals in and out of cultures, and of water molecules moving in and out of ice and seawater. By examining these phase transitions, Austen is interrogating the very notion of changing identity and fluctuating culture. She calls this work her “most synthesised” and highlights that it is heavily influenced by her work as a chemistry research associate at Cambridge. For the new musical piece, Austen gathered audio from interviews with visitors and residents of the Nunavut region. This work is therefore informed by a variety of perspectives on climate change in the arctic, providing insight into changing identity and culture resulting from global processes.
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