Richard Bright: Can we begin by you saying something about your background?
Pinar Yoldas: I started off as a young scientist attending a science college for gifted children. My specialization was chemistry and I won a bronze medal in national chemistry Olympics. With the intention of activating my artistic talent with my science background I studied architecture and received my bachelors in architecture. I then went on to do master degrees in visual communication design, computing and media arts (UCLA). I finally received my Ph.D. from Duke University in 2016, where I focused on neuroscience and art with an emphasis on art science collaborations and ecology. Currently I am assistant professor of Robotics in Art at University of California San Diego.
RB: Can you say something about your FEAT collaboration and what it involves?
PY: The collaboration is about a new technology to absorb CO2 from the air exactly when it is released. The science team I worked with is developing a technology that is akin to photosynthesis yet instead of chlrophyll or derivatives they are using water, sunlight and nanodiamonds.
RB: What questions do you want to address in this collaboration that could not be addressed before?
PY: Are you asking what art can ask that science cannot? Or whether I was able to ask a new question regarding their research? I am not asking anything new that has not been asked before.
RB: What ethical issues have been raised by your collaboration with emerging technologies?
PY: The reason I chose my science team is because I believe in the necessity of new technologies to help balance CO2 in the atmosphere. Global warming is a very serious problem that cannot be reversed easily. Their work seemed to be the most environmentally conscious which attracted me as an artist.
In terms of ethical issues, no such questions were asked by me in regards to the project. Yet the necessity to reduce Co2 emissions and how governments overlook this issue came up a lot. We are good at taking action against immediate danger but very bad at responding to slow danger or lon-term danger. I thought about the reasons behind this as well as ways to overcome this flaw in human thinking.
RB: What problems have arisen when you have created artwork in laboratory/science settings?
PY: My main problem was the timeline. The residency period was over and although I created some artwork I did not feel that I was done with the entire project. So I took extra time to keep working on this. I believe residencies that can last a couple years might be better to reach better results. There’s a belief that art happens very fast but it is not true. There is a lot of thinking and research that goes into artistic practice.
RB: Do you think artists and scientists share any common communication path?
PY: Due to my background I am familiar with general scientific concepts and can get more familiar with new subjects by studying them. I am not sure if all the artists have that kind of luxury to have been educated as a scientist from a young age. But for art-science collaborations it is a necessity to be knowledgeable about the subject matter at hand be this a gene cutting technology, a new algorithm or a new technology to absorb CO2 from the atmosphere.
For scientists it is very rare to meet scientist who have been educated in the arts, who know art history or who are familiar with contemporary art. As long as each party speak a little bit of the other’s language, communication flows.
RB: What have you personally learnt from working in collaboration and has this approach thrown up any surprises for you in regards to your previously held beliefs or intuitions?
PY: I have learned about nanodiamonds and I have learned more about electromagnetic spectrum. A breakthrough for me was how crucial it is for everyone to understand what light actually is.
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?
PY: There is a historical expectation from the arts for the arts to have a utilitarian value, to give something useful, something usable to the society just like science giving the steam engine, or electricity or nuclear fusion or internet. I see this statement as a watered-down version of that expectation. Science and engineering seem to have the upper hand because they help society progress in visible, tangible ways. Whereas arts and humanities, what do they contribute again? Entertainment? Criticism? Self-expression?
I do believe that there is a lot of potential for something new to happen when arts and sciences come together or kindly step into each other’s territory. I am not certain if this is beneficial for both fields or has to be beneficial. I believe the keyword we need to focus on is creativity.
Creativity in the arts and sciences is necessary. And every time formerly separated areas come in close contact we detect a spike in creativity. For that purpose only art-science collaboration are necessary. Yet again, I do not feel the need to justify why we need artists in labs. At least in a utilitarian point of view.
RB: Could you describe the importance of your work in exploring (and even determining) emerging future realities?
PY: I close my eyes and dream of futurities that may never happen but are likely to happen. But my dreams are not flights of fancy, rather, they are based on what science and technology is offering us today, right now. By studying science and where it is headed I predict where we might be all headed.
What I do as a creator is to offer two things:
- New ways to look at existing phenomenon, a kind of information design
2. Representation of futures, futurities that have not happened yet, to instigate an inner conversation which hopefully will lead to public discussions.
Get the Full Experience
Read the rest of this article, and view all articles in full from just £10 for 3 months.