I intend to create Art and Science collaborations that bring New Forms of Life from the Real through physical representation resultant of a methodology that generates unrepeatable transformation. I am interested in revealing the real with the intent of making work that was determined without cultural or aesthetic codes.
In the depths of a biological containment laboratory at the University of Surrey, you will be able to find a 1735 copy of Ovid’s Metamorphoses nestling in a walk-in incubator set at 25 degrees. Specifically 25 degrees. This is the ideal temperature for my artwork to currently exist.
I am developing a couple of artworks with Dr Simon Park, a senior lecturer in molecular microbiology at the University of Surrey. The work that instigated the collaborative relationship was Metamorphosis. I had posted images of my work in progress on the social networking site, Facebook. The uncanny aesthetic similarity between the visual outcomes of Metamorphosis and Simon’s Trichoderma and The Poison Master were brought to Simon’s attention by a mutual acquaintance and Simon got in contact. Through discussion, which revealed further coincidence and the developmental issues I was discovering, Simon was able to offer both solutions and ideas to help progress the artwork.
These dialogues, led to Metamorphoses. Finding an early translation of Ovid’s Metamorphoses from 1735, I am uncovering the invisible from its pages. During its nearly 300 year old journey, like all objects it will have accumulated a hidden history. Every human touch or settling of a dust particle will have added countless bacteria and microbiology to form a unique microflora, that is unapparent to the naked eye. I am revealing, with the help of Simon, what its pages have collected over the last 276 years by laying the book on microbiological growth media and allowing what has been dormant for many years to grow once more. Currently unidentified bacteria have emerged from the pages and a time lapse film is being created, documenting the process. Due to the potential and unusual health hazard the work poses, being that there could possibly be harmful bacteria that could lead to disease that has been encouraged to re-emerge, the artwork in its living state can never leave the laboratory.
Simon pointed out that “such is the history of the book, that from its publication in 1735 it will have been around for most of the history of modern microbiology, from Louis Pasteur’s work to disprove spontaneous generation (1861) and his and Robert Koch’s germ theory of disease, to modern 21st century genomic microbiology”.
I like revealing or reflecting on what is or may be there that we don’t necessarily consider or know to exist. The beauty of this piece is the allegorical nature of the work. The metamorphoses of the book from a man made object to potentially bodily bacteria reflects the transitions that are held within its tales of Gods changing into men and vice versa.
The microscopic photographic documentation that Simon has produced, shows the bacterial and fungal growth producing undeterminable painterly images that we have no control over. Once the process has finished, I will be left with discarded material or documents left from this perfomative process. The film created will then be projected onto the books’ remaining carcass within an installation context. Safe and observable.
The opportunity for an artist to work in the laboratory environment is inspiring, challenging and exciting. However, these collaborations are becoming increasingly frequent. Simon’s laboratory could be argued to also be an artist’s studio, with many works or art to be found in his fridges, incubators, store rooms and office.
It got me thinking. Art clearly benefits from science, but does science benefit equally from art?
Whilst listening to Stephen Healy’s paper “Scientific Controversy: Differences of ‘Fact’ or Contending ‘Forms of Life’”, it became evident that what was needed was a total social paradigm shift to occur. The message that weekend at the Arts Catalyst’s Eye of The Storm Conference, from both the arts and sciences, was that our current patterns of existence were unsustainable. What is needed is a reinvention of ‘forms of life’. The concept of completely rethinking our current existence and relationship with the world meant that at present we are both irrelevant and a point of conflict. The consensus is that the only way to achieve this is for the arts and sciences to collaborate, bringing together creativity and scientific understanding to achieve the alternative.
Many examples can be given where the intersection between the arts and sciences have developed ground breaking research and new ways forward. The Harrisons do this to an extent, framing their research within a new language created by their collaborative relationships with biologists, ecologists, architects, urban planners and other artists. Their project The Force Majeur concluded, “that a most profound re-invention needed for survival and wellbeing in a global warming future would have to be, in fact, the re-invention of governance itself.” Dr Mark Miodownik in his article Facts not Opinions? concludes that “for mulitidisciplinarity to thrive some things need to change”. I believe that change should involve the need for greater understanding of sound art and science collaborations and the development of the aesthetics of knowledge transfer which can then be used across the two communities and then towards a wider audience.
As an artist, I wonder what I bring to the laboratory table, until those frequent moments arrive when I suggest something that seems perfectly and creatively obvious to me and Simon says excitedly ‘well, I don’t know, it’s never been done before…lets try it!’
The Relationship Between Art & Science