Convergent Territories: A Definition of Art for Scientists
To move into another’s territory, to engage with their discipline in a way that goes beyond the superficial and poorly informed, to explore areas of commonality and difference is a privilege. As someone who failed science courses at school, there is a sense of self-inflicted irony in that I now spend time as an artist working with scientists, including plant morphologists, cell biologists, bacteriologists and geneticists.
Perhaps because of these collaborations, an essential part of my practice is to learn as much as I can about the fields in which I enter. By doing so, I look to enable meaningful, equal exchanges and create work that transcends superficial appropriations of methods and images.
While giving a presentation of my work at the start of a recent fellowship with the Gulbenkian Science Institute in Portugal, I was asked for my definition of art—what did I tell my students when they asked? The audience was surprised to hear that it was not a question that often came up; there is no agreed upon classical description. And the question did not go away. Working with scientists, I am often asked about the definition of art, so I devised one that drew upon descriptors that would be familiar to them. It went something like this:
Art/Science is both a process and a product, a way of examining the world through a series of filters chosen by the artist to be used in any combination and in varying strengths. These may be called Receptor Filters.
The information gathered through this process is translated through a further set of filters, Expressor Filters. To the by-product of this Morphogenetic process we may apply the label Art/Science. It exists for single or multiple audiences and across a range of diverse contexts.
The Artist/Scientist may be observed working in a personal laboratory on controlled experiments and may at any time “knock out” any filters to observe and record the effect on the art object/scientific data. The output is processed and recorded in various media for reference and dispersal.
The final filter is the Audience, which for art is drawn from a pool of collectors, curators, critics, writers and general public that reviews, responds, manages access and defines value. For science, this shifts to journal editors, funding councils, research directors and defines its scientific import. This may be called the Phenotype Filter for Transcriptive Selection.
By defining art as such, my practice may be considered both an art and a science.
This article was first published in ARCADE (issue 31.3) and is republished with kind permission of Arcade and Rob Kesseler.
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