Juanita Schläpfer-Miller is the science communicator and artist behind Climate Garden 2085, which was on display in the swissnex Gallery last fall. Juanita studied transdisciplinary knowledge production in art and science, and has been actively involved as a science communicator at the Zurich-Basel Plant Science Center for the past five years. With experience in museum design and public engagement with science, her work explores topics from particle physics to climate change.

Climate Garden 2085 explored the “slow medium” of a garden, where visitors could experience the potential effects of climate change on their local agriculture. This project was the centerpiece of swissnex San Francisco’s look at a vast array of sustainability projects in 2017, and part of our Pier 17 Science Studio series on science communication. 

What do you do? 

I aim to engage people with scientific facts, methods, models or research results. I try and use methods which are not conventional. Not for the sake of being unconventional, but if several methods/channels of communication have been tried, then maybe some new kind of experiment will help. For example, creating an intervention which engages people on emotional and cultural levels provides a more complete experience of science and its situation in society.

Why do you do it? 

My motivations come from issues such as the “climate paradox,” whereby many people know about climate change but are not acting on it. I am also interested in pushing the boundaries of science communication to focus on emotion rather than facts. Although given the current trend away from facts, I am tempted to refocus on truth in science.

What reflections do you have on Climate Garden 2085?

The medium of plants has proven a great way to investigate concepts of time and space, concepts which are hard to get a grip on in terms of climate change. When will all these models be relevant, what will it look and feel like to me? Planting a garden is an inherently optimistic act. Even if some of the plants did not do as well as others, it still gives us hope for the survival of life as we know it. It also always surprised me how people take plants for granted, but when confronted with them in a gallery space, for example, they act as a catalyst for stories. When installing the Climate Garden 2085 at swissnex, visitors and staff came up to me and told stories about their garden, or their childhood.

What’s  next? 

Climate Garden 2085 has taken on a life of its own, and we are looking at 3-4 different places to present it next year and up to 2020.  I am delighted that it will be installed in another constellation at the Presidio in San Francisco in 2018. It’s very gratifying that it has really captured people’s’ imagination to such an extent. My next project involves art and science workshops to encourage creativity in young people. I am also working on a citizen science project to increase the genetic diversity of wild plants in the city.

Photo by Astra Brinkmann for swissnex SF.