Scientific research as an art. Or vice versa!

(ORDO NEWS) — Both science and art are human attempts to understand and describe the world around us. However, for those who do not exercise regularly in either, it often seems that these areas have very little in common. Naked Science decided to ask if this is so.

Art and science have always coexisted together, often indistinguishably from each other, in time and space (think of Leonardo da Vinci, for example). Their mixture has inspired many extraordinary minds to create incredible works that combine intuitive, emotional experience with certain scientific concepts.

And while traditionally art and science have always been seen as two separate disciplines, when they are studied together, it becomes clear what impact one has on the other.

Artists and scientists have much more in common than it might seem at first glance. Both of them strive to see the world in a new way and convey their vision to others. They both require a fair amount of curiosity, imagination, and courage, and when they succeed, many other people suddenly begin to “see” the world differently.

And while scientists continue to move science forward by changing the world around us in a practical sense, artists are focusing on the emotional side of the issue, trying to rethink where these changes lead us. It is probably at the junction of these scientific researches and artistic reflections that science art is born.

The fruit of the love of an artist and a scientist

Science art (from the English science – “science”) is a trend in the art of recent decades, located at the intersection of scientific and artistic. Such “scientific art” is considered one of the areas of modern art and implies the borrowing by the artist of the results of scientific research when creating artworks.

Indeed, the works of science art always have a serious scientific basis behind them and rely on the achievements of scientists, but they also appeal to emotions, allowing the viewer to literally feel the science and touch it.

“Science art, ideally, is art and science at the same time,” says Daria Parkhomenko, founder and director of LABORATORIA Art & Science . — In essence, this is both an experiment and a valuable artistic statement. Here, scientists and artists, side by side, raise unexpected questions, explore topical issues, using new artistic and technological languages.

In reality, science art has no clear boundaries, and what is especially important, in this phenomenon of culture, both spheres – science and art – are terminologically equal, which means that the term “science art” is a kind of precedent in the field of contemporary art.

This is not about scientific visualizations or artistic works dedicated to science and scientists. That is, a photograph of a bacterium taken with a microscope is not quite correct to call science art, but a picture “drawn” by bacteria can certainly be attributed to bioart ( one of the areas of science art ).

Scientific research as an art Or vice versa 1                           Unflaked Skin , 2004 by Australian bioartists Oron Cutts and Yonat Zurra

From this we can conclude that “scientific art” is practiced by those who can harmoniously combine the approach of a scientist and an artist, having the necessary competencies in certain scientific disciplines and at the same time the ability to think imaginatively.

“Yes, formally, science art is the relationship between scientists and artists,” explains Dmitry Bulatov, an art theorist and pioneer artist who has been working in the field of Science & art for many years, in one of his lectures.

But this work can be different. Here a painter meets a historian, and they manage to recreate a historical picture. Formally, the historian has worked and the artist has tried, but will this work be science art? Will not”.

In this regard, Dmitry Bulatov suggests a clearer name for such a cultural form, namely “techno-biological art”. He defines it as a field of contemporary art, where living matter or viable matter serves as a means of artistic communication, and the combination of the properties of a living organism and a technically reproducible product becomes the main method studied.

It sounds tricky… Let’s try to figure out on specific examples what science art can be like.

From mummies to penicillin

When did “scientific art” appear at all? Some theorists consider the inventions of Leonardo da Vinci to be the first works in this area, others look even deeper into history and cite mummification in ancient Egypt as an example.

It is difficult to name a specific starting point, but one thing can be said with some certainty: the real flowering of technological art ( forerunners of science art ) occurred in the 20th century. Moreover, it was scientists, not artists, who first appeared on the scene in this sense.

Probably, the science art pioneer of the last century can be called the Nobel Prize winner in physiology and medicine Alexander Fleming ( creator of penicillin ), who in 1920 came up with an extremely peculiar painting technique, using microbes as paints.

Scientific research as an art Or vice versa 2                                           Drawings on petri dishes by Alexander Fleming

The scientist made sketches on blotting paper or cardboard and covered them with agar-agar ( a nutrient medium for many bacteria ).

Then, using a needle with penicillin, he marked the boundaries so that the microbes did not cross the contour, and then painted the living drawings with multi-colored bacterial cultures.

Once Fleming even arranged an exhibition for the British Queen Mary of Teck (wife of George V and grandmother of Elizabeth II) , but she, unfortunately, was not impressed with his work.

But scientists have been imbued with such art – for example, the American Society for Microbiology still holds a contest of bacterial painting from time to time, which is also called Microbial Art today.

Avant-garde and engineering

Billy Klüver, an electrical engineer at Bell Telephone Laboratories, New York, is also credited as the founder of the “art of science”; .

Scientific research as an art Or vice versa 3                                                                    Billy Kluver, 1966

The result of the joint work of scientists and artists was a series of performances “Nine Evenings: Theater and Engineering”, where video projection, wireless sound transmission and Doppler radar “performed” for the first time on the art scene.

Among New York artists, Nine Evenings generated an extraordinary interest in new technologies – more and more requests began to come to engineers. This high demand for innovative tools in the arts inspired Billy Klüver to create Experiments in Art and Technology (E.A.T.), a non-profit service organization that brings together artists, engineers, scientists, and industry representatives.

The Pepsi pavilion at the Osaka World Expo in 1970 is considered to be a legendary EAT project, for which engineers and artists designed and programmed an immersive dome, shrouded in mist from the outside, which seemed to turn the structure of the huge pavilion into a sculpture.

To create the fog, the Japanese artist Fujii Nakaya was invited, who previously had experience in developing all kinds of “fog” installations, but an artificial fog of this magnitude had never been created before, and there was no known technique to achieve this.

After numerous experiments, Nakaya realized that a completely new approach was needed here. Luckily, EAT found a physicist, Thomas Mee, who devised a method capable of producing the desired effect. He developed a special configuration of pumps and plumbing, studded with 2,500 nozzles up to 160 microns in size and equipped with microscopic pins.

The system allowed water to be sprayed into billions of ultra-fine mist droplets ranging in size from 15 to 20 microns in diameter. Pure white mist flowed along the angular and faceted roof of the building and smoothly filled the area.

Scientific research as an art Or vice versa 4                                              Pepsi Pavillion, AET Osaka EXPO 1970, Osaka

Inside the pavilion, the visitor was greeted by a mirror dome with a diameter of 27 meters and an angle of inclination of 210 degrees, made of aluminized Mylar. This curved reflective surface flipped reflections and turned them into holograms.

Scientific research as an art Or vice versa 5                   EAT – Experiments in Art and Technology, “Pepsi Pavilion for the Expo ’70”, 1970

An important part of the exposition was a sound system of 37 speakers installed behind a mirror, with wireless headphones for visitors. This system had a sophisticated control panel that allowed real-time pinpoint sound effects and gave electronic music a sense of space.

The Pepsi Pavilion showed how great collaboration between artists and engineers can be, and how artists and scientists can not only communicate effectively, but also work side by side on the same project, inspiring each other.

Largely thanks to the activities of EAT, the global art community discovered the technologies that are used today in many art productions and performances.

Prometheus of the Soviet Union

Their heroes appeared on the domestic stage. Here it is impossible not to mention the Doctor of Philosophy, Corresponding Member of the Academy of Sciences Bulat Galeev and his Special Design Bureau “Prometheus”, where music, art, instrumentation and technology converged.

It was the Prometheus bureau that became one of the first in the Soviet Union to make light and music films, video installations and, on an industrial scale, complex lighting installations.

Scientific research as an art Or vice versa 6                                 Bulat Galeev and the Kristall sound and light installation

Artist-scientists who worked in the SKB tried in every way to show the new abstract art to society and explain it.

Galeev himself called the way of life in the bureau “a semi-basement underground”, and considered himself as a theorist, arguing that the occupations of the “Prometheans” were a combination of engineering skills and art, an experiment, the definition of which “should crystallize later.”

Scientific research as an art Or vice versa 7SKB “Prometheus”. Installation “Electronic artist”, 1976. An electronic set-top box for a color TV, with which the operator could “draw” transformable light images on the screen

For Prometheus, light was almost more important than music, and today the work of the bureau is often cited as an early example of media art.

So, for example, in the 60s of the last century, his bureau developed a special illumination of the Spasskaya Tower of the Kazan Kremlin with a “raspberry ring”: when the lighting of the tower changed depending on the rhythm of the ringing of bells, as well as dynamic lighting of the circus, depending on the state of the weather.

Scientific research as an art Or vice versa 8                                                     SKB “Prometheus”. Circus illumination

Among other things, Prometheus also had its own light music studio, where there was a system of 48 speakers unique at that time and a “spatial music” installation capable of creating sound at a given point in space at any time. In this hall, Galeev staged, for example, The Flight of the Bumblebee so that the bumblebee flew around each listener.

Today, the developments of Prometheus are shown at exhibitions, and the archives of the bureau are still of great interest to researchers and artists.

A new word in genetics

The emergence of the term science art is also associated with the name of Joe Davis, a biologist from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology and the genetic laboratory of George Church at Harvard, who during an artistic experiment for the first time in the world introduced encoded information into living organisms in the form of synthetic DNA, thereby anticipating a whole trend in genetics. which began to develop in the early 2000s.

Scientific research as an art Or vice versa 9                                                                        Joe Davis

Over the years of his research, Davis managed to encode fragments of Goethe’s poems inside the genome of bacteria, designed a telescope to capture the “music” of bacteria, and even managed to place a map of the Milky Way on the inner surface of the ear of a transgenic mouse.

Today, the indefatigable researcher continues to experiment and work on a new project, Malus ecclesia, in which he plans to enclose the content of Wikipedia in the genome of an apple tree and grow a real tree of knowledge ( according to the biblical book of Genesis, a special tree planted by God in the middle of the Garden of Eden and symbolizing knowledge and the ability to consciously decide what is good and what is evil ).

The artist has already managed to extract the roots and leaves of an apple tree, which is more than 4,000 years old, in one of the Harvard laboratories. This variety, according to the artist, is closest to the “forbidden fruit” that grew in the Garden of Eden.

Davis plans to use synthetic biology to insert a DNA-encoded version of Wikipedia. He believes that the genome of an apple can be represented as a book of 750 million letters, consisting of four DNA letters: a, t, c and g.

The first step is to translate English words into DNA letters. Once they are all coded, the artist, along with Harvard scientists, can assemble the letters into biologically viable, functional strands of DNA.

However, DNA is a physical thing that has size and weight, and even with the most intelligent compression, it can only contain the equivalent of a few thousand words.

That is why Davis does not expect to fit all of Wikipedia in one apple – he will scatter its pieces over many apples and many trees, so that he ends up with a whole grove. Picking apples in this forest, of course, will not be possible.

Ear on hand

Another bright representative of the science art scene at the end of the last century is Stelarc, a performance author and honorary professor of arts and robotics at Carnegie Mellon University.

Scientific research as an art Or vice versa 10                                                  Stelark and his mechanical arm

In the 1980s, he and a team of scientists developed a wearable exoskeleton with a mechanical arm that listened to muscle signals. For its time, the hand was one of the most advanced devices in the industry. But this is not what he became famous for.

In 1996, reflecting on the obsolescence of the human body, Stelarc wanted to try to go beyond the architecture that evolution had created. As an artistic experiment, he decided to “grow” a third ear on his head, made from cartilage material taken from his chest.

After many years of searching, Stelarc managed to find funding and attracted several Australian doctors to the project, who agreed to help him realize this idea. True, the artist had to abandon the original plan and make several compromises with scientists. So, it was decided to “grow” the ear on the arm, and not on the head, and instead of real cartilage, use an artificial one.

Scientific research as an art Or vice versa 11                                                              Stelarc and his third ear

The first operation on the outer side of the forearm was unsuccessful and resulted in necrosis. But the second one, on the inside of the arm, completed successfully, and the ear-shaped structure, made of porous biocompatible polyethylene, was firmly integrated into the body.

Moreover, it later turned out that the ear design was created in the most anatomically safe area, that is, it was the hand that turned out to be an almost ideal part of the body that could withstand alien invasions. And despite the fact that Stelarc himself was not interested in the practical and utilitarian use of his ear, science and medicine benefited.

“ I heard about several similar procedures ,” said Stelarc in an interview. “ The ear was reconstructed on the patient’s arm so that it could then be transplanted onto the head – if, for example, the organ was lost in an accident or was completely absent from birth .”

Stelarc is still working on modifications to his third ear to this day, trying to give it real hearing.

The magic of the look

There is another interesting direction in contemporary art, which one way or another can be attributed to the scientific one – neuroart.

Here, as an example, it is worth citing the outrageous Marina Abramovich, who attracted the attention of psychotherapists and neuroscientists with her performance “In the presence of an artist”. The idea of ​​the artistic experiment was that Marina could, through an attentive glance, establish close contact with anyone.

The performance lasted 736 hours and 30 minutes, during which time the artist looked into the eyes of 1,500 spectators. People got angry, cried, laughed and experienced a variety of emotions. This reaction prompted both the artist and scientists to the idea that the look of two people eye to eye is something more than just eye contact.

Scientific research as an art Or vice versa 12            Marina Abramovich. In the presence of the artist / ©Museum of Modern Art, Marco Anelli

Scientific research as an art Or vice versa 13Marina Abramović, Measuring the Magic of the Look. neuroscience experiment / © Laboratoria Art & Science Space, Alan Woiba

It was decided to conduct a new study – another performance “Measuring the magic of the look.” The experiment took place at the Garage Center for Contemporary Art in Moscow and was curated by Daria Parkhomenko of Laboratoria Art & Science, during which the brain activity of two people looking at each other was recorded using encephalographs.

At the end of the “presentation”, the scientists calculated the coefficient of similarity between the brain activity curves of one and the other and found that there was some connection between the electroencephalograms of the two people at the time of contact.

And what’s next?

Based on the above examples ( of which there are many more in reality ), we can assume that in the future the role of scientific art will only increase.

After all, by developing the ability to make a holistic judgment, science art allows us to see the problems of our time in a new, completely unexpected perspective and even (possibly) make discoveries in various fields of scientific knowledge.

“Science and the scientific community is a fairly closed story,” says Lucy Odzhomoko, a molecular biologist and graduate of the Faculty of Biology at Moscow State University . — But times are changing, and the number of science art projects is growing.

For me, as a scientist, interaction with an artist is an opportunity to go beyond the boundaries of the laboratory, to test my hypotheses outside of it and satisfy my curiosity with the help of not the most serious experiments. There is an element of freedom here that a scientist cannot always afford.”

And although today the integration of art with biology, medicine, genetics, robotics and nanosciences is more noticeable than ever, it is still difficult for scientists and artists to agree with each other.

“ It seems to me that an artist should not come to a scientist with a ready idea and a request “help me make a project!” “In this case, it turns out some kind of exploitation by the artist of the scientist, ” says Elena Nikonole, a media artist and teacher whose areas of interest are hybrid art and artificial intelligence. “ Art & Science can give the world much more if both the artist and the scientist are equally involved in the creative process .”

It is probably for this purpose that the field of scientific art is currently being actively institutionalized, trying to provide comfortable conditions for fruitful cooperation between both sides.

Around the world, there is a rapidly growing number of organizations, foundations, research centers and laboratories whose activities are aimed at strengthening the relationship between art and science. Notable ones include: Art & Science Collaborations Inc., The Art & Science Collaborative Research Laboratory, Art Laboratory in Berlin, Science Gallery in Dublin, etc.

Large universities are also showing great interest in science art. For example, in 2012, the Center for Art, Science and Technology opened at MIT, which supports collaboration between artists and scientists. Moves in the direction of science art and Princeton University, which holds an Art of Science competition every year. Offers strong interdisciplinary programs that combine arts and sciences, also Stanford University.

Similar institutions are beginning to appear in Russia as well. Over the past ten years, several have appeared in Moscow alone. In 2008, the experimental space Laboratoria Art & Science was formed, which today is supported by the Tretyakov Gallery.

This project is considered one of the main institutions promoting science art in the domestic space. Around the same time, the Polytechnic Museum launched its program of scientific art workshops. Interest in the area is also shown by the Garage Museum and the VAC Foundation.

Scientific research as an art Or vice versa 2              Exhibition New Elements, Laboratoria Art & Science Foundation, New Tretyakov Gallery, 2021

“Interest in our field is growing every year – it cannot be compared with what it was ten years ago, when we introduced artists to the MISiS nanotechnology laboratories and an interdisciplinary approach was something very new.

Now the creation of scientific and artistic collaborations is a justified and effective method that is used both in culture and in science.

Interest in us is growing on the part of science, and on the part of technology companies, and on the part of the state. Now, every year, one after another, master’s programs in science art appear, – says the founder and director of LABORATORIA Art & Science Daria Parkhomenko.

Educational programs were opened by ITMO, Tomsk State University and MISiS. Fragmentary courses are taught about technological art in Britain, in free workshops at MMOMA and at the Rodchenko School. Of course, we need new names, infrastructure for creating technological art, grants – this is still very lacking.”

And although the trend is really obvious, in the Russian realities of science art, the creators have a hard time. And here we are talking primarily about supporting projects that, due to their technological complexity, often need funding and promotion.

“Alas, Art & Science cannot be done on the knee,” explains Elena Nikonole. — Laboratoria Art & Science has been doing a lot of things that are important and necessary for the development of technological art for many years now, and currently the only institution in Russia that produces world-class projects.

But I would like to see entire ecosystems of Art & Science appear in Russia, such as, for example, the Kersnikov Institute in Ljubljana. It is they who support my project now – they have their own workshop and laboratory where artists can come and do research, they have a whole team of producers, scientists and production experts.

She consistently accompanies the artist throughout the work. And in their free time from production, these experts and researchers hold free workshops for everyone from teenagers to adults. I would be very happy if such an ecosystem appeared in Russia”.

Scientific research as an art Or vice versa 14                                                           Work Bird language

But no matter how quickly or slowly this area develops in certain countries, it is useless to deny that cooperation between science and art is a global trend.

And over time, it will only gain momentum, because technology is disastrously ahead of our ability to comprehend it, and art can help us close this humanitarian gap.


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