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