The exhibition No Such Thing As Gravity explores the relationship between artistic practice and scientific knowledge, celebrating the shared curiosity, creativity and sense of wonder both subjects hold. Following the opening of the exhibition and the subsequent Roy Stringer Memorial lecture featuring Will Self, I started thinking about why some people might be unsure or fearful of these collaborations.
Will Self’s lecture, a speech quite fitting for a ‘Day of Collisions’, raised questions regarding the accessibility of both modern art and scientific experimentation. Self explained that this might partially stem from problems within communication and language i.e. the inability of people outside the sphere of science to understand advanced scientific terms. Self problematized the notion of science as the primary source of factual truth – and how art has often, in his eyes, been overtaken by science. With time to reflect upon the lecture, I began to see Self’s argument less of an attack upon artists and scientists, but one that instead raised key questions about the future of artistic practice in the face of modernisation - when does an artist become a scientist, and vice versa?
Looking at the similarities in the creative processes of artists and scientists it might be easy to understand Self’s cynical view of an ‘art vs science’-type stand-off’ where ‘science wins’. However, I think instead the increasingly interconnected disciplines should be seen as something positive. The unification of artistic and scientific practice is one that should be encouraged, as the outcomes of interdisciplinary collaborations transcend fixed boundaries. Yet, art and science have been treated as two separate entities throughout the 20th and 21st centuries. The two are largely viewed as distinct from one another – even in today’s education system students are encouraged to specialise in either Arts and Humanities, or Science and Engineering spheres.
Historically however, art, science and philosophy were studied simultaneously. Scholars were fluent in both artistic and scientific language – take Leonardo da Vinci, for example. George Eliot, in her short novel The Lifted Veil (1859) describes the friendship between an artist and a scientist as a bond that could “happily blend…the dreamy with the practical: it came from community of feeling”. So why should we ignore this “community of feeling” and continue to separate these subjects? The recent surge in projects and organisations encouraging art and science collaborations is perhaps due to a recognition of this shared quest for knowledge - as Jim Jeffries states in his article for the Guardian “science asks for answers, art asks for questions”.
So why did Will Self so dispiritedly question the future of art? In the convergence between art and science, does art actually lose something? It is easy to understand how opinions like Will Self’s are formed about modern art, and how many might find that a certain ‘aura’ and atmosphere is lost in new technology-based modern art. But I believe these new artistic practices should be embraced, not feared or scoffed. Art becomes a way for science to be freed from its strict methodical confines, whilst science provides a platform upon which art can reach new levels.
The fusion of art and science allows the intangible to become tangible. The partnership between Yunchul Kim and Helga Timko through the Arts@CERN programme beautifully demonstrates how art can provide a visualisation of the ‘unseen’ in scientific practice. Charlotte Warakaulle (CERN’s Director for International Relations) describes science, arts and technology as “key disciplines in understanding and shaping today’s culture”, underlining CERN’s aims to “foster interactions” and encourage interdisciplinary research and collaboration. In Kim’s speech on FACT’s Day of Collisions, the artist spoke of how his work creates a “border between two worlds” situating his work somewhere in the “in-between”. Subject to change, Kim’s work embodies a new attitude linked to the future of artistic practice – that change and adaptation is a positive thing.
The rising number of projects and organisations devoted to art and science such as Arts Catalyst, Capsula and the ASCI demonstrates a growing collective intention to bridge the gap between the subjects and push past the imagined binaries to access new levels of communication and thought. The collaborations featured in the exhibition No Such Thing As Gravity demonstrate the power of mutual intention: for example Gina Czarnecki and John Hunt’s Heirloom project that explores the overlapping territories of both artist and scientist. The artwork is dependent upon specific areas of knowledge both collaborators brings to the table – without which the outcome could not be achieved.
The difference in methodical approaches to art and science may differ – but the underlying desires of both artist and scientist remain within the same sphere. Both are driven by a need to explore, challenge, question and create. There is a similarity in the creative processes of artists and scientists. This fusion can be seen as a ‘new revolutionary movement’ – looking at the potential to exceed limits and to embrace the ever-developing field of scientific discovery into an art context. No Such Thing As Gravity embraces the rapidly advancing technological world and the artistic strategies that have contributed to new realms of discovery.
No Such Thing As Gravity is showing until 5 February.