The Problem of the Wall Label . . .

Stephen Nowlin/ There are, as this symposium shows, many approaches crowded under the Sci-Art umbrella. For the one having to do with exhibiting works of science-based art, the quaint convention of the gallery wall label conceals much deeper issues than its quietly pragmatic utility would suggest. First of all, gallery labels are annoying — tiny little extra rectangles, visual objects in themselves, that dot the wall and exude residue of having hawked one’s craftwork at a peg-board street fair. Worse, though, they trumpet the century outmoded single-channel notion that each work of art is “on display itself” rather than part of a cohesive aesthetic and intellectual whole where only an installation free of all unnecessary visual flak will suffice. Wall labels in a gallery are like leaving a metronome going during the symphony. But their truly criminal act is when they historicize and decode the work of art, and by … Continue reading

transfigurations and exchanges

Linda Francis/ Dan mentions the possibility of art’s heuristic value to theorists or that it may be suggestive of new phenomenon to investigate. To inspire scientists, as well as of course others, is “not nothing” to quote Ray Johnson. And to be inspired by them, as I  wrote earlier, can be the subject of art. A personal example: I became friendly with a materials scientist who enjoyed coming over to my studio and talking with me about various ideas regarding science in general. We lost touch a couple of years later, when he moved to California to work on a NASA space shuttle whose heat shield failed. One day I received an envelope in the mail from him with a letter sized xerox of an electron micrograph image and the inscription- “this looks like your work”- It actually did.  I was  amazed to find that a person whom I thought … Continue reading

Response to Jeanne: One Scientist’s Perspective

Werner Sun/ I would like to echo what Jeanne posted earlier.

Speaking as a scientist, one of the biggest stumbling blocks in my own appreciation of sci-art is not knowing how I am supposed to react to the scientific content. Scientific ideas are often very difficult to explain to laypersons and even other scientists. But for practitioners, every scientific idea holds a specific meaning, and it plays a particular role in the development of a field. The same is true of instruments, data, equations, etc. Every component is a brick in a Jenga tower.

So, when I see scientific material appearing verbatim in a piece of art, without an accompanying sense of exploration or transformation, my gut reaction is that the science is being taken out of context. A Jenga brick has been randomly plucked from the tower, and the edifice of thought surrounding it is being ignored. As … 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

Jeanne Brasile – Session III

Jeanne Brasile/The angles of Sci-art to which I am drawn stem from a fascination with science and popular culture.  My generation came of age during the Space Race and the development of shuttles, space stations and space probes.  Star Wars, Battlestar Galactica and a legion of movies about space brought astronomy and physics to the forefront of our consciousness.  Medicine and Biology were also very salient areas of discovery and popular culture for those coming of age in the 1970s through the 1990s.  Though there was a multitude of approaches and themes to explore in Sci-art, what interests me the most are artists that don’t necessarily want to get to truths, but who are using science as a beginning to a conversation that doesn’t need to be factual or even have an answer.   Sci-art, when it simply ponders larger questions, holds the most sway with me.  I look to … Continue reading

Session III – Data or No Data?

Gianluca Bianchino/ Currently Sci-Art appears to be partial to the popularization and celebration of the subject and less on the much needed self-critique, thus I thank this forum for engaging with the question.

Given the current troubling political climate, strongly influenced by conservative zealots in tandem with a stubborn petrochemical economy, a claim could be made that Sci-Art is an institutional critique just by its mere existence and popularization where both conceptual and formal scrutiny may be seen as inconvenient at the moment.  Similarly to the relationship between Sci-Art and current politics, identity politics in art may be experiencing a concomitant lack of scrutiny.  Identity politics in art is flourishing within a now vast and undefined counter culture movement primarily aligned against the Trump administration. Perhaps in a few years, if the political tension is ameliorated, especially here in the US by a different election result we may be able … Continue reading

Is scientific imagery sufficient to invoke scientific content?

Linda Francis/ Invoke  scientific content, yes, but produce content not necessarily unless we ask the same questions of both disciplines, “what is reality” notwithstanding. If we focus on one specific question maybe, and then agree to discuss each discipline’s findings in relation to the other. That might work. Perhaps a more narrow version of consilience, as Taney cited in the last session. Thinking about what Dan began in a reply to Werner regarding discursion reminds me of a particularly interesting conceit in art that is labeled “recursion”:  In one sense, artists are creating works that have to prove themselves as objects or facts. Enter recursivity-  discursively speaking, our own Mandelbrot-ian referents. Apropos of that, fractals have been able to describe Russian nesting dolls and molecular biology.… Continue reading


Taney Roniger/ While many of the threads we started last Sunday are still going strong, today I want to propose another set that promises to be equally catalytic. Moving from theory to practice, our third session gets down to the meat and bones of the matter: How exactly is sci-art being made, and with purposes in mind? I’ll be especially curious to hear people’s perspectives on one of the most nagging issues of the genre: Is scientific imagery sufficient to invoke scientific content?

Modes of Engagement:
Exploring the Nature of Art’s Involvement with Science

Fri. Nov. 10 – Sun. Nov. 12, 2017

3.1 With what angles of approach are the various sci-art genres engaging with science? Does sci-art aim to celebrate, popularize, “problematize,” or challenge science? Can it do all four at once?

3.2 How is scientific content embodied in works of art?

3.3 What is the relationship between … Continue reading