Article categories: Scientific Serendipity
March 16th, 2010

There is much that art and science have in common. Many of the similarities are embedded in the recognition of the role of process in the research and development of a creative idea. Experimentation is indeed as much a part of the making of art and it is part of the scientific method. A fascination with the obscure, the mysterious, and quirky phenomena is also a shared interest. Rather than the individuals, it is perhaps our love of the institution and their traditional ‘safety’ and inflexible systems that has kept these disciplines apart. In recent years, Australian artists engaging with science phenomena have generated interest internationally and their work is emerging as an artform in its own right, despite the perceived cultural clashes.

Scientific Serendipity is a project that has attempted to dismantle the institutional barriers separating the communities of artists and scientists. Four residencies were established for Australian artists currently working with scientific phenomena to research their own art practise within the context of an appropriate science organisation. No prescribed residency model was suggested; rather Scientific Serendipity explored the notion of an “artist in residency” as a model for pursuing interdisciplinary practise.

Many artists working with technology are engaged in the debate about the impact technology has on our daily lives – as individuals, members of communities and on society as a whole. Science and technology have raced ahead in the growing recognition that knowledge leads to power. It was the Industrial Revolution, which first showed us that modern science could help solve practical problems, and it was during this period that science became most strongly identified with its application-technology. Our resulting belief in progress was originally inspired, and is now largely supported, by these advances in technology.

But science is not only about building new machines and new applications; it is also about building new understandings.

In this historical context, artistic practice with new technologies is relatively new. It has emerged from the new medias and the explosion of resources and networks available in this age of information. Initially, the relationship between artist and technology could have been interpreted as hierarchical- one of servant to master. I would suggest that this relationship is changing with the growing understanding of the role science has in underpinning the technology that is driving this work. Artists are now working beyond the limitations of the technology as the ‘black box’- the predetermined mode of delivery- making these investigations the content of their work.

The role of the artist is also to question and create new ways of seeing and understanding our world. Artists can bring different perspectives and alternative ways of thinking. As Justine Cooper comments “while acknowledging the knowledge (and creativity) of science, I preferred to situate science somewhere other than the centre….”. The imagination can invigorate our sensibilities and firmly place our humanity at the core- a belief system that has been missing from our current world of progress.

This publication gives us a fascinating collection of personal stories and experiences from the artists who participated in Scientific Serendipity. These impressions are valuable reading for anyone interested in collaborative work.

This publication is also timely. The interest in the relationship between the arts and sciences has grown before we have the language to articulate and discuss the resulting work in the art context. In addition, the expression of these ideas and processes as physical installations is a challenge. Where do we exhibit these collaborative efforts and who are the audiences? Are there new public spaces for this work that are yet to be defined?

Congratulations to ANAT! Once again, with limited resources, a seed for future development in cutting edge art practise has been planted.

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