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 scientific imagery and scientific content? Does the former necessarily imply the latter?
3.4 With the rise of transdisciplinary practices, we’re hearing more about “art as research.” What does it mean to engage in art as research? (Similarly, more talk is heard of “art as knowledge production.” What is the nature of the knowledge art produces?)
3.5 Are there modes of sci-art engagement that seem particularly problematic, and if so how might the issues be addressed and/or circumvented? Are there modes of engagement that seem particularly promising?
Session III Dialogue
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 ...Read More
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 ...Read More
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 ...Read More
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 ...Read More
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 ...Read More
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 ...Read More
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 ...Read More
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 ...Read More
Leonard Shapiro/ The fundamental differences between the ‘language of art’ and the ‘language of science’. It might be obvious and for that reason overlooked: each individual artist uses a visual language specific to them and we the viewer need to get to understand their unique language in order to ‘read’ and understand their artwork and what they are trying to ‘say’. Even fellow artists need to decipher the unique visual language that their fellow artists use. Scientists (and indeed the whole science community) use a universally understood language. As such, scientists understand each other’s writings, terminology, visual imagery, annotations, etc ...Read More
Leonard Shapiro/ I have often seen artworks which include random scientific imagery in order to ‘science up’ the artwork; to give the artwork the veneer of being an artwork that is making a comment that is supported by science. This imagery is often unintelligible (to the general public and even to the visually literate) and can even consist of a fragment of the original scientific image. In doing this, artists are doing science (and sci-art) a dis-service in that unintelligible sci-art imagery alienates non-scientists even further from approaching and understanding things scientific. And it certainly alienates scientists from art and artists ...Read More
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 ...Read More
Stephen Nowlin/ In his critique of “artworks which include random scientific imagery in order to ‘science up’ the artwork” Leonard Shapiro thoughtfully raises a fundamental issue for Sci-Art. The challenge is how to manage an artwork that appropriates scientific imagery for the purpose of evoking emotional reactions and transcendent associations which were not inherent in the imagery’s specific scientific origin, thus proffering for that imagery its legitimate resonance with broader ideas and sensations — and at the same time remaining true to the integrity of the science. When poeticizing or in effect acknowledging the genuinely ‘spiritualizing’ dimensions of science, it ...Read More
Daniel Hill/As has been touched on so eloquently elsewhere here, and as evidenced by the absence of Sci-Music or Sci-Poetry, the visual arts appear to be in a desperate position to retain some cultural authority. Whether the alienation of the general public; the toll paid for years of cold, exclusive postmodernist jargon; a blind capitalist system dictating aesthetics via market value; or poor overall art education, the art world seems to be a bit of a mess right now. It is no wonder that Sci-Art would emerge, but the moniker has become synonymous with an illustrative aesthetic which can lose ...Read More
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 ...Read More
Linda Francis/ I certainly concur with Leonard’s post on legitimacy, although it is difficult to know how to judge things that we want to call art of any kind, and within that sci-art. The problem both Taney and Daniel have identified is the problem of relevance or authority in society as a whole.. But I ask this question: what do we want from sci art, and how is that similar or different from what we want from art in general. Taney and Suzanne speak about Activism or social relevancy in art. Bio-art when it is positively positioned gives us some ...Read More
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 ...Read More
Linda Francis/ I do agree, particularly when, as a result of my failure to convince the Audubon Society and a number of associated land trusts with a very well researched and simply reasoned discussion, to actually take some position that would be in accord with their own conservation mandate, I understood in a flash how all is lost on a local level. If one multiplies/enlarges the willful ignorance that was at work, one can see why on a national level we are losing all too. In regards to your posts and Taney’s on Bernar Venet: I totally agree with your ...Read More
Margaret Wertheim / As someone who trained in physics and mathematics and now works as an artist and a science writer I find that there’s a fair bit of confusion in the arts-practice sphere about what scientific research is, which is creating angst around the idea of what “research” might mean for arts practice. Let me begin with an anecdote: The other day I was speaking with an artist I respect about mathematics and I mentioned that when getting a PhD in math you have to come up with new equations. He was rather surprised and didn’t understand that new ...Read More