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Subject:

conVerge: where art and science meet

From:

Amanda McDonald Crowley <[log in to unmask]>

Reply-To:

Amanda McDonald Crowley <[log in to unmask]>

Date:

Tue, 13 Aug 2002 14:15:55 +0930

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Hi again!

To also get the ball rolling on a slightly less pragmatic level, I am also
taking the liberty of sending a catalogue essay which I recently co-wrote
with a (science communicator) colleague, Linda Cooper, for the 'Adelaide
Biennial of Australian Art - conVerge: where art and science meet'.  Linda
and I were both members of a working group that collaboratively curated this
exhibition of Australian artists working in this area.  The Adelaide
Biennial is an project of the Art Gallery of South Australia
<http://www.artgallery.sa.gov.au>, held to coincide with the Adelaide
Festival of Arts <http://www.adelaidefestival.org.au>


2002 Adelaide Biennial of Australian Art
conVerge: where art and science meet
Art Gallery of South Australia March - April 2002
http://www.adelaidebiennial.com

Exhibition Catalogue Introduction
Linda Cooper and Amanda McDonald Crowley


³New developments in technology are changing the way we live (and possibly
what it means to be alive). This path-breaking and news-making exhibition
creates a focus on the interaction between artist and scientist ‹
up-to-the-minute explorations, ranging from bio-ethics to the environment to
robotics. Welcome to the zone of pure research and discovery.³

Peter Sellars, [Artistic Director, Adelaide Festival 2002], 2001


In the period leading to the development of our contemporary society, art
and science were increasingly perceived as quite separate, even
diametrically opposed activities. However, for as long as this cultural
dichotomy has persisted, there have arisen conspicuous challenges to its
perception. conVerge: where art and science meet is an exhibition of works
by contemporary Australian artists and thinkers who are actively maintaining
this challenge.


Drawing on the metaphor of Œconvergence¹ leading to Œencounter¹, this
exhibition articulates and illuminates the critical nexus between art,
science and technology. For it is at this point that conVerge artists are
engaged in crucial debates fusing complex social and political issues. In
the dawning of the twenty-first century the artists of conVerge make works
which explore the cutting edge research, technological marvels and
socio-cultural crises which are in the process of transforming the way we
perceive ourselves in relation to our universe.


The conVerge thematic responds in part to the exhibition The Encounter,
1802: Art of the Flinders and Baudin Voyages which is showing alongside it
in the Art Gallery of South Australia. The Encounter, 1802 commemorates the
work of four artists who were part of these scientific expeditions,
accurately and aesthetically documenting the plants, animals, native
inhabitants and coastal landscapes of the Australian continent 200 years
ago. 


³Empirical observation was crucial to the scientific and political
objectives of both expeditions and was recorded in a variety of forms: maps,
logbooks, diaries, drawings, watercolours, and subsequently in oil paintings
and engravings. Together these records provided a powerful means of
advancing scientific knowledge and consolidating imperial power.²[i]


The Encounter, 1802 commemorates engagement between apparently disparate
cultures: an encounter between two warring nations, Britain and France;
between two creative disciplines of study, art and science; and between two
different worldviews, that of Indigenous Pacific and European cultures.


conVerge responds by representing fresh encounters between similarly
(apparently) opposed cultures, this time in the context of the twenty-first
century. Once again art meets with science, and with indigenous knowledge
systems, to confront the emerging global technological culture which has
supplanted the European hegemony. The terms of exchange are somewhat
different.


Ultimate unpredictability, which had hitherto been science¹s object of
conquest, is now integral to contemporary understandings in science and
technology. The integrating holisms of both art and indigenous knowledge
offer this Œnew¹ science alternative investigative powers. Empirical /
reductionist principles of science must now be forgone in the face of
quantum physics, environmental complexity and the social facts of
bio-technical ethics and morality.


In collaborative work, artists can allow science to imagine more than the
structure and functionality of their research. The freedom and ability to
imagine widely is the most powerful tool of innovation and creativity in all
fields of human endeavour.


In conversation with Kevin O¹Laughlin (Uncle Duki), a Adelaide Narrunga
elder and cultural teacher, about local indigenous knowledge, it must be
more of a coincidence that he quotes Albert EinsteinŠ..

³that ol¹ fella, he saysŠ.¹imagination is more powerful than knowledge¹. He
knew what he was talking aboutŠ this imagination is about our understanding
of the natural world and this is part of living. This imagination forms a
bridge between the Œabstract¹ and the Œreal¹Š. The Œreal¹ is a sensual,
intuitive experienceŠ a sense of smell, a sense of feeling works to trigger
memories of our knowledge. It is about feeling our place, our country.  Our
knowledge is in our relationship with languageŠ it is our identityŠ.. how
you (as an individual) relate to this country, to its signs, signals and
patterns, makes it Œreal¹. The animals in our stories only tell of their
journeys to people who are listening. Nunga understandings work in harmony
with nature.. it is all about relationships. We must follow our imagination
for a continuous culture, ina.²


Throughout the Industrial Revolution, Œscience¹ belonged to the colonising
powers. It was an objective, empirical practice of the western world in
which Indigenous peoples and their cultures were merely objects of study and
classification. However, in the context of conVerge, science is more
appropriately viewed as a culturally-specific knowledge system, for the
input and influence of Australian Indigenous cultures have been welcomed in
shaping our collective curatorial approach.


Indigenous knowledge demands its recognition as priceless intellectual
capital, as the systematic organisation and cultural transmission of
crucially significant ways of knowing the natural and social worlds. These
integrated understandings of local systems can provide insights absent in
the partial yet globalising impulses of modern science. New theories of
complexity are now turning to such connections in attempting to describe the
strangely intuitive patterns emerging as science comes to appreciate the
infinite interconnectedness of physical systems at all scales.


In this period, too, we can no longer talk in art or science about the
future of humanity and its biosphere without engaging with the very real and
often frightening possibilities raised by biotechnology and genetic
engineering. New techniques of molecular biology give us both the ability to
read the code of life and the potential power to manipulate it. As the
social objects and consumers of the new technologies, we may be alarmed by
claims such as those of Michio Kaku: ³The next century will witness an even
more far-reaching scientific revolution, as we make the transition from
unravelling the secrets of Nature to becoming masters of Nature.²[ii]


The very essence of our being, identity and relationship to the natural
world is confronted by this apparently inexorable scientific quest towards
power over fundamental life forces. Are we necessarily just to be passive
observers to such momentous forces of change? Collectively, we urgently need
opportunities to consider the potentially soul-shattering implication of new
scientific and technological capabilities ‹ and chances to participate in
the determining processes shaping our human future.


Artists have a trained and attitudinal capacity to make the social, moral
and ethical ramifications of scientific and technological development more
immediately apparent through their expressive media. Here, conVerge provides
contemporary artists with an opportunity to create techno-cultural spaces
which provoke us to discursive, intellectual and emotional responses.


Many of the works in this exhibition are interactive, requiring conscious
participation in visual, aural and tactile environments. They present new
tools and innovative approaches to art media. conVerge invites its audience
to engage with critical issues in a laboratory of ideas and raw
technological forms. Here is a fresh diversity of artforms emanating from a
cross-fertilisation of practices which have often taken place outside of
conventional art domains.


The art / science nexus cuts both ways. For now science itself may be at a
turning point and in need of the holistic understandings that art practice
contributes. In The End of Science, John Horgan suggests:

"If one believes in science, one must accept the possibility ‹ even the
probability ‹ that the great era of scientific discovery is over. Further
research may yield no more great revelations or revolutions, but only
incremental, diminishing returns."[iii]


Perhaps the future lies not in the pursuit of specialised knowledge but
rather in pursuing an understanding of how this knowledge relates to, and is
influenced by, the complexity of the real world. This pursuit can only be
achieved by forming synergies with other groups that represent all sectors
of our community and expertise.


As Professor Ian Lowe writes in this catalogue:

Šthe tendency for knowledge to be confined within disciplinary silos has led
to serious problems in applying that knowledge to the complexity of the real
worldŠThe only hope for a sustainable future involves a creative synthesis
of the arts and the sciences to develop new ways of meeting our needs and
our hopes.


Here the role of science and the role of art are entwined: both disciplines
are engaged with the principles of discovery, an exploration of paths to
understanding. By allowing people from both realms to interact and
cross-fertilise ideas, very real opportunities for the development of new
research and fresh critiques can be provided, opening up the ideas of both
disciplines to new audiences.


Understanding both art and science as forms of interpretation, inquiry and
critique, this exhibition provides a space to describe a marriage that will
be important to our future. As Terry Cutler points out in his essay here,
the space that artists provide for an interrogation of a creative (public)
imaginary provides real possibilities for informing technological innovation
and scientific enquiry; indeed in this context art provides a forum in which
to examine scientific and intellectual inquiry in very real social and
cultural contexts, and to interrogate, intervene and sometimes co-opt the
debate.


Many contemporary Australian artists see opportunities for working
collaboratively across a range of disciplines as essential to the
development of broader debate about the future of our planet. As we live
through an age of increasing uncertainties, a deeper understanding of our
environment ‹ social, spiritual, emotional as well as physical ‹ are key to
developing a more intricate and integrated relationship with the world
around us. 


Internationally, there is a rapid growth in the number of artists interested
in this field. This is partly due to artists responding to the key drivers
of social change: our current technological and scientific knowledge. This
trend also reflects the growing appreciation in all research sectors of the
benefits of bringing creative processes together in developing innovative
responses in a competitive global economy and culture. These linkages are
essential if we are to meet the complexities and challenges our future is
already presenting.


"The all-important first step in our journey to the future is to do things
differently: in other words, to be creative. In the past, new solutions
almost always involved new knowledge. Tomorrow, however, many solutions will
arise when some creative person links existing knowledge in new ways. This
will require our separate disciplines to mix more."
President of the National Research Council of Canada, Dr A. J. Carty.[iv]


It is interesting to look at the role of the artist in our notions of
collaboration. In the past, many art / science collaborations were less
partnerships than adjuncts: artists illustrating scientists¹ research
outcomes through illustrative representation; the scientists facilitating
art production through access to technologies and research. The
collaborations in conVerge are more involved in process ‹ where perspectives
are challenged and altered through cross-disciplinary contact. Art / science
collaborations are now moving towards projects with conceptual contributions
from all partners, and with corresponding opportunities for mutual benefit.


The strategy of conVerge is to create a site for this work, for the
conversations and processes that contribute to its creation, and for the
evolving of new work as yet operating only in the realm of schemata and
imagination, but which, within a short space of time will be being
re-written. conVerge itself explores these notions of process in conVerge
archive. As Victoria Lynn writes in her essay:

"The conVerge archive has been devised as a way of capturing those
processes, conversations, working notes and drawings amongst the individuals
involved both in the exhibition and in ongoing research at the nexus between
art and science."


Creative collaborations advance a culture of innovation. Future knowledge
systems must bring with them opportunities to strengthen the intellectual
infrastructure of our communities in every direction. This in turn should
lead to expanded employment opportunities, better living conditions, and
increase education and health standards. Thus, as members of these
communities, we should all be beneficiaries of these processes.


The move towards such creative collaborations reflects a departure from
specialisation which in turn mirrors a growing trend in contemporary
scientific research. Understanding the world as an infinitely complex system
of interactions rather than a plethora of independent causes is a
significant move away from reductionist approaches to understanding.


And of course, as we enter the twenty-first century, key issues that face
our economy are shifting away from those of the Industrial Age towards an
era in which life-sciences are fashioning a bio-industrial world. Not
surprisingly, in order to explore sustainable futures, artists and
scientists alike are turning to a more holistic understanding of the
environment and the impacts we have made on its natural systems.
Understanding these interrelationships is key to how humanity might co-exist
with its biosphere in the future whilst preserving that environment¹s
critical diversity.


In the context of Indigenous Australia, this approach to understanding
knowledge is integral to culture. Australian Indigenous knowledge is part of
a complex system of ecological understandings and spiritual relationships
with the land and country. conVerge suggests that the Œwestern world view¹
could learn from this appreciation of the interconnectedness of all living
things, and from this integration of Œspirit¹.


Australian Indigenous culture is contemporary, living and continuously
changing. This is reflected in the emerging uptake of technology by
Australian Indigenous artists. conVerge also illustrates how contemporary
cultural perspectives can be integrated into these new forms of creative
expression. 


Much of this work, and many of these knowledge systems, are threatened by
the advancements of our scientific research, and those who control it.
Developing respect and appropriate intellectual property protection for this
knowledge is paramount to Australia¹s cultural future.


This is a concern for the preservation of culture and is shared by many
Indigenous communities across the globe as heightened by Vandana Shiva¹s
chilling warning: 


"Genetic reductionismŠreduces biology to genes and turns genes into
commodities, ignoring the complexity of internal and external interactions
that shape living systemsŠ This reorganisation leads to the pirating of
Third World resources and of indigenous knowledge, which are considered to
acquire Œvalue¹ only when Œprocessed¹ into patentable commodities. It robs
nature and cultures of their creativity. For local indigenous communities,
conserving biodiversity means conserving their right to their resources and
knowledge, and to their production systems based on biodiversity."[v]


In formulating this exhibition, the working group responsible for developing
its form and shape have taken as starting-points the concerns of the
extraordinary artists working in this area in Australia. The concepts that
these artists are investigating range from an exploration of concepts of
scientific visualisation and representation to a critique of genetic and
biotechnological development, explorations in acoustics and light phenomena,
Indigenous knowledge and natural systems.


In the context of the Adelaide Festival 2002 conVerge is an opportunity to
return to a primary experience of the function of both art and science as
integral to culture: putting the art back into the sort of cultural context
where culture functions as the imaginative space of society that actively
engages in the issues and concerns of the day.


[i] <#_ednref1>  Sarah Thomas (curator), The Encounter, 1802: Art of the
Flinders and Baudin Voyages, exhibition catalogue. Adelaide: Art Gallery of
South Australia 2002, p.16

[ii] <#_ednref2>  Michio Kaku, Visions, How Science will Revolutionize the
Twenty-First Century, Oxford University Press, Oxford, 1998 p. 10

[iii] <#_ednref3>  John Horgan, The End of Science, Addison-Wesley, Reading,
Mass., 1996

[iv] <#_ednref4>  Dr Arthur J. Carty, closing speech to National Research
Council (USA) Millennium Conference on Creativity in the Arts and Sciences,
Ottawa June 21, 2000

[v] <#_ednref5>  Vandana Shiva, Tomorrow¹s Biodiversity, 2000, pp.27­28

--  
Amanda McDonald Crowley
tel: +61 (0)419 829 313
e:  [log in to unmask]  /  [log in to unmask]

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