Drunken conversation or exquisite corpse?

Dan Weiskopf/ At the outset of our discussion, encounters between science and art were framed by James Elkins’ seductive image of the drunken conversation. A conversation may meander, lose its way and double back, but no matter how confused things become, it is still held together by the cooperative norms that prescribe mutual intelligibility as a goal for all parties. These norms, even if allowed to lapse in practice, always hold out the prospect of achieving a hazy form of comity.… Continue reading

Translational research and everyday aesthetics

Dan Weiskopf/ The examples of science-art interactions discussed so far have mostly identified science with basic research and its products (theories, data, images, etc.). But science is heterogeneous, and the emphasis on theory neglects other forms it can take. Beyond the classical division between theorists and experimentalists, we also need to add modelers and simulation-builders, who craft and manipulate computational analogs of real-world systems. Perhaps most significant for thinking about science-art collaborations, though, is the comparatively new field of translational research.… Continue reading

Transfigurations and exchanges

Dan Weiskopf/ I’m going to venture a strong claim: it’s impossible for scientific images and other materials to preserve their meaning when they’re imported into artworks. Images, simulations, and other visualizations are working images: they hone our research projects by operating as evidence, or as devices to reason with. They depend on an array of skilled interpreters, both human and technological. Making them idle by tacking them up for display shifts attention to other properties (their formal character, their allusive potential) that play no role in their working life. Elsewhere I’ve discussed some examples of how this happens in works that draw on astronomy (see “The Sky and the Edge of Sight”).

Of course, it’s the prerogative of artists to transform the meanings of anything that they happen to use as raw material–what Danto called “transfiguration”. The question is whether materials so transfigured can loop back around and … Continue reading

Co-production or critique?

Dan Weiskopf/ I find it useful to think about art-science interactions in terms of two broad models: co-production and critique. Each of these is pitched at a separate audience, and embodies a different idea about what the two practices have to offer each other.

On a co-production model, artists and scientists jointly aim to create something of potential value to both enterprises. In its strongest form this might mean producing a kind of knowledge (or new data or phenomena) that can be incorporated into science itself. Sciart here is continuous with scientific practice. Alternatively, it might mean generating knowledge that is about science and relevant to its practice without being directly part of it. Sometimes this is cast not in terms of knowledge but rather as producing a form of “insight” or “understanding”, each of which could be theorized much further. Finally, the hope of collaboration sometimes seems to be … Continue reading