Art and science may seem improbable bedfellows, but their marriage, often called Sci-Art, is one of the hottest topics in today's art world.
Sci-Art is about how artists and scientists observe the world and their enduring attraction to what happens at the edge of discovery. As astronomer/fine-art photographer Bill Fletcher puts it, "Science and art go together--both are about what the human mind explores."
Whether the subject is lunar surfaces, cellular structures, elementary particles, DNA or even how a human brain thinks, science is increasingly dominated by cutting-edge imaging technologies. Sci-Art emerges when artists--or scientists thinking like artists--apply those technologies and scientific work to the creation of art.
Once relegated to computer trade expos, academic conferences and science museums, the convergence of art and science has lately been the focus of fine-art exhibits in New York, San Francisco, London, Philadelphia and Los Angeles. For example, the international Center of Photography (ICP) in New York has just concluded a five-part exhibition series, "Imaging the Future: The Intersection of Science, Technology and Photography," along with a retrospective show of work by Laszlo Moholy-Nagy, an art-science pioneer.
The ICP is not alone in its interest in Sci-Art. "Paradise Now: Picturing the Genetic Revolution," which showcased 39 artists exploring the science of genomics, traveled from New York's Exit Gallery to galleries at Skidmore College in Saratoga Springs, N.Y., and the University of Michigan from 2001 to 2002. As part of an ongoing art-in-science series, the Esther M. Klein Art Gallery in Philadelphia presented "The Earth Exposed," integrating art, technology and earth science research through imagery taken by astronauts and satellites.
London's Blue Gallery exhibited the photographs of Russian cosmonaut Yuri Usachev taken while he was orbiting the Earth as commander of the International Space Station (ISS). In San Francisco, Blue Room Gallery presented "Interfacing Ideas: Fine Art Meets Technology," works by 17 artists of the YLEM Organization, an art-science group whose name comes from big-bang theories. "It was a great success--tons of people came out to the show," said gallery director Paul Mahder. "We showed everything from holograms to giant installations. One artist did art by using her own brainwaves; another utilized an electron microscope to make photographs."
Today, hybrid museums, such as ARS Electronica Museum in Linz, Austria, and Hexagram in Montreal, showcase Sci-Art. This summer, Berlin's Digital Art Museum has slated a show of work by art(n) Laboratory, a group of artists and computer scientists who collaborate with other scientists to produce art that visualizes how biological processes work.
At the same time, mainstream art institutions such as New York's Guggenheim Museum and Whitney Museum of American Art, the Walker Art Center in Minneapolis and the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art are beginning to acknowledge that, just as the technological advances and scientific discoveries in the late 19th century inspired dramatic changes in art forms in the 20th century, so too have the digital revolution, quantum mechanics, space travel and advances in biology and genetics in the 21st century.
The Next Generation's Bold New Steps
"The 20th century was full of interest in science and technology and art, and more so today," said Stephen Nowlin, director of the Alyce de Roulet Williamson Gallery at Art Center College of Design in Pasadena, Calif. "Now, all the interesting questions in society come from science." Nowlin's interest in art science-technology mergers began when he was an art student in the 1960s, and he has curated a decade-long series of art science crossover exhibitions.
"Interest in art and science is growing--it's in the air. And it doesn't surprise me," said Nowlin. "Science is upsetting the apple cart, challenging long held notions related to life span and personality, undermining our cherished, traditional thoughts about ourselves. …