Note to Readers: Art and Science in The Brooklyn Rail

Taney Roniger/ As an extension of our Strange Attractors conference, I was invited to serve as Guest Editor of the Critic’s Page in the December/January issue of The Brooklyn Rail. The section, which features 20 essays by selected conference participants and an introduction I wrote to give them context, further explores some of the ideas we covered in our symposium. The Critic’s Page can be found on the Rail’s homepage: .

My hope is that by extending our audience to include the Rail’s readership we’ll be able to continue the dialogue on a larger scale. Comments from Rail readers can be made in the comments section under this post.  Rail essay contributors will be checking this site regularly through the end of the year, so let us hear from you!

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Conclusions and Acknowledgements

Taney Roniger/ When we began this dialogue eleven days ago, one of my main objectives was to impose some sobriety on what James Elkins has memorably – now perhaps indelibly — called the drunken conversation between art and science. Establishing clarity and eradicating misunderstandings, I was convinced, was the only way sci-art could mature as a genre. How quickly I was disabused of this notion! Indeed, if there’s one thing that’s been made clear to me over the course of this symposium, it’s that working with only partial understandings can be wonderfully generative, and that by taking little stabs at sense from numerous different angles we can generate ideas and questions wholly unforeseen at the outset. Such has been my experience here, and I can honestly say I’ve learned not just more than I’d hoped for, but more about things quite other than I’d anticipated.

We’ve covered so much ground

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Comment from Suzanne Anker

Suzanne Anker/ Taney, thank you very much for your efforts in helping to clarify some of the intersections between art and science.  As there is not one kind of science or one kind of art, more specific definitions and re-definitions are in order. One aspect not covered in the discussion is the notion of epistemic things, a term greatly referenced by Hans-Jorg Rheinberger in his writings.  He refers to epistemic things  as concepts in experimental systems.  That said, perhaps we can view art as an experimental system and begin to outline its attributes.… Continue reading


Taney Roniger/ Heading into our final day here, I have to say that eleven days now feels woefully inadequate for the kind of dialogue we’ve been having! So many of the issues raised here beg for further exploration, while others equally rich in potential have gone all but untouched. That said, we’ll be keeping this forum live through the end of the year should anyone want to further pursue any of the ideas discussed. I’d also welcome posts with notices about other sci-art goings-on here in New York or elsewhere – it would be wonderful to get to know more of the sci-art community!

With an eye toward assessing the shape of the dialogue moving forward, Session V offers an opportunity for panelists and readers to weigh in on how you’d like to see it progress. I look forward to hearing your ideas.


Wed. No. 15, 2017

5.1 If … Continue reading


Taney Roniger/ The flurry of activity we saw here over the weekend has left us with much to ponder and discuss! While we continue to explore some of those questions, I want to issue the final set of prompts that will take us through Wednesday. Because we’ve covered so much material in so little time, and because so many of our panelists’ responses call for further discussion, we’ve decided to leave the conference site live through the end of the year. This will give everyone the opportunity to continue the dialogue and, should there be the desire, to respond to each other’s essays that will appear soon in The Brooklyn Rail.

 Moving Forward:
Establishing Visions for the Future

Mon. Nov. 13 – Tues. Nov. 14, 2017

4.1 What, if anything, does sci-art have to offer the broader culture?

 4.2 Does the sci-art movement have a role to play in … Continue reading

Some thoughts from Matthew Ritchie

Matthew Ritchie/ The question of what constitutes ‘scientific imagery and scientific content’ as specific terms separate from the representation of other forms of human enquiry is evolving – and therefore often poorly defined or indefinable. Even the term ‘scientist’ only appears in the early nineteenth century, in counterpart to the idea of the ‘artist’, precisely when it becomes clear there are many specific forms of science, just as there are many specific forms of art.

The goals, uses, materials and processes of science and art are not necessarily exclusive, but are often mirrors of each other. In both fields, a premium is placed on freedom of enquiry and instrumentalizing both physical and metaphysical data, all in the service of hypothetically reciprocal (but as often competing) social and theoretical ends. The differences in presentation and interpretation often lie as much in the chosen application of visualization technology and the expected terms … Continue reading

Response to 3.5 from Suzanne Anker

Suzanne Anker/ As we continue the conversation, the “sci-art” proposition and its engagement is still not resolved. What is included in this set? Do we separate out the physical sciences from the biological ones? Bio Art may be a sub-set of this conjunction, but does it follow that there is a Physics Art? Geology Art? Mathematics Art? I don’t think so. When artists such as Damien Hirst or Marc Quinn or even Orlan employ dead animals, bodily fluids or molecular substances in their work, they are not referred to as belonging to the “sci-art” genre. What is included in this designation and why? Many artists working with wetware in a laboratory mode are in general either making amateur science or speculative design. Let’s not forget that our discourse is in art, art theory and art history or even cultural studies. Artists in the “sci-art” domain are not equipped to rant … Continue reading

Sci-Art as Activism

Taney Roniger/ Since we’re on the subject of practice, I want to reintroduce a question Eve Laramee brought up early on in this discussion, which was: Is there a place for activism within sci-art? Given Eve’s own work as an environmental artist and activist, I think the answer is certainly yes. But I wonder if anyone would care to speculate about some of the complications inherent in this kind of work. It seems to me that when one’s explicit intention is to educate or raise awareness, it becomes especially important to get the science involved right and to relate it unequivocally. This puts considerable pressure on the artist – and on the art. From what I’ve seen, much of the work that falls under the activist art rubric suffers from a certain heavy-handed didacticism and a concomitant diminution of aesthetic complexity.

One example that comes to mind is Maya … Continue reading