[spectre] Art and science

Simon Biggs simon at littlepig.org.uk
Mon Feb 20 12:21:01 CET 2006

The relationship between art and science has long been fraught, and the more
so as technology has become so central to the exercise of power in our
cultures. Given that science tends to have a close relationship to
technology and thus the dominant discourses of power it is often considered
to be inseparable from that discourse.

However, it can be argued that the situation is far more complex and that
the relationship between science, technology and power is not one of a
hegemonic bloc but of polyvalent influences and motile relationships.

The Bauhaus and the early 20th C avant-garde in general had a naïve and
romanticised vision of science and technology. These things were mixed up
with notions of progress and modernity and many artists and thinkers aspired
to the values these paradigms facilitated. As always, things were not simple
and whilst some deeply questionable "marriages" occurred (Futurism and
Fascism comes to mind, but so does the relationship between aspects of the
Russian avant-garde and Stalinism as well as strains of Western Modernism
and the more extreme excesses of Taylorist Utilitarianism) it is also the
case that many good things eventuated from such collaborations between
scientists (including Social Scientists, whom often seem forgotten in these
debates about art and science), technologists and artists.

Therefore it would seem unwise to talk about science as a singular subject,
just as we should avoid discussing art in such singular and narrow terms.
Human inquiry and creativity is a complex thing reflected in a wide range of
formalised (and less formalised) activities that may or may not be termed
science or art.

The debate might better be conducted focused not on the relationship between
science, art, technology and politics but on the question of value. These
four areas of human activity are related, whether we like it or not - and an
art disassociated from the other three would represent a strangely affected
way of (dis)engaging with the world.

That said, the phrasing of the announcement for New Constellations seems
unfortunate for it appears to be accepting prima facie that art and science
are very specific social practices fixed upon certain courses in a value
free environment. I would, as Andreas is suggesting, also question the
objectives of any event that presented itself in such a manner.



On 18.02.06 02:48, Andreas wrote:

>> dear friends,
>> out of curiosity: is there any evidence that the relation between art
>> and science is in fact intensifying (as blurbs like these always
>> suggest), and that what we see is more than a (statistically
>> horizontal) decade-spanning string of incidental projects and
>> cooperations? there has been talk about this intensification for at
>> least 50 or even 80 years, if you take the original Bauhaus or the
>> post-revolutionary Russian Avantgarde into account. but there also
>> seems to be an insistence of much of art to stay away from science,
>> and vice versa. luckily.
>> (most of the 'gravitation' mentioned here might be coupled with a
>> centrifugal force, in which case it would be interesting to understand
>> who or what is keeping the two, art and science, in each other's orbit.)
>> regards,
>> -a
>>> New Constellations: Art, Science and Society
>>> An international conference charting the ways in which art and
>>> science are
>>> gravitating towards one another within contemporary culture. The
>>> Conference
>>> will present the latest thinking about collaboration between artists and
>>> scientists and examine how the worldwide trend towards interdisciplinary
>>> engagement is changing the definitions, methodologies and practices
>>> they use
>>> and how they view the social implications of their work.

Simon Biggs
simon at littlepig.org.uk

Professor, Art and Design Research Centre
Sheffield Hallam University, UK

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