Somewhat improbably, in the thick of a political climate that has both art and science under threat of irrelevance, something of a renaissance seems to be happening at their intersection.
“To figure: to form or shape, to trace, to reckon or calculate, to represent in a diagram or picture, to ornament or adorn with a design or pattern.” Thus the Oxford English Dictionary defines the act of figuring, a word equally resonant in mathematics, science and art.
The goals, uses, materials, and processes of science and art are not necessarily exclusive, but often mirror each other.
Much of the literature on art-science interactions is celebratory, which I think is never a good sign, because it shows that people who might want to question the limits and sense of the field are not engaged.
As I was growing up, I spent countless leisure hours finding my own interests. I remember gazing at maps, sculpting with found objects, and tinkering with prisms and sunlight. At one point, I began obsessively building complex polyhedral structures from wooden skewers, which then led to a series of painted geometric cardboard sculptures.
To mention art and science together invites a comparison, one that is intrinsically unbalanced. Not only are they in essence diametrically opposed, but the impact of one on society is ubiquitous and profound, whereas that of the other is decidedly less so.
Bioart is a hybrid discipline that aims to turn the technology of bioscience to artistic ends. Its most provocative works take as their medium actual organic materials manipulated using techniques drawn from the lab.
Among the ideas and meanings it explores, sci-art doubts these: art with intent, and natural with supernatural. Pry apart those assumptions until their halves exist individually, independently of one another—like water and gravity, pried from a river.
Art and science are disciplines that have a shared history but differ in underlying goals, perspective, and practice. When a partnership is formed between the two disciplines, their differences can be a strength in approaching ideas. As a neuroscientist and educator, I see many benefits to science, art, and public outreach that can be accomplished through collaboration.
That science could have some expression in other disciplines probably found its most comfortable place in the mid-20th century, for instance in the works of Louis De Broglie and David Bohm, theoretical physicists whose explication of quantum mechanics called determinism into question and advanced an ontology that was at odds with prevailing thought.
The natural state of humanity is to freely create and express itself. From the earliest inklings of civilization, art and science were, of necessity, one and the same.
Interest in creativity from a scientific point of view has doubled in the last decade.[i] This, I think, is a welcome sign that scientists have become less skeptical about the possibilities of doing research in one of the most complex behavioral processes that humans engage in.
Alexis Rockman graciously welcomed me into his Tribeca studio on two occasions this fall to talk about his work, natural (and personal) histories, and the natural world of the 21st century. Hanging in the studio was a series of large-scale watercolors related to a recent project entitled “The Great Lakes Cycle,” which looks at the environmental history, degradation and resilience of that particular ecosystem.
Once it was engineered by Thomas Edison at the turn of the 19th century, moving image technology was modified by research scientists to observe what the eye could not. In the French production company Pathé’s studio, Dr. Jean Comandon affixed a camera to a microscope and filmed bacteria.
The Dominican Friar Thomas Aquinas (1225-1274) developed the underpinnings of his natural theology through the lens of the Peripatetic axiom, “Nihil est in intellectu quod non sit prius in sensu" (Nothing is in the intellect that was not first in the senses). He passionately observed the physical universe shaping his sensory input becoming complex models of experience.
In the winter of 2016, a collaborative engagement with LIGO (Laser Interferometer Gravitational Wave Observatory) led us to a vertiginous, theoretical upheaval concerning the cosmological nature of non-locality. This epiphany was mercurially followed by two new art installations: Orbihedron and ER=EPR. While searching for a fluid analogue of black hole pair collision (already thrice detected by LIGO), we surfaced at a crowded lecture by esteemed cosmologist Juan Maldacena.
Eminent art historian Leo Steinberg, in an essay written in 1986, asks whether art and science necessarily need to be yoked. He spotlights the gifts of DaVinci’s cultural offerings as a case in point.
Seven years ago, my work as an artist underwent a significant transition.
Many of us in the arts now feel we have to prove our worth and relevance by building partnerships with and serving other fields. I work with scientific ideas and imagery, and this has been my experience. As someone who has spent most of her career working in the sci-art genre, I am often called upon to identify ways to draw more science and technology professionals into our field—but art's function is not to translate science.
Radioactive waste (RadWaste) is never disposed of; it is dispositioned—placed out of sight and out of mind.
Since 2008 I have been filming, photographing, and following the fates of more than a dozen colonies of leafcutter ants on the Osa Peninsula in Costa Rica. The multimedia Leafcutters project is a collaboration with millions of wild ants. Focused on four supposedly unique human traits—language, ritual, war, and art—the narrative aims to blur the boundaries between culture and nature.