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 to look back at the art produced in the age of Trump-about Trump related matters and analyze more carefully which works truly merit long lasting attention versus the load of sheer reactionary art. Sci-Art though does not have to wait for a xenophobic administration to pass in order to develop self-reflection because the political correctness is not as sensitive as compared to identity politics in art, though there are a multitude of similarly ethical issues in science, stem cell research being a salient example.

The recurring trouble I encounter with most Sci-Art is its addiction to data and how that dependency dictates the outcome of many sci-art works.  Sci-artists working within the plastic arts such as painting and sculpture, in their willingness to interpret data, develop practices that simulate digital processes particularly in algorithmic methods to spit out an image.  Though at times interesting for the most part this is where I find the issue of self-reflection within the Sci-Art community hits a wall.  The dependency on data, or scientific theory, takes over the engagement with process and materials.  In this paradigm I wonder if we are giving up true artistic discovery in exchange for a “sciency” experience.  This could be a double edge sword exciting on one hand, the science engagement, and perplexing on the other, the potentially limited artistic discovery aimed at raising questions rather than answers.  In art if we lose the question we lose the field.

7 Replies to “Session III – Data or No Data?”

  1. Jeanne Brasile/Response to Taney and Gianluca:
    Perhaps there is a larger crisis in the arts as Gianluca and Taney have pointed out in their recent posts. Taney’s response to Simon yesterday afternoon noted an “attempt to acquire intellectual gravitas” by tapping into science. While Gianluca notes above “Sci-Art appears to be partial to the popularization and celebration of the subject and less on the much needed self-critique.” Perhaps this is not so much a challenge with relations between the fields of art and science, but a legitimate crisis in the arts. What does it mean to be an artist or what importance does art have in a world where we are seemingly on the brink of no return with climate change, disease, explosive population growth – and all the other doomsday predictions?
    What does it mean to be an artist when the market crowds out even the most talented in a limited market where collectors and galleries win, but artists are left holding the bag? Perhaps this is not a debate about science and art, but a one sided debate about the legitimacy and importance of the arts in an age where we’re so busy surviving, the arts are seen as inconsequential. In aligning itself with the weight of the sciences – perhaps art is attempting to reclaim agency?

    1. Wonderful, Jeanne. I could not agree more that art’s deeply felt loss of cultural agency amounts to a crisis. None of us knows what to do, and the sense of despair is palpable. I’m entirely sympathetic with the general thrust that has us moving out of the studio and into the world, but it pains me to see sci-art denuded of all the things we most value about art just because it’s desperate to regain legitimacy. One thing I do like about it, however, is its rejection of the mainstream gallery system. One thing we can say for sure about sci-art is that it’s not about money. For that alone I respect it immensely.

      1. Art is certainly not the only field having a moment of crisis. Journalism, manufacturing, science, agriculture – and pretty much every other discipline, profession, job and industry are facing profound change and even, demise. It’s not clear what will survive and in what form when everything shakes out. Art’s fetishized emphasis on the pecuniary is not a unique symptom of the creative sector. It’s a broader cultural phenomenon that occurred concomitantly with profound leaps in technology and science. Perhaps this point goes back Session II and “the larger trajectory of post-moderism and its yet-undefined aftermath.”?

        1. You’re so right, Jeanne, that the crisis we’re feeling is not art’s alone. It is certainly something we share with every other domain of culture, all of us inextricably bound together in what is essentially a global calamity. I guess the thing that sets art apart, though, is the longstanding perception that it was always superfluous to begin with — something one enjoys on Sundays after the serious work of living is done. But yes, we’re all in this together, and all indications point to a future in which each discipline will have to be radically restructured if it is to survive.

  2. Gianluca, in the first part of your post, are you suggesting that sci-art might be in some sense a form of protest against the anti-intellectualism and anti-science attitudes prevalent in today’s politics? This is interesting. It’s funny, because much of this discussion has focused on what I call science’s cultural authority, but here we’re reminded that it, like art, is under considerable threat. But here again we run into the question of audience; if sci-art’s audience is mostly artists and scientists, we have a preaching-to-the-choir situation at hand. And if the target audience is not artists and scientists but the general public, then we’re up against the inscrutability issue again, in which case both have to be diluted for the work to be even approachable.

    1. Taney, to some extent yes, it can be a form of protest toward today’s anti-science and anti-intellectualism in politics, although I don’t think it consciously evolved that way. I though became interested in the subject for those reasons when in the late 90s – early 2000s the attention of the public in space exploration especially had reached an all time low. The condition made me wonder if our collective sense of curiosity and wonder, which had characterized the post war generations, had suddenly dimmed. I realized a few years later that I was not alone in asking a lot of those questions. In fact a mainstream question I often encountered went something like this: “why spend money on space exploration when we have the war in Iraq to deal with?”. My answer to that question was “Well who told you to bomb an innocent country (as in a country not proven guilty of the 9/11 attacks)!!! and let’s put that trillions back into space (or universal healthcare for that matter).
      Your argument concerning the limitations of the Sci-Art audience is a very valid one (in fact I recall speaking about it in terms of economy, in that it might be difficult in the current art market for most scientist to invest in the very Sci-Art they like). However, to Sci-Art’s credit I think the persistence and proliferation of this dialog will reach a broader audience eventually through public works, popular residencies such as CERN, academic programs interested in the dialog and see it fit for their student populations, and eventually museum exhibits that might start taking place ten or twenty years from now celebrating the enthusiasm behind this movement, with or without the critique that we are forwarding.
      As for the authority aspect, that’s also really interesting but the responsibility resides with art and less with science. Art seems to always need a muse dealing with the larger question of existence. Religion used to fill that role, and in some ways it enforced it because it was for centuries an authoritative power and an economic center of gravity for art. Now science has become that new muse but with a lesser degree of authority compared to religion because we share intellectual research but not much of the financial wealth. In that sense it may be liberating for Sci-Art (and art in general) to be acting in an alternative market by rejecting the mainstream one. Thanks for pointing that out. I hadn’t thought about that way. That is great food for thought.
      The inscrutability factor I think can be traced to art that is strictly data based, which often can come across as intellectual posturing on behalf of the artist and risks alienating the audience. While it is great to be inspired by science I think it is ultimately more useful and inspiring for the artist to focus on making art and not a pseudo science experiment.

  3. I want to second Gianluca’s call for “engagement with process and materials” precisely because it stands in opposition to anti-intellectualism. The way an artist engages with process and materials is analogous to the way a scientist analyzes data or a journalist uncovers a story — to make lasting work requires an open mind and a willingness to listen to the data. In this age of misinformation and fake news, the ability to interpret information honestly cannot be overvalued. Artists can show the way by developing authentic responses to one’s materials, with an eye towards personal truth instead of dogma.

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