Response to Stephen: Science Museum vs. Art Gallery, and other stuff . . .

Werner Sun/ Stephen, “sci-art” as a way-finding sign is such a refreshing way of approaching the term. It does shift one’s perspective when thought of that way. I am reminded of the “shut up and calculate” approach to physics, which has certainly had its successes.

I suppose I am ambivalent about the term “sci-art” because it tends to color my interaction with any given work. It feels as if a certain lens has been placed in front of my eyes. Perhaps that is my problem and not yours.

And thank you for sharing your videos with us. Congratulations on such a sensitively curated exhibition! Incidentally, I was member of the CMS collaboration at the time of the Higgs boson discovery, and I am still involved in CMS research.

Regarding the display of scientific artifacts in an art gallery or art in a scientific setting, I have no problem with this practice in principle, but it’s not easy to pull off well. Too often have I seen heavy-handedness in such endeavors. In contrast, you have handled the challenge in a sophisticated manner by avoiding didacticism, allowing viewers to form their own associations. I hate being told what to think; I would much rather be tricked into it….

I am also impressed by the sheer quantity of thought embodied by the show itself. The works are all crisply executed, and you have assembled them into a cohesive whole, in a way that honors the underlying science (because they are presented without comment, not as symbols of “science”). The objects intended as art use scientific ideas as seeds for embellishment, not as literal sources of “content”. When science artifacts are presented as art, it is done with reverence (it seems) and not with an educational mission. And the juxtaposition of the two types of objects is pleasantly disorienting, as you say. I respond to all of these little touches.

The two videos seem to work on the viewer differently, but with equal impact. Without annotation, each piece in the exhibition comes across as a mysterious object of contemplation, without being clear whether it is an artifact of science or art or both. With annotation, my intellectual curiosity is satisfied, and this knowledge balances the sheer beauty of the work. So, the first video is dominated by a sense of stillness, and the second video sets up a push and pull between head and heart. Both seem to succeed at being sci-art, as well as art.

2 Replies to “Response to Stephen: Science Museum vs. Art Gallery, and other stuff . . .”

  1. Werner, thank you for taking the time to view the videos and formulate your thoughtful reactions. While the exhibit itself was purposefully absent didactic information except for the most rudimentary credit labels, the video I made first was the annotated version, which I then rejected and re-edited to make the strictly visual version. I am myself somewhat undecided about the limits of didactic information in a visual art exhibition if one wants to preserve and favor the personal immersive experience. It is tempting to augment the objects with explanations of their scientific significance, but in doing so the objects risk becoming like illustrations padlocked to a text rather than works of resonant art with pliable meanings — ie, more like a science museum exhibit than an art gallery exhibit. I tend heavily toward the latter, and each art-science exhibition I curate is a test of sorts, an experiment in finding the right experiential/contextual ratio.

  2. Stephen, thank you for the background information. It is interesting that you made the annotated version first. The science museum effect is indeed the bane of sci-art (in my opinion), but you have managed to avoid it somehow, even with annotations. Perhaps if the annotated version were the *only* version available, I might have a slightly different reaction…. I struggle with my own didactic impulses as well.

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