Richard Bright: Your method of working, both in research and practice, utilizes a dialectical approach, often oscillating between opposites. How do you reconcile this approach visually? Can you say something about this in relation to your works Anything but the Here and Now, The Moon Illusion and The Hours of Folly?
Jared Vaughan Davis: I consider my research and the visual approach of my practice to be of equal importance, and both the visual elements and motifs of my work often take their lead from my reading. For example, the thinking that led to the recent work, The Moon Illusion, began after studying the strange optical illusion that has perplexed philosophers and scientists since 4th century B.C., whereby our moon seems larger when nearer the horizon. I found the strain between the psychological and neuroscientific explanations of this phenomenon to be fascinating, and indicative of a larger tension between our scientific description of reality and our traditional representations of ourselves and the world. Visually, this work tries to cautiously oscillate between these two descriptions, never fully committing to either clarity or ambiguity.
Other recent works, such as The Hours of Folly, have grown from explorations into more abstract concepts like “the modern sensibility of “the absurd.” Here again, I sought for the image to somehow teeter between poles, seesawing between a glowing modern enthusiasm and a dark, postmodern melancholy. The title of the piece comes from a line in William Blake’s The Marriage of Heaven and Hell, “The hours of folly are measur’d by the clock, but of wisdom: no clock can measure,” which evokes notions of Time, Wisdom, Mortality, and the Absurd. Rather than using visual metaphors that would extend the literal sense of these concepts, I attempt to employ “allusive metaphors” – free-floating visual “clues” that have no faithful or plainly objective significations.
Another concept that factors heavily in my work is “romantic (or poetic) naturalism” – a post-postmodern worldview that venerates our natural reality (understood to be composed entirely of mindless, meaningless particles) in both its objective (scientific) and subjective (poetic) manifestations. Conjuring this temper, in Anywhere But the Here and Now, I moved back and forth between digital and traditional mediums, utilizing my own botanical photography, imagery taken from the Hubble Space Telescope, and fractured abstract forms on a broken arrangement of canvases. Through this sort of constant dialectical negotiation, my visual approach aims to steadily waver between unity and multiplicity, totality and fragmentation, and reason and romanticism.
RB: Your work draws from disciplines ranging from science and philosophy to mythology and science fiction, in order to explore, and even question, what might be called ‘the nature of being’. Would this be a fair assessment?
JVD: To an extent, that’s accurate. I am attempting to explore and draw from universal concepts (e.g. “the nature of being”) as opposed to parochial ones (e.g. “the nature of Jared”). However, what I’m trying to address are the contradictions of living in a rational, secular, scientific world, yet one that is increasingly threatened by anti-rationalism, religion, and anti-scientific thinking. There is a pressing need for art, philosophy, and science to work collaboratively in order to adequately confront these threats, as well as the difficult questions humanity is facing as we hurtle deeper into the 21st century. It is only with our collective accumulated knowledge that we can ever hope to approach such grand, infinitely complex concepts such as “the nature of being” with any intellectual or emotional honesty, so as my work does, in some way, seek to do just that, my interests lie in the shifting tensions and relationships among the arts (e.g. fine art, literature, mythology, history, culture, etc.) and sciences (e.g. astronomy, neuroscience, evolutionary biology, physics, artificial intelligence, logic, geometry, etc.).
RB: Who are the scientists and philosophers you admire? And why?
JVD: The list is too long for print and the “whys” vary, but Bertrand Russell and Karl Popper are my two most influential intellectual heroes. From there we could go back all way back to the Greek Atomists, Epicureans, and Stoics (in this political climate, I’ve take great consolation from re-reading Epitectus), and later through Hume, Spinoza, Marx, Dewey, and Adorno. As for more contemporary [scientific] thinkers, I especially admire Carl Sagan, Richard Feynman, Sean Carroll, V.S. Ramachandran, E.O. Wilson, Richard Dawkins, Francis Crick, Steven Pinker, Terry Eagleton, Steven Weinberg, Daniel Dennett, Patricia Churchland, and A.C. Grayling, amongst so many others.
RB: Do you think artists and scientists share any common communication path?
JVD: Absolutely. Although the methodologies of art and science are undoubtedly distinct, both disciplines rely on creativity as their engines. The moth-eaten myth of the Spock-like ultra-rationalist scientist and the bohemian, purely imaginative artist are both rightly long out of favor, and the increasing number of successful interdisciplinary artists and artist/scientist collaborations is evidence enough that there is a growing desire to traverse traditional disciplinary divisions.
Writers like Siân Ede, Elaine Strosberg, Arthur Miller, and Martin Kemp have done a noteworthy job of chronicling many of the recent developments in the transdisciplinary realm of ‘Art and Science,’ and I’m constantly inspired by the works and growing popularity of emerging “sci-artists” such as Gregg Dunn, Melissa Fisher, Kindra Crick, Guang Zhu, Jazz Szu-Ying Chen, and Steven Gawoski, along with the dozens of others that I’ve been introduced to through my work with the SciArt Center (www.sciartcenter.org). In my own fine art practice, I’ve collaborated with neuroscientists, astrophysicists, cosmologists, and philosophers, and those projects have been some of the most rewarding and successful experiences of my artistic career.
All of that said, I do remain concerned by the creep of postmodern anti-rationalism that continues to prevent many artists from embracing science, not only as a source of beauty, awe, and stimulation, but also as a wellspring of association and partnership. The lines of communication between artists and scientists are too often severed at the academic level, where the tension between postmodern and scientific epistemologies are first explored, and although it is impossible to deny that postmodern thought has been invaluable as Art Theory, I do feel it is up to educators in the arts and humanities to expose young learners to the obfuscation and contradictions inherent to a comprehensively postmodern worldview. Equally, science educators should not be haphazardly dismissing philosophy (and the humanities, generally) as some “useless enterprise,” as famous science communicators like Hawking, Tyson, and Nye have erred in doing in recent years. In short, the myth of the “Two Cultures” must be dismantled from both sides in order for the consilience of art and science to extend beyond a niche group of artists and scientists into the wider culture.
RB: Collaboration between the arts and sciences has the potential to create new knowledge, ideas and processes beneficial to both fields. Do you agree with this statement?
JVD: I do, and I look to the innumerable examples. Just think of the myriad of ways that the microscopic and telescopic worlds have opened new ways of seeing to artists from the Romantics to contemporary metamodernists, or how the explanatory power of logic and mathematics has influenced artists from Monet to Kandinsky on up to Hirst and Eliasson. Conversely, think of how important the anatomical work of Dürer was to the advancement of Renaissance science, or how heavily contemporary computer science and artificial intelligence are influenced by advances in art and design. Disruption and innovation (in both the arts and sciences) consistently brings new insights, and through collaboration between disciplines, we are better able to alter entrenched perspectives and strengthen our concepts. A strong interrelationship between art and science has the potential to produce unlimited practical applications. For myself and my work, what is even more significant is that through art and science collaboration, we are able to heighten our understanding and contact with the world, and expand our discourses to broader and more intelligent philosophical conversations.
All images copyright and courtesy of Jared Vaughan Davis
See also Jared Vaughan Davis: On the Greek Gematria series and Metamodern experiments (Interalia Magazine: August 2015)
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