Artist profile: Gail Wight

Image

I had the pleasure of hearing artist Gail Wight speak at a symposium organized by the Wichita Art Museum and the Ulrich Museum of Art in conjunction with two recent art-science exhibitions, Nature’s Toolbox: Biodiversity, Art and Invention at the Ulrich, and Vital Signs: New Media Art from the San Jose Museum of Art at WAM. Wight is an associate professor of art at Stanford University whose work critiques the practice of science in imaginative and sometimes humorous ways. On of my favorite pieces that she discussed was Rodentia Chamber Music, a set of five musical instruments (piano, carillon, drum, harp, and cello) built partially of plexiglas with hollow interiors. Several mice inhabit these interiors, where they “play” the instruments by tripping various switches and sensors. The idea is to work with the mice as collaborators, rather than as objects or specimens.

Wight’s work appeals to me not only because of its humor, but also because of the depth of her engagement with the ideas of science as well as the forms of science. Despite her inclusion in the new media exhibition at WAM, I do not see technology as a central concern of her work. While it frequently involves technology, the technology is not the focus of the work: there is meaning beyond creating objects that look cool or do tricks. As a review of Wight’s work in the journal Nature notes, Wight employs art to understand science from the perspective of an “outsider” who nonetheless inhabits a world largely constructed by science.

“She [Wight] is an ‘artist of science’ in the same way that there are historians and sociologists of science. Wight explores the habits and history of science by using its materials as her materials, and producing art that serves both as work open to interpretation and as a pointed appraisal of scientific analysis.”

To see more of Wight’s work, visit her online portfolio.

Unfortunately, both of the exhibitions in Wichita have closed, but you can find more information and the exhibition catalog for Nature’s Toolbox at Art Works for Change.

James Lee Byars & The Hudson Institute

Image

ARC is currently developing a project that will aim to reassess collaborative projects of the past under a new framework. One of the projects that we are interested in seeing a reassessment of is James Lee Byars residency at the Hudson Institute, a think-tank in New York state, for the Art and Technology exhibition at the Los Angeles County Museum of Art.  Byars began working at the Hudson Institute in May 1969 up until the end of the year. He would often speak with the Director and co-founder of the Institute Herman Kahn. Those conversations and being in residence  led Byars to four ambiguous points – 1)”The exultation of being in the proximity of extraordinary people. “ 2) “The one hundred most interesting questions in America at this time.”3) “The next step after E=MC2.” 4)”One hundred superlatives about the Hudson Institute.”  Of the four points Byars reduced his project aims to the one hundred most important questions at this moment saying that “there is a terrific prejudice against asking questions.” The artist then wanted Gallup to do a nationwide poll for him determining what those questions might be but the costs proved prohibative. What eventually became one of the outcomes of this line of thinking was a television program called The World Question Center in Belgium where Byars asked viewers to send in their important questions. For ARC one of the most important outcomes was a small work where Byars has teletext tape repeating the mantra “Putting Byars in the Hudson Institute is the artistic product”.  Here the artist exclaims the importance of his engagement with non-artists and reveals that no other outcome is neccesary. This is not to say that product is not important but that the focus on product over communication is often counter intuitive to the collaborative process. Thank you Mr. Byars and the Hudson Institute.

The studio and the laboratory

Image

As part of my current research on comparative epistemologies of art, science, and religion, I came across an excellent essay by Svetlana Alpers: “The Studio, the Laboratory, and the Vexations of Art.” Alpers begins with the admitted aim of comparing and contrasting the workplaces of art and science, considering the studio as represented in 17th-century Dutch painting in relation to the 17th-century “house of experiment” in the Baconian model. She notes, however, that the analogy breaks down due to the consistent pictorial representation of the studio through the lens of individual experience, while the laboratory more overtly incorporates assistants and even the general public. While the model of solitary work may not be historically accurate (many artists had assistants, not to mention live models and even household servants in the studio), it is at least conceptually accurate: the representation of the studio is not only a visual representation, but also a representation of bodily experience, and phenomenology always starts from the individual. This has interesting implications for the truth value of art and science, respectively:

What I am invoking is not a personal matter. It has to do with how every individual establishes a relationship with the world. One of the vexations of art is man. In the laboratory, by contrast, the impact of the interference of the human observer in an account of natural phenomena was neither acknowledged nor taken into account until modern times, and then with a different effect. … It is possible to argue that the practice of painting was ahead of the practice of science in regard to the observer. The truth of this might account, at least in part, for the studio’s enduring life (Alpers 404).

Alpers goes on to discuss the evolution of studio to landscape as a site and motif for painting in the 18th and 19th centuries. She holds up Cezanne as emblematic of this transfiguration, in which landscape comes to be treated–constructed–in the same way as the elements of a still life in a studio. This in turn suggests a parallel transformation of scientific experimentation in the late 19th century, when C.T.R. Wilson’s cloud chamber at the Cavendish laboratory in Cambridge came to be used for observing subatomic particles. It is a change from mimetic experimentation–reproducing meteorological effects in the cloud chamber–to analytic experimentation–studying the actual particles that constituted those effects.

Image

Alpers’ analysis is admittedly preliminary and incomplete, but it offers some provocative ideas on the way the sites of science and art are instrumental in the knowledge they respectively produce. You can find the whole essay in the book Picturing Science, Producing Art, edited by Caroline A. Jones and Peter Galison (public library).

Collaborative Spaces at the University of Chicago: The Gray Center for Arts and Inquiry and The Arts/Science Initiative

Image

Two intersecting programs at the University of Chicago are engaged in exploring modes of interdisciplinary exchange across the arts, sciences, and humanities by facilitating collaborations between faculty, graduate students, visual artists, musicians, actors, choreographers and directors. The Gray Center emerged from the University of Chicago’s arts and humanities programs through an endowment from Richard and Mary L. Gray, augmented by collaborative fellowships offered in partnership with the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation, while the Arts/Science Initiative works alongside the University’s Offices of the Provost and Vice President, Institute for Molecular Engineering, programs in the sciences, and the National Laboratories.

 Both projects nurture collaborations between regional and international artists and distinguished scholars in fields ranging from physics and molecular genetics to art history and theology. Additionally, each of these initiatives encourages undergraduate and graduate participation in interdisciplinary art research through various internships and fellowship opportunities. Two of the many notable artistic inquiries that have materialized within these programs are the Gray Center’s exploration “The Physics and Aesthetics of Light,” a journey of experimental research and teaching undertaken by architect James Carpenter and physicist Sidney Nagel in 2011-2012, and an ongoing analysis of collaborative strategies funded by the Arts/Science Initiative through which conceptual artist, Shane Huffman, and professor of molecular genetics and cell biology, Jotham Austin II, are working to document, map and analyze successful—and ineffective—methods of interdisciplinary collaboration.

 As is common across many interdisciplinary arts research programs in the United States and abroad, many of the investigations undertaken under the auspices of both the Gray Center and Arts/Science Initiative are manifested in the public sphere as performances or installation-based artworks with a performative component. In addition, both of these programs host informal discussions and participate in publication of books and journal articles through more conventional academic venues. The characters of the labs hosted by these programs underscore their distinct approach to collaborative dialogues; the Gray Center Lab is a tangible space that can serve as both a collaborative studio environment and a venue for exhibitions, education, and performances, while the “Pop-Up Labs” hosted by the Arts/Science Initiative take place in the realm of dialogues and seek to facilitate the fluid exchange of ideas, comparable to the conversations that KU’s own academic community has sought to inaugurate through The Commons. Further resonances with ongoing dialogues in the Spencer Museum echo through the Arts/Science initiative’s Cabinet Series, a program of performances and conversations inspired by the legacy of the early modern Wunderkammer, as a space where art, science, and innovation co-mingle to elicit wonder and inspire discovery. 

 

The Gray Center for Arts and Inquiry http://graycenter.uchicago.edu/

The Physics and Aesthetics of Light: http://graycenter.uchicago.edu/experiments/the-physics-and-aesthetics-of-light

The Art/Science Initiative: http://arts.uchicago.edu/artsscience

“Exploring Artistic Conceptualization vs. Hypothesis Driven Interpretation of Observations,”  http://arts.uchicago.edu/content/past-recipients

The Cabinet: http://arts.uchicago.edu/content/cabinet

 

Image: One of multiple installation projects created as part of “The Physics and Aesthetics of Light,” sponsor by the Gray Center

Rohini Devasher and Amateur Astronomy

ARC is developing a project that is exploring ideas in amateur astronomy, archeoastronomy, and indigenous knowledge. So it was our happy accident that Spencer Museum of Art curator Kris Ercums told us about the fascinating work of Rohini Devasher whose work ‘Bloodlines’ was recently purchased by the Museum. Devasher has been inspired by amateur astronomy for some time and had a research residency at the Max Plank Institute. This inspiration has often taken the form of wall murals and drawings. She has also documented the many encounters with amateur astronomers that she has met in India stargazing. If you would like to know more about her work with amateur astronomy or the museums recent purchase of her work click on the links below or watch the video. Enjoy.
http://www.spencerart.ku.edu/collection/recent/devasher.shtml
http://www.motherlandmagazine.com/stargazing-issue/looking-up-and-art
http://www.mpiwg-berlin.mpg.de/en/news/features/feature26

L’Internationale

Image

Necessity is the mother of invention and in these times of lean budgets and shifting priorities museums have to adjust to a new normal.  L ’International is a consortium of museums and cultural institutions that have decided to work collectively for five years in an attempt to develop new models for museum practice and art institutions in general. The consortium currently has a project, “The Uses of Art: on the legacy of art 1848 – 1989”, at the Van Abbe Museum in Eindhoven where possible futures for our beloved institutions of art are being examined. Below are a few links to the projects and a wonderful book by Stephen Wright called ‘Towards a Lexicon of Usership.’

http://museumarteutil.net/wp-content/uploads/2013/12/Toward-a-lexicon-of-usership.pdf

http://internacionala.mg-lj.si/

http://thekitchen.vanabbe.nl/2013/09/29/the-uses-of-art/

http://thekitchen.vanabbe.nl/2013/10/08/1848-1989-second-linternationale-exhibition-in-van-abbemuseum-the-research-begins/

http://vanabbemuseum.nl/en/newsletter/agenda/agenda/

Call for proposals: ArtsIT (deadline Feb. 28, 2014)

bridgeNow in its fourth edition, ArtsIT has become a leading scientific forum for the dissemination of cutting-edge research in the area of arts, design and technology. The conference (6-8 November 2014, Istanbul, Turkey) aims to bring together leading researchers and practitioners from academia, the arts and industry to present their innovative work and discuss all aspects and challenges in a stimulating environment. The main focus of this edition of ArtsIT is to present participants with tools, systems, models, artworks, performances, shows and empirical studies that may enrich the possibilities for artists and creative people of working with new media technologies. The call for papers is aimed at people across a wide spectrum of interests and disciplines including computer science, design, arts, sociology, anthropology and psychology. Deadline to submit: 28 February 2014. Find out more at artsit.org/2014/show/home.