Something interesting is happening in art schools these days: students are being encouraged to explore science. In London, the Central Saint Martins Art and Science MA Programme is celebrating its first crop of graduates; and, not far down the road, the Broad Vision Programme at the University of Westminster is demonstrating what happens when students from disparate disciplines meet and learn from each other.
The Broad Vision Programme is an interdisciplinary undergraduate programme at the University of Westminster that brings together students and faculty from both the arts and sciences for experimentation and collaboration. Broad Vision is an optional module within a regular programme of study for students in disparate fields such as photographic arts, molecular biology and genetics, psychology and illustration. Through ‘taster sessions’ and informal learning opportunities that sometimes amount to organised chaos, students are able to explore each others’ domains, be it scientists going crazy with paints or artists experimenting with bacterial cultures.
The results, displayed at GV Art, are a testament to this innovative and brave approach, with artworks where the art and science stand together in equal measure, provoking conversation and thought. Bacterial agar gels are used to surprising and interesting effect: In Face of Truth by Kitti Edwards, Mell Fisher and Freddie Bell, they are used as moulds of human faces (a first, even for science!) upon which bacteria grow in assorted spots. And in ‘Vibronacci’, Robbie Duncan and Benjamin Palmer present a logarithmically spiralling, living installation powered by bioluminescent bacteria. Meanwhile, in other work, students are inspired by the science of sleep, the ways in which data might be embedded in photographic images, and our perception of body image.
In a similar, but different vein, the Art and Science MA Programme at Central Saint Martins–with whom I have had the pleasure of working in the past–is celebrating its first crop of students finishing their studio based programme. Over the course of the past two years, the students have visited (and sometimes worked with) scientific institutions, exploring the critical and philosophical relationships between art and science. And making a lot of art. The work produced over this time reflects the diverse interests, practices and experiences of the artists; what unites them is an engagement with science—its methods, materials, discoveries, history and philosophy.
The artwork on display does not merely illustrate science; the science is embedded in it. Melanie King’s fascination with soap bubbles as metaphors for the brevity of life led to an exploration of cosmology. Bubbles are compared to expanding universes, the foam-like negative space between galaxies and multiverses. Elegant photographs and an enigmatic glass bubble poetically convey this concept and bring us to ponder some of the big questions thrown up by modern physics. The art of Becky Lyddon engages with autism in a remarkable way, sensitively communicating the sensory experiences of people on the autistic spectrum. Lyddon’s hanging Perspex box, into which a viewer inserts their head, results in a surreal experience: it felt to me a little bit what it must feel like to be stuck inside a space-suit. I wondered what it would feel like if that was the way that I always experienced the world? Through her experiential installations, Becky creatively brings the viewer into an alternate, but very real, reality to raise awareness and understanding of autism. In the work presented by the artists on this course, art and science collide like subatomic particles—in some cases, they seem to deflect one another; in others, they create an explosion; and in some, the one is absorbed by the other.
I wish the MA Art and Science students well. Fortunately for them, there is a growing interest in the area of art and science—both from the scientific and art establishments (Susan Aldworth, who works with neuroscientists, currently has work in the National Portrait Gallery). At the symposium celebrating the Art and Science MA degree show, an audience member asked whether the programme was fixing a broken education system, where students are forced to specialise into a subject specialty at an early age. Perhaps for some, but I’d like to think that both the Central Saint Martins and Broad Vision programmes are doing something a bit more interesting; they are creating something new: a space for experimentation, for play, and for asking big questions in different ways. In the chaos that may ensue from collaborations between artists and scientists, new art is emerging, and the scientists are benefiting as well.
Take a look at the art from the MA Art and Science degree show on their blog.