Session I

Language Matters:
Defining Our Terms

Sun. Nov. 5 – Tues. Nov. 7, 2017

1.1 James Elkins has memorably called the dialogue between art and science a “drunken conversation,” one in which both sides—even when mutually enamored— perpetually misunderstand and talk past each other. With a view toward a more sober exchange, how might we comprehensibly articulate the essence of each? Perhaps more important, what is each emphatically not?

1.2 With the sci-art movement gaining momentum, we’re hearing more talk of the “convergence” of the two fields. What is meant by convergence? Is what’s being proposed a synthesis, or something more like a complementary relationship? If the former, why is sci-art a branch of art and not science?

1.3 However we define convergence, what does each field stand to gain from a prospective partnership?

1.4 As currently conceived, what is sci-art, and who is its intended audience? Granting that it is a branch of art and not science, how does it expect to be met by the scientific community?

1.5 Given that art has always appropriated images and ideas from other domains of culture, on what grounds do we need a special category for art that incorporates scientific content? Why sci-art?


Session I Dialogue

Moderator’s Welcome

Taney Roniger/ As we open this forum to the public today, I’d like to welcome everyone to the online component of Strange Attractors: Art, Science, and the Question of Convergence. First, I want to extend my thanks to all our panelists for enthusiastically accepting our invitation to share their thoughts on art and science over the course of the next ten days. Thanks to this diverse group of accomplished artists, scientists, writers, and curators, the forthcoming dialogue promises to be dynamic and illuminating. For those of you who missed our opening presentations at CUE last night, we’ll be posting links ...
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Session 1

Leonard Shapiro/ Thoughts on the Art and Science Worlds. Is the separation as great as we think? Artists inhabit a domain, a world they call the ‘art world’. Scientists inhabit a world they call the ‘science world’. Each of these domains has a specific language associated with it (for good reason) and the people who occupy each domain use this language to communicate with each other. However, while a particular language serves an important communicative and descriptive function within each domain, these languages can unwittingly serve to alienate those who are not familiar with the other’s domain. It is generally ...
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A few thoughts on 1.1 & 1.2

Daniel Hill/ Many of the group dialogues I have been involved in with artists and scientists have indeed wound up like a drunken conversation.  Often it seems both are using the same terminology but have different definitions.  Another issue seems to be a more than average knowledge or awareness of current issues in science on the part of the artist and a lack of general knowledge of contemporary art on the part of the scientist.  I think this is because in the potential sciart relationship, art needs science more than science needs art. I see the most fundamental difference between ...
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Who’s the Audience?

Stephen Nowlin/ Thank you to the CUE Foundation and Taney Roniger for initiating this timely and important dialogue. An initial thought: I think the title of the conference itself smartly points to the need for a deeper excavation of what Sci-Art is and what it means. “Strange Attractors” exposes the tendency, particularly in the popular media, to approach a convergence of science and art as a kind-of inspirational novelty — that is, as an implausible tale of romance, an affair noteworthy primarily because it seems to successfully pair what are stereotypically perceived to be polar opposite ends of a spectrum ...
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Response to 1.1 from Suzanne Anker

Suzanne Anker/ To begin with, what’s wrong with a “drunken conversation”? While some drunken conversations perseverate and go on endlessly in the land of repetition, others invoke unconscious or otherwise non-linear concerns which can lead to innovative thoughts, processes and materials.  When examining the nature of research and dialogue I quote Jacques Monod in that evolution operates by chance and necessity.  If we liken language to a communication system, what is the relevance in which “drunken conversations” produce mutations of thought and its consequences? For Monod, ”mutations constitute the only possible source of modifications in a genetic text……chance alone is the source ...
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Response from Eve Andree Laramee

Eve Laramee/ Regarding question 1:4 -“who is the intended audience,” Stephen Nowlin brings up an important challenge facing Sci-Art: the possibility of being both inspirational and subversive. To my mind, it is critical for us to ask if Sci-Art can activate change, and if so, within which demographics and cohorts? With the current political climate and an administration that is dismantling environmental protection laws, there is an urgency to resist the obfuscation of facts. How better to create that field of engagement than through science-art collaborations? I believe there a place for activism within a Sci-Art convergence ...
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On the Question of Audience

Taney Roniger/ I think it’s significant that many of the posts so far have taken on the issue of sci-art’s audience. This is so very important, and it’s one of the reasons I’m interested in the genre to begin with. Above all, I see the growing sci-art movement as an earnest and impassioned attempt on the part of art to achieve greater cultural authority in these urgent times.  And I agree with Stephen that if it’s to be taken seriously, sci-art needs to stop presenting itself as a mere novelty. The question that comes to my mind is: If our aim ...
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Response from James Elkins

James Elkins/ Sorry I missed the event: it sounds like it was great. I can be online until Wed. AM, when I’m off to see the opening of the Louvre Abu Dhabi, where you can imagine there won’t be a speck of science, except in the Renaissance galleries.
Regarding the notion of a “drunken conversation”:  I agree with Suzanne. The expression “drunken conversation” was meant to indicate an interesting conversation: one driven by desires, one that overflows the boundaries of propriety, one that may not get anywhere right away but flows on with force and conviction until it arrives in ...
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The Morning After

Gianluca Bianchino/ Session 1 A drunken conversation has often proven to be a good jump start to a great friendship since the vulnerable state of intoxication allows a level of truth and honesty to spill out of both parties (art and science). I’m certain we’ve all been in that exciting and yet naïve state of being (unless you don’t drink).  But in a drunken conversation there’s always a small window of opportunity for that truth and honesty to establish a lasting meaningful relationship before one of the parties gets carried away by the effects of escalating inebriation spoiling the credibility ...
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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 ...
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Note to Readers

Taney Roniger/ Since a lot of the action seems to be taking place in the comments sections here, I may be re-posting some of the comments in the main feed over the coming days. Until then, be sure to check the comments sections beneath posts ...
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Initial Thoughts

Sinead Maharaj/ Thank you for the invitation to join a great forum. The discussion on the convergence of Science and Art is a personal interest of mine, that inspires my work. To enter this dialogue, I will refer to my  initial difficulty,  that of how the pedagogy has defined the disciplines of Art and Science, as two very seperate ways of thinking.  The pedagogy positions our minds to differentiate each discipline, as completely separate. Science is sold to students as the positioning of  facts, with evidence to support, making something true or false. Art is positioned as creative thought processes ...
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Semantic Sprawl

Werner Sun/ Thanks to everyone for all the posts so far and for such a stimulating discussion at the opening event on Saturday. There are so many interesting threads to pursue here. But for now, let me begin with a somewhat prosaic pet peeve of mine: As was alluded to at the opening event and also in several posts here, one barrier to productive communication and collaboration between artists and scientists is the lack of a common language or vocabulary (as in any interdisciplinary endeavor). And this disconnect separates practitioners in either field from the general public as well. It ...
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From the Ground Up (response to Werner)

Taney Roniger/ Like Werner, I’ve also been impressed by the enormous range of responses so far, each of which alone could keep us busy for the next few days. But because I so strongly agree with him about “going back to basics,” I want to pick up on that thread and see if we can take a stab at articulating the core concerns of each field. Werner has offered up a definition of science that cannot be emphasized enough, and this is that science is first and foremost a way of thinking. (Although we collectively swore the other night we’d never mention ...
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More on How Art and Science Know . . .

Stephen Nowlin/ Science, of course, investigates and knows about many things but let’s just take one category, astronomy. It’s likely that most of the planet’s current human population knows through education or at least general cultural awareness that the Earth orbits the Sun and the Moon goes around the Earth. And my guess is that (just speculation here, and despite sporadic droplets of broader knowledge many now encounter through contemporary sources like Discovery or Science channels, Facebook posts, CNN headlines, or fading Sagan-Cosmos memories), . . . that this simple Copernican Sun/Moon/Earth relationship is about the extent to which a ...
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1.5 There is no sci-art

Linda Francis/ Science can be the subject of art,  just as reason can be a method or operation in making art and then in understanding it. It can be style. But the appellation “sci-art” is a brand, a useful commodification just as the embrace of science in the popular media is a necessary sale to the public in a world which is increasingly underpinned  by the sciences.  The allure to artists: the gorgeous imagery, structure, form of the macro/micro revealed in photographs and stories of escape from society’s more clearly repulsive  spectacle. It opens onto the usual discussions of aesthetics ...
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Session 1

Jeanne Brasile/In thinking about the idea of a ‘convergence’ between art and science, I see this not so much as a union of two disciplines, but rather, a meeting of the minds.  Sci-art is a trend, a catchy name to describe something that artists have been doing quietly for some time without an official title.  If you think back, Sci-art has pretty much always been ‘a thing.’  Georges Seurat was studied in the science of optics.  Robert Smithson was interested in the geometric properties of molecules and crystalline structures.  Kenneth Snelson worked with the forces of physics and was inspired ...
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Questions for Jim Elkins (and link to Saturday’s lecture)

Taney Roniger/ Since those of you who attended our opening event may have had questions for Jim after his lecture, I want to let you know that he’ll be with us here until tomorrow morning and then back briefly early next week. Whether you were with us on Saturday or not, you may want to take this opportunity to engage him on his views about art and science. Here’s a link to his lecture at CUE: https://youtu.be/o62nyrpcMk0 (Use the comments section at the bottom of this post.) ...
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Response to Taney’s post On the Question of Audience

Daniel Hill/ I used to like to make a thought experiment of trying to imagine the edge of any material object as magnification is slowly and steadily increased.  Physics has shown that any solid object is mostly empty space, so at some point in magnification, the boundary between the thing and no-thing would become difficult to determine.  Since thinking about the line between art and science can feel like wading into quicksand with no possible outcome, I like to think in terms of perspective.  One thing we can be sure of is that our tenures on this planet are exceedingly ...
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Response to Daniel Hill on epistemological chasms as unbridgeable

Leonard Shapiro/ “But the epistemological differences between the two make a true convergence unlikely in our lifetimes and perhaps never.” Despite the epistemological constructs that separate art and science, one can still build a bridge and forge practical links (on an individual basis i.e. literally in the work that one does), between art and science. I teach an observation method that involves touch and drawing to medical students and medical practitioners in order for them to dramatically improve their ability to observe the 3D form of the human anatomy.  I see the work that I do as having made a ...
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Response to Jeanne Brasile on Sci-Art as a Trend . . .

Stephen Nowlin/ I agree with Jeanne that Sci-Art will continue to be a way of relating to the world even as it morphs into the future, and I think it’s an important topic to try and unpack. For the moment, Sci-Art criticized as a kind of fad or fashion, temporary obsession, etc, is something to which it is vulnerable, and one which may be helped by discussions such as these that provide some historical perspective. One lens through which to view that history begins in the mid-nineteenth century and the gradual metamorphosis of representational painting into abstraction and non-objectivity by ...
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Response to Stephen Nowlin’s Examples of Sci-Art

Werner Sun/ Responding to: http://strangeattractors.cueartfoundation.com/more-on-how-art-and-science-know/#comment-66 Stephen, thank you for your list of successful sci-art works (link above). Each of them is unique and wonderful, and they certainly incorporate scientific ideas in surprising ways. But what’s interesting is that, if I had encountered any one on its own, I would probably not have identified it as sci-art per se (except the Jim Campbell, and only then because of its title). Even the Bela Tarr film, which makes the most explicit use of science, strikes me simply as superb filmmaking. Why has the “sci-” prefix primarily been applied to visual art (your one musical ...
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Response to Suzanne Anker’s question about “sci-art”

Taney Roniger/ Suzanne asks: “There is much discussion that references the term ‘sci-art.’ Where does this term come from? What is its origin?” My understanding is that the term first appeared in popular parlance around the year 2000 in relation to the Wellcome Trust’s trailblazing sci-art program that ran from 1996 to 2006. Apparently it had been coined in the 1960s by an American artist and scientist named Bern Porter, but didn’t really catch on at the time. I find it a somewhat problematic term. Others have been proposed (e.g., art-sci, art-science), but the main idea is the same. I often ...
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A couple of other loose ideas

Elaine Reynolds/ People on the thread talk about science as a way of thinking and I agree.  However, in my view science is carried out less like the traditional scientific method we all learned about in high school and more like an exploration. It is often a flawed enterprise.  For example, the current connectome project, which seeks to map structural and functional connections in the brain, is not a hypothesis driven project; it is a collection of data points that can be explored for pattern and purpose. This was also true of the much maligned human genome project.  Bias and ...
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Comment from reader Michael Ricciardi

Taney Roniger/ We’ve received an impassioned comment from one of our readers challenging some of the statements that have been made here. In my great appreciation for the push-back, I’m reposting his comment here for anyone who might be interested in responding. Thanks for offering your perspective, Michael! Michael Ricciardi/ Perhaps the debate over the meaning or purpose of ‘sci-art’ results from the placing of ‘sci’ before the term ‘art’. That said, I have no problem with the term as is. Further, in no way have I ever felt that this meant “Art in the service of Science”…Consider the 2015 exhibition ...
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Reply to M Ricciardi

Linda Francis/ There is no argument here regarding the many possibilities for art and science together, there is only my dismay at a catch-word that has the effect of limiting the dialogue, characterizing the work in a superficial manner, and leaving the enterprise vulnerable to the usual swings of the marketplace ...
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Reply to Elaine and Taney ” A couple of ..”

Linda Francis/ The problem is language. We have more or less agreed upon it. So do we parse the structure of scientific method and then do we measure art by it? Or Taney, apropos of “reason” – How do we have a meta- discussion of  meaning in the language of art or science -It strikes me that there is no other way but to reason together, or alternately, produce work together that is critical in and of the genre in which it is operating. It brings us back to the necessity of fluency in each language.  Perhaps the example that ...
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Session 1 Still Lives! (Response to Elaine)

Werner Sun/ First of all: Elaine, many thanks for bringing a fresh perspective to this conversation! I very much enjoyed your talk on Saturday. I wanted to react to the comments in your post and also synthesize a few threads from elsewhere in Session I. I wholeheartedly agree that the scientific method in practice is much messier than the way it is taught in schools. I made a similar point in one of my earlier comments. When I said that science is a way of thinking, I was referring to scientists’ underlying attitudes and worldviews, not any specific procedure for ...
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Response to Daniel Hill’s question: “what if a robot makes the scrambled eggs? Would it still be an art?”

Leonard Shapiro/ At the outset, let me say that robotics is not my field so please be as critical of my response as you need to be. A robot would be programmed with the intelligent input of a human or a number of humans. When the robot makes decisions and then acts on these decisions based on its programming, it is acting within the parameters of its programming and therefore within the parameters and limitations of the human intelligence that it now contains. I am sure the robot can be programmed to randomly adjust some of its decisions. For example, ...
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