Generally speaking I’ve viewed art/science collaborations from an ‘arts’ perspective so it’s with some interest that I’ve been reading Johanna Kieniewicz’s postings as she has a scientist’s perspective, from her Nov. 22, 2012 posting on the PLoS (Public Library of Science) At the Interface; where art and science meet blog,
Last week, I attended an environmental science conference with an evening reception that featured a short talk on art/science collaborations in the context of environmental science. The talk was followed by a musical performance – inspired by the fragility of peatbog environments – after which I overheard a scientist mutter “What was that? That better not have had research council funding.” He was not the only one; I heard similar sentiments expressed by several others as I walked to dinner.
On some level, I was disappointed by this response, but I wasn’t really surprised. Despite great progress amongst those who are ensconced in the world of science communication to the idea of collaborations between scientists and artists, this is something that many scientists still don’t “get”. Other researchers are openly hostile, and certainly think that scientific research organisations have no business funding this type of work.
To be fair, these are not necessarily the attitudes of people who are disinterested in art — I’d be willing to bet that a fair few of those who walked away from the performance muttering about scientific research council funding being wasted on the arts also have memberships at cultural institutions. That said, whilst being consumers of culture, few scientists really see themselves as having much of a role in its creation. In an increasingly competitive funding landscape, does it really make sense to spend research money on an art project? Does engaging with the arts mean that they are less serious as scientists?
Kieniewicz goes on to give a number of reasons why she thinks art/science collaborations are important, including this one,
Although art cannot directly communicate science or change minds, it can create a space for dialogue around difficult issues.
In a followup Dec. 6, 2012 posting, Kieniewicz goes on to explain how artists and scientists get together for collaborations and she also provides an extensive roundup art/science collaborations (Note: I have removed links),
Following on from my last post on the ‘why’ of collaborations between artists and scientists, here I’d like to look at the ‘how’. When scientists and artists don’t typically have professional reasons for mixing, what are the mechanisms that enable collaboration?
Artist in Residency Schemes
Some of the more outward-looking scientific research organisations realise that there is something to be gained from a scheme that brings artists through their doors. It could be couched as a box-ticking ‘outreach’ exercise, but it is also an opportunity to bring the science happening behind their doors alive to the wider public. This approach has been particularly embraced by the physics community, where studies of the interactions between subatomic particles — which have serious implications for science and cost a great deal of taxpayer money — nonetheless seem of little relevance to the man on the street. As physicist David Weinberg notes based on his collaboration with Josiah McElheny (below), “far more people saw [our collaboration] in one day in Madrid than have ever read my Astrophysical Journal articles.”
Artist/Scientist Pairing Schemes
I think of artist/scientist pairing schemes as something of a matchmaking exercise, in which a number of artists are invited into a research institute and paired with interested and willing scientists. Like any matchmaking process, it seems to me that this is something that can go either way: sometimes it will work out, but other times it may not.
Individual collaborations between artists and scientists
Unsurprisingly, collaboration between an individual artist and scientist generally starts with an introduction, a conversation, and an interest/openness from both parties to trying something a little different. Collaboration in these circumstances is often initiated by the artist who may have an idea and an interest, but who recognises that they would benefit from the help of a scientist in order to fully realise their vision.
In the UK, there is an Arts and Humanities Research Council funding programme, Science in Culture, designed to stimulate art/science collaborations. There was funding in Canada for this type of collaboration. The Canada Council for the Arts had joint programmes with the Natural Science and Engineering Research Council and the National Research Council in the early 2000’s.
Beakerhead is an annual movement that culminates in a five-day citywide spectacle that brings together the arts and engineering sectors to build, engage, compete and exhibit interactive works of art, engineered creativity and entertainment.
Starting annually in 2013, Beakerhead will take place in Calgary’s major educational institutions, arts and culture venues, on the streets and, most importantly, in communities.
From performances and installations to workshops and concerts, Beakerhead is made possible by a continuously growing list of partners who share the desire of staging a collaborative event of epic proportions.
There is more information about the aspirations for this event on the Beakerhead Program page,
When fully realized, Beakerhead will be a five-day citywide highly participatory event that explodes in Calgary’s major educational institutions, arts and culture venues, on the streets and, most importantly, in communities. Through programming partnerships and community initiatives, Beakerhead is fuelled by groups and individuals in art, culture, science, engineering and technology.
Everyone is empowered to build, stage, exhibit and compete in interactive works, so people can experience and explore engineered creations from around the world – all at once! The following three streams are guiding Beakerhead’s programming vision:
1) Productions: local and internationally commissioned and co-produced grand openings, premieres, productions, and concerts.
2) Programs: city-wide illuminated art works and 3-D projections, international professional and student challenges, massive mechanical sculptures, interactive races, local restaurant programs and more.
3) Speakerhead: education and outreach programs such as artist and engineer-in-residence programs, professional speaker series, classroom programs and more.
Format and Goals:
Events will take place indoors and out, including ticketed and free events, and involving venues and public spaces throughout the city – and it’s all starting now! Partnerships are continuously forming and a calendar of events and programs is being developed to be announced in late 2012.
Together, Beakerhead will:
- Engage people and communities – in hands-on public spectacles and contests.
- Experiment – culturally – with science, art and engineering. Let’s test limits!
- Commission new works – in new media, music, theatre, visual arts, dance.
- Invite collaborations – between artists, scientists and engineers.
- Invite collaborations – between local, Canadian and international experts.
- Curate new exhibitions and performances.