21 January 2013

Author Lesley Taker

Science and art have always had a complicated relationship. Some would say that they are two entirely separate areas of research and concern, and one has no affect on the other: their methodologies, practices and research are completely distinctive and their proponents search for different outcomes. But really, I think, this viewpoint could never be argued too loudly for too long. From the days when painters would carefully dissect and study flayed animal and human corpses, in the same manner as medical students (to better understand the interior in order to accurately depict the exterior) to Leonardo Di Vinci's unending, beautifully-drafted experimental inventions and his Vitruvian Man, to a genetically modified neon rabbit bred in a lab by a new-media artist in 2000, and an artist grafting a spare ear on his upper arm: science and art have a very close (if complicatedly tempestuous) relationship.

There are of course many interpretations of the phrase sci-art, and within that loaded moniker lies a great many diverse strands of practise. The term covers an impossibly wide-ranging array of concerns and approaches: art which is created using cutting edge (creative) technologies and computer science, bio-art which is produced using scientific methods or research, art which strives to act as an aesthetic analogy to scientific or biological factors, art which looks at living creatures no (and considers what they might be) art which addresses fears of the body, and of the position of humans in an ever expanding technological sphere, art which takes scientific experimentation and pushes it right to its theoretical conclusion, art which seeks to visually, and experientially, connect us to aspects of the world we might not understand, art which looks at the ethics of science and opens them up for discussion in an entirely different manner. 

These are merely some of the examples of the prevalent and varied work which has been exhibited under the title of sci-art but it does not even begin to scratch the surface of the work which artists are doing alongside or against the research of scientists. Mixing the studio with the laboratory is no jump of the imagination, especially now, when the necessary technology is everywhere, easily accessible and incredibly advanced; allowing more people than ever before to explore the possibilities held within this ever-evolving field.

And then, there is the art which is borne from the most elemental and fascinating scientific research and enlightenment, which took place centuries ago: light art, sound art, video art are all, in a sense, sci-art. The experiments conducted by iconic figures such as Edison, Tesla, Muybridge and even Einstein has paved the way for some of the most spell-binding, emotive and impactful works. Art created using this original research as a starting point, and adapted with the use of creative technologies, custom programming and cutting edge apparatus, are hauntingly nostalgic and magical. They reach back to a time when the hidden powers harnessed by the world, and by its forces, were being extracted from the realm of the supernatural and tamed into the everyday laws and energies we know  today.

Pieces which use this pioneering scientific research are allowing us to truly appreciate the possibilities of the ever-evolving world we are in and the potential (and the problems) which still lies ahead.  This is the work which all of the artists involved in FACT's Winter Sparks are involved in: taking the unlocked mysteries of electricity, sound and energy and re-mystifying them with the use of more modern discoveries and adaptations.

Interested in sci-art? Take a look at some of these:

Physics Art

What is Sci-Art?

Anatomical Images & Light

Kinetica Art Fair

Santa Fe New Media Festival

The Wellcome Trust  and Collection

SciArt: The New Art Movement?