Sharing things

Hannah and Francisca: Neutron stars, landscapes and imagination

September 29, 2022 The University of Edinburgh Season 6 Episode 1
Sharing things
Hannah and Francisca: Neutron stars, landscapes and imagination
Show Notes Transcript

In our opening episode of season 6, guests Hannah Clark and Francisca Lima chat about neutron stars, landscapes and imagination.

Hannah is a 4th year student in Sustainable Development and Social Anthropology, originally from a small town near Glasgow. She is also this year's Sharing things host! She is currently focused on her roles as research director for The Buchanan Institute (a student-led think tank), president of the Hearty Squirrel Food Cooperative, and board trustee for 2050 Climate Group. She has also hosted another podcast called 'Planting Seeds of Change', in collaboration with the University of Edinburgh's Food Security & Sustainability Society.

Francisca is a landscape designer and lecturer at Edinburgh College of Art, where she currently teaches history and theory of landscape architecture. Francisca is interested in range of different research topics, including perception of landscape, urban decline and green spaces in relation to community engagement and wellbeing. 

Who are we? Season 6 is about who we are as individuals, what motivates us and why we do the things we do? But as it is Sharing things, it is also about where we overlap, where our experiences help us better understand others and why we are never alone.

You can find more information on the Sharing things website.

Graphic images designed by Chris Behr. They are part of his Nice Things icon set. 

[Theme music]

Hannah 00:06 And welcome to season 6 of Sharing things. My name is Hannah Clark. I'm a fourth year Edinburgh University student and your new host, but not quite yet. This time, I'm a guest, alongside Dr Francisca Lima, landscape designer and lecturer at the Edinburgh College of Art. With the help of our wonderful substitute host, Sonia, we discuss everything from neutron stars to landscapes to imagination. I really hope you enjoy.

Sonia 00:34 So, I thought a bit of introduction to this, this is the first episode of Sharing things that we have recorded in person, since I think it was Thursday-- a Thursday in mid-March. And then, after that, everything has taken place online. And we've sort of, I don't know, I've missed it. I've missed seeing people. I've missed the thing around the table where you actually get to react to people in different ways. So, it's really good to be back. And the first episode back actually features the next host of Sharing things. So, we have Hannah with us. So welcome to the studio, Hannah. 

Hannah 01:11 Thank you. 

Sonia 01:12 Excellent, lovely to have you here. And Hannah's invited guest is an alumna and an academic from the University. Welcome, Francisca.

Francisca 01:21 Thank you very much.

Sonia 01:23 Okay, I'm going to do tiny bit of scene setting. And it is a little bit about the fact that we're here in person. And I don't know about you guys but coming back has been weird to me. So, I'm just really interested in two people from different, I suppose, worlds of the university. What's it like to be back-- to back in person?

Hannah 01:47 Well, I suppose the university's been sort of easing students back into in person learning for a while. So, it sort of started with the first semester of the past year, we had tutorials, and it was like, five people in a room, two metres apart, masks on and it was all very strange. And then this year, it's been more relaxed. And it's been nice. It seems like most things are in person now. And it feels like that-- that sense of normalcy is, you know, slowly getting back. And I think, I didn't realise how much I missed it. I think I got really used to online meetings and lectures and all of it. And I didn't realise how much I missed that sort of-- those chance encounters that you have, and the sort of-- the conversations that aren't like scripted point by point and the way that Zoom meetings tend to go, I think it's been a really wonderful experience in general.

Sonia 02:43 Was-- was there like a moment that you thought this feels kind of normal?

Hannah 02:49 There must have been. I feel like I remember thinking something, it must have been like, sort of mid semester this year, like maybe-- maybe late February, early March. And I was like, this is-- a year ago this would have been the strangest thing in the world. And here I am just going to my classes each day, being on campus again, walking past hundreds of people. I remember when people started to like come back out in the Meadows over the summer. And I was freaking out because I hadn't been around that many people in like over a year. And it took me a long time to-- to adjust to it again.

Francisca 03:27 For me, it was such a relief. Absolutely. If I had any doubts about being an extrovert, those doubts were totally lifted with COVID because I suffered immensely at home. In the beginning, I-- I actually enjoyed it, I felt I had more control over my time. But after many, many months working from home, there was this sense of lack of connection with people that was incredibly heavy for me, at least in my-- with my personality. I remember the day I went to the office for the first time, after so many months working from home, and the sense of relief and of joy of leaving the building door and just walking with a purpose to another place to work in a different context. So, for me, it was extremely joyful, the experience of coming back to the office.

Sonia 04:25 Do you kind of think that you're different because of that experience of being at home?

Francisca 04:31 That's a great question. Let me think. I'm trying to isolate the fact of only that because I think I'm different in so many aspects because I have been doing different roles in the past two years. So COVID brought COVID [laughs] but it also brought in my personal life, different challenges and I have changed a lot in the past two years, but I am not sure if I can say it's because of working from home or not.

Sonia 05:03 In Sharing things, we ask you to bring something to the studio, which is kind of something either you've kept with you over many years, maybe taking it with you as you've moved from country to country or place to place. That's something that means something, I suppose. That's the very short way of saying it. So, I don't know who wants to go first whether we have to do like rock-paper-scissors, or something? Maybe? But yeah, what did you guys bring to the studio?

Hannah 05:35 You're very welcome to go first.

Francisca 05:37 Okay, I can start. I have brought a piece of clay. It has multiple meanings. It was very difficult to decide. Okay, first meaning. It's because I, during my childhood, and my adolescence, I played a lot with clay, I loved playing with clay and I-- my parents still have it in their flat-- on their flat, like a little space where they-- they keep all those pieces of clay that I used to do. And so, I-- yes, it has this kind of connection with-- with-- with growing up, or with the process of growing up. And-- and I have been always very tactile, I remember my great aunt like you don't need to-- you don't need to touch to see, keep away from the precious things of the house. And so, I had this tendency to touch to be able to, you know, like, to see. But also, the fact that I have been doing this course, or teaching this course, about landscapes is-- it's called 'Landscapes of Abandonment and Inhabitation'. And it's about periods in history where people have retracted from land and have occupied land and the meanings of land and, also different landscapes and archetypes of landscapes. And I also try to explore cosmogony. So, with the-- the-- the myths of the beginning of life and of beginning of humanity, etc. And many of those cosmogonies in different traditions start with clay. And so, the presence of clay and the presence of soil, it's always linked to these mythologies. And I think that is also quite interesting and quite deep, that different civilisations that not necessarily are in contact, have that same thought that the-- the soil is like part of the-- of the beginning of humanity and event and-- and birth of men, and then also the plasticity, the fact that you add water and it can be liquid, it can be stone-like, it can be a great material of construction, climate friendly. And, finally, the final meaning is that actually, I found this, this particular one, this particular pack of clay, while tidying up the studio now for the graduation degree, a student left it in the studio, in the end, students left lots of the things and in the end, we have to collect them and try to organise them in the material hub, or rehab. And so, it also has to do with the teaching, which is a big part-- or very important part of-- of my daily life and of my-- years of my-- of my daily challenges. 

Hannah 07:16 Sounds like a fascinating course, I would want to take that. 

Francisca 08:22 [Laughs] It's an elective course, I think you can take it.

Hannah 08:24 I might do it. I think I have to choose my courses so [laughs].

[Theme music]

Sonia 08:33 How about you, Hannah? What did you bring to the studio today?

Hannah 08:36 I don't have mine in person. It's at home at my parents' house. And it is 'Space A Children's Encyclopedia'. I got a few pages here. This one was my favourite as a child, the 'Extreme Stars' page, I remember spending probably many hours looking at this page. It popped to mind, pretty much immediately, when I had to think of something. And I think because I very much connected with a period of my life where there was a big change happening in me without me ever realising it. And I think we all have those times in life where we can look back in a retrospect, realise that we were changing, or something momentous was happening. And at the time, we had no recognition, like we couldn't tell. And I think when I was, I must have been about 11, when I got that book. And that period of time when I was becoming, I would say fascinated, some others may say obsessed, with the universe and outer space, I was fully in awe of the sort of magnificent nature of everything and realising how much bigger the world was than me. I was a young kid and I think as-- as children, we tend to think of ourselves as the centre of our own universe and it's very hard to recognise that there's so much beyond our realm of existence and our perception that we can even grasp. And I think that was the beginning of me starting to grasp that. And for a long time, I wanted to be an astronomer or a physicist, and really take that obsession as far as I could, which didn't end up happening. But I'm really grateful for that period of my life, because I still have an immense fondness of stars. And if you asked me to talk about neutron stars, I will talk at you for hours. I think in a roundabout way, and it's maybe not clear, point A to point B. I can kind of track where I am now, from that point. And the person that I've become. So that's kind of how I was-- how I thought of this object when I chose it.

Sonia 10:52 Can I-- can I ask you about your favourite page? 

Hannah 10:55 Yes [laughs].

Sonia 10:57 Why is it your favourite page? Is it how it looks? Is it what it's about?

Hannah 11:01 So, I do really enjoy the photos, they are very pretty. It is mostly what it's about - Extreme Stars - it has the neutron star on that page. I really love neutron stars. Actually I have a favourite fact that I like to tell people. This was like my method of flirting for a long time [audience laughs] you know, mixed results. But I would tell people that when two neutron stars collide, they produce enough gold that would fill up the mass of 300 Earths.

Sonia 11:33 Wow. 

Hannah 11:34 Yes. So, the statistics, or the numbers, on that might have changed slightly since I read it in that book, when I was 12, but I stand by it. And I still bring it up from time to time. And I think it's just that sort of sense of, like you said, wow, like that all and that sort of sort of like incapacity to fathom what that even means. That really drew me in, yeah.

Sonia 11:57 I think one thing that kind of just sticks out for me of both your objects is that kind of connection to childhood. Which is-- and the kind of infinite possibilities. It seems like quite strong in all of this. I don't know, do you still have that same relationship with clay? I'm just thinking like-- when you-- do you want to-- do you mould it now? Do you explore its possibilities?

Francisca 12:20 I lost it, it's very sad. I didn't-- I didn't-- I stopped doing it. And I think that's why it took me such a long time to-- when it came to my head, the idea of the clay, it was almost as if I was-- I was picking up something that was very, very deeply stored. And it was not something that is like, I was talking about routines and daily-- daily-- daily actions, and this is not a daily action. But it-- at the same time, it-- it brings so many deep memories and-- and-- and one of the things about clay is also that I-- that I forgot to say is about the potential change, you know, it's constantly changing that potentiality of life. And the idea that you-- like you were saying that there are moments of change that are so important in our lives. But I'm fascinated about stars. It's so fascinating that we went for the extremes, you know the Earth and then the stars, like, it's like...

Sonia 13:18 I don't know. It's all elemental, isn't it? And what's the role of that book? Is it just about memory for you? Or is-- do you go back to see your parents and look at it?

Hannah 13:29 I would say so, I think a lot of it is wrapped up in memories. And a lot of it feels like it's in the past. I don't frequently study stars in my day-to-day life. But when I go home, I do, I pull it out of my bookshelf, it still sits there. And alongside a lot of other space books, I still have this as my particular favourite. And I will just sort of like browse through the pages. I'm definitely still the kind of person that on a clear night sky, I will like stop everyone and be like, we're going to stop and look, and you got to give me my time to stare at the stars. Living in Edinburgh, I find that that's the thing I miss the most about being from my like small rural home, out in the middle of nowhere, it's like, I love being in a city, but I miss the stars. And so, I think coming home, when I go home, and I get the book out, it's also a chance for me to see the stars in real life as well. If the clouds go away, because it's very rainy over there, but every now and then.

[Theme music]

Sonia 14:33 My other question that connects the two is sort of, it's the-- I suppose it's the childlike imagination connected to these two things, because I kind of see them both as something that expanded your childhood worlds. Does that make sense? Is there something that exists in your life now that performs the same function as that book? Or that block of clay?

Francisca 15:00 For me, I think it's my interest in-- in forming new things with clay has become also an interest in drawing. The first thought I had for an object was a pen. And because of that, because and also during COVID, during the lockdown, I started-- I restarted doing a drawing per day, which became very, very relaxing. So, something that I really noticed that was helping me to work-- with work better to do everything better to everything in a more grounded way. And when we came back to-- to the offices and to a more normal life I actually dropped that routine, which is a pity. But it does that for me. It-- it-- it is a space of development of ideas, development of new things, of potential new things, but also a recording technique for what is happening around me. And yes, it's almost like it's the inheritance of this more primitive exercise of the clay. But when I thought about the clay, it felt right, in a much more profound level. So maybe it's that going back to that revolutional moment. So, the clay that is-- is definitely the material that brought me to drawing, not the drawing that-- that made me interested in clay.

Sonia 16:26 They're both quite physical, though. 

Francisca 16:27 Yes. 

Sonia 16:28 So, do you need to see things to-- for your imagination to take flight?

Francisca 16:34 I think so. I think so. Although now I work in an art college. And I think I am the abstract one. Because everyone is much more physical, in terms of working with wood, with metal. So, in a way it sembles as if I then lost a bit the connection with that, or-- and I see how artists do keep that connection so strongly. And that is fascinating to see. Yes.

Hannah 17:05 Can I ask what you draw? Like, is there anything in particular that you feel drawn to?

Francisca 17:11 Yes, everything and anything. People, landscapes, close ups of my phone, of my diary, everything, everything, but also like imagining spaces and places imagining things that can become, I love that as well. Of course, because I'm trained as an architect, landscape architect, there is that design element of imagining that is always present. Because I was-- I was also finding-- I was finding it interesting that you mentioned the gold that-- that was what-- was the episode that you have recorded in your mind, no? I can then-- you-- you have it like-- have it like a precious thing that you can share. And I was wondering if the fact that it is a gold-- that it's gold-- that the comparison is with-- it was gold, if it-- if it’s important.

Hannah 18:03 I think probably. I'm not someone who owns any gold, I think, so it's not like important to me in my-- in my personal life. But I think for an 11-year-old to-- I definitely thought of gold as like, you know, it's a precious metal. And I think most people think of it as something special and-- and valuable. And while that's most likely socially constructed, I think has something to do with the fact that there's so little of it on Earth. And then just to think like, there's 300 masses of Earth-worth of gold, I hope I worded that in a way that makes sense, out there in the universe, just for every single neutron star collision, it's just all over the place. So, I think it's-- it's probably that sort of disparity between like, it's very valuable here on Earth, because there's not that much of an it takes a lot of work and energy and time to get it. I don't know, I just think I found the way in which it doesn't quite fit with like, I guess human perceptions of the order of things like what should be the rarest metal or-- or whatever. Maybe the universe does work that way, in a sense, but I yeah, there's something quite, almost jarring about that. That fact, you know.

[Theme music]

Sonia 19:25 So Hannah, if it's not a book about space, what inspires you now? Where do you go to for creative inspiration?

Hannah 19:32 I guess I'm a student, and I study people, essentially. I do a degree in Sustainable Development and Social Anthropology. And my fascination these days is just with people and how we interact with the world around us how we might live a little bit better on-- on this Earth. So, I guess turning inwards a little bit from the outer space and into, yeah, making the most of what we have here. I'm in the middle of deadline season right now, which as stressful as it is, is reminding me why I love my degree so much and why I do it. And I think, getting to learn about people, how we interact with the Earth, how we might change things to be more sustainable, long term. And whether that's reading a 20-page article that I start off thinking 'Oh, what a drag, like I don't want to spend two hours going through this’. And then at the end feeling like really rejuvenated and excited about this idea. Or it's compiling my own ideas in the form of an essay or a policy brief. And I'm coming away feeling like exhausted, because I've poured so much time into it, but really, like, connected to that sense of purpose, I would say that I get most of that sense of fulfilment, and that sense of all even, that I had, through that book as a child, now as a student.

Sonia 21:06 So as you sort of moved into your course, and-- did you realise at a certain point, was it a certain conversation or interaction with a person that you had that you maybe thought that-- that set you in on that kind of road?

Hannah 21:21 When I was about 13, I was like I'm going to be an astrophysicist. And then I learned about climate change. And that was really like, disappointing for me. Personally, I didn't like that very much. So, then I thought ‘Oh, I'll do like environmental science’. And then I came and visited Edinburgh University on an Open Day. And I learned about the degree programme in sustainable development. And its emphasis on the social science and the people, and the sort of systemic institutions and structures that we're all living in. And I hadn't considered that as a, you know, the major avenue through which to tackle climate change. I thought of it as a scientific question, and I think a lot of people do, I think what we're missing is a social understanding. With this, like, obviously, we are causing the problem, but it's not just technological solutions that are going to be our answers. Its social systems, political institutions, movements, activism, policy, social policy, all of this is so much more important than I ever imagined. And I think I only had a small sense of what that meant, at that point at the Open Day, listening to the talk. And then as I've entered university in and going through my degree, I realised that more and more, and I think anthropology, of course, is the study of-- of human cultures and societies. And that has a lot to do with it as well.

Sonia 22:57 And landscape architecture, as well.

Francisca 23:00 Yes, absolutely, no? We also deal with these themes very, you know like, actively. And we try to make this bridge. So, the human cultural component with the scientific component, and envisage how-- how we can imagine the future that can-- can hold those things that both things can-- can dialogue and work together, which is something that we-- well many cultures have very deeply. And in this course, again, going back to that, we also go through some examples of that-- that-- of cultures that were so in tune with their environment, that they were part of that environment very strongly and very-- very naturally. But they were totally aware of the changes and totally aware of the things that were possible, but the things that would disturb the-- the-- the natural cycle of-- of that environment. How much to hand, how-- how much do to graze, how much to-- all of that was part of inheritance from previous generations, that knowledge, you know, that-- the-- the awareness that what can keep the balance and what can disrupt that balance. And-- and I think that is fascinating. So, it's something that I really, really explore in my-- in my-- in my readings and I try to-- to know more about it because I think it's-- it's really the way forward, no? Really the way forward to reconnect and-- and recover that acute awareness of-- of what surrounds us. A bit like, you were saying that the stars were a bit when you were growing up. Like that connection is something that makes you part of that environment and-- and-- and if you are interested, if you are looking at stars and know them in the seasons, etc., it's also because you know the rest, you know, like you also know what is coming and growing in-- in spring or in-- or you know what that landscape will bring. And you will know that if you cut it, it will look this like this, if you cut the grass, it will look like this. If you don't, then other species will start growing and you will know what species are there-- they are. Whereas if you do not know your own environment, that connection is lost. So, we don't even know the names of the plants. So that in that sense, that cultural sense of preciousness to-- towards different aspects of the environment, the value certain things that might be incredibly important for the future as well.

Sonia 25:37 Do you know when people talk about things that are bigger, but you could-- also can see yourself in that bigger thing? That always makes me, kind of tingle. 

Francisca 25:48 Yes [laughs].

Sonia 25:49 I know. We've gone from the-- the Earth and the clay, to neutron stars and the universe. Like that is the most wide-ranging episode of Sharing things, right? [laugh] That is pretty impressive. 

 [Theme music]

Sonia 26:08 And as we sort of close things off, we always have the same question that we ask both of our guests and the question is, if you could identify kind of one word that encapsulates your object for you, what would that single word be?

Hannah 26:27 Mind-expanding. I think it gave 11-year-old me a sense that there was so much more beyond just my little life, in rural countryside, south of Glasgow, like there's so much more to the world and to the universe. And that has been an incredibly important thing to really have, like a deep inside of me like to know that I am not the centre of the world, like I am just one living part of everything else that's going on, that really like opened up my mind to just being a bit more humble. And I think just kind of has been really important for my approach to life in general. So, I really appreciate that I had that time in my life. 

Sonia 27:13 How about yourself?

Francisca 27:14 I had several of them written and I was looking at them. And before you said yours, I picked one, which is-- which links again-- it has like a link, which is imagination. So yeah, the potential for change, you know, like this drive to new things, to new births, if you want, and the imagination gives us that. And the clay gives us that as well.

Sonia 27:40 Mind-expanding and imagination. I think they're pretty-- pretty good things that come out of this episode. So, thank you. Thank you so much for coming to this special recording. Just as an aside, we've got an invited audience if everyone wants to say hi.  

Audience 27:57 Hello. Hi there! 

Sonia 28:00 So this is also first time in front of a live audience. So that's pretty exciting. I feel like we've reached the next level. But that was great. And thank you so much for-- for giving us your time at stressful times of the year at university. So, thank you.

Francisca 28:12 Thank you very much.

Hannah 28:13 Thank you. 

[Theme music]

Hannah 28:21 Thank you so much for joining us. Next time, I'll be presenting. So, subscribe now to make sure you catch the rest of season 6.

[Theme music]

 Kate 28:40I hope you've enjoyed meeting members of our University of Edinburgh community. To connect with more join Platform One, our online meeting place for students, alumni and staff of the university. To find out more search Platform One Edinburgh. 

[Theme music]

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