Art + Science =
* ArtSci 2001
* November 2-4, 2001
* City University of New York, The Graduate Center
* ANNE BARLOW currently works at the New Museum of Contemporary Art, New York. Prior to this, she was a contemporary art curator at various institutions in the UK, where she initiated a range of exhibitions, commissions, residencies and new media projects.
This year's ArtSci conference posed the questio; "How can the discoveries of scientific research and the powerful metaphors of art combine to impact society at large?" This agenda set the tone for a two-day conference in which several key themes emerged, namely: the role art/science projects could play in relation to ecological, social or community concerns; biotechnology, and human consciousness research; and the viability or otherwise of a new, integrated field of art/science research and practice.
The event opened with an engaging presentation by Joe Davis, artist and research fellow at MIT, and Dr. Dana Boyd, microbiologist at Harvard University, whose joint achievements include the development in 1987 of a synthetic DNA molecule (Microvenus). Several presenters focused on the potential of art/science projects to research or solve specific ecological problems. Herpetologist Peter Warny and artist Brandon Ballengee spoke about their field-biology projects with endangered wetlands species, and the special clearing and staining techniques that enabled Ballengee to make digital images of multi-limbed frogs whose developing bodies had been invaded by a parasite. These images were later included in the Paradise Now show that originated at Exit Art, New York [please see page 12 of this issue for a review of the exhibition].
The social and cultural impact of interdisciplinary practice was a key concern of two organizations at the conference. Margaret Myers stressed the importance, in fields such as urban planning, of having project teams that draw on the professional expertise of artists, lawyers, architects and engineers. In recommending sustainable organizational models, Jennifer Hall advocated secured funding, income streams and permeable, think-tank structures--in which artists clearly recognized their 'exchangeable value'.
This idea of 'exchangeable value' came to mind during the talk given by David Kremers, 'Distinguished Conceptual Artist in Biology' at the California Institute of Technology. Kremers, whose interests include combining living organisms and digital media, introduces subjective and aesthetic concerns to a principally scientific institution. Collaborating with scientists, including Dr. Scott Fraser, on the imaging of biological structure and function, Kremers helps develop social, medical and defense-oriented applications, including the possibility of 'seeing' disease through non-invasive procedures. CalTech teams are also researching substances that can be injected into the bloodstream to transmit and map specific data--something that, in view of biological warfare concerns after September 11, is of particular interest to the U.S. Government.
Artist Suzanne Anker and sociologist of science Dorothy Nelkin sparked one of the liveliest debates when the surprisingly contentious question of whether Eduardo Kac's rabbit was 'real' or a 'falsification of data' arose during their talk on the social and symbolic meanings of genetics and its biotechnological applications. Referring to art history as a 'history of consciousness', Anker and Nelkin commented on artists' current interest in the Chimera figure, monster imagery (such as the Chapman brothers' double-headed mannequins) and the commodification of human genes and cell tissue. …