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Why give time and attention to the coupled art-science? After several months of reflection and writing on aspects that link – or do not link – art and science, one observation emerges: their relative complementarity. If this complementarity seems to us to be self-evident (to us, contributors to this blog and the sporobolian community), perhaps it is not the same for everyone. A specific reflection in this regard is required.

The following text attempts to understand what it means to be complementary; questions the gaze as a mechanism for recognizing reciprocity; examines the contexts in which mutual inventiveness can take place; raises the question of the third party in the encounter between art and science; identifies the “lack” as a motor of complementarity; and concludes with the idea of going beyond the initial lack, as well as making use of crosses.

This text in no way claims to provide a definitive answer to the question of why the “art-science” tandem is so important. It is a speculative text that merely brings together some elements for reflection on the subject.

Art & Astrology?

Why “art & science” rather than anything else? Why not “art & economics”, “art & history” or “art & politics”? Are economics, history and politics not, just as much as science, founding aspects of our contemporary societies? Or “art & philosophy”: wouldn’t this coupled approach be just as relevant in terms of fundamental reflection? The fact that science has been identified as a counterpart deserving of a reflexive mirror status – distorting and reforming according to the parameters of reflection, and as such, anything is possible – constitutes in itself an admission of reciprocity between science and art. It is also a precedence of science over the other “categories” mentioned above as a privileged interlocutor and interlocutor before art. It also means that art and science attract and oppose each other as do signs of earth and water, fire and air, in the astrological fables of the esoteric infraworld. This analogy lacks seriousness, I agree (I enjoy being less serious – it’s important to have pleasure), but it has the merit of making an image. The aim is to illustrate the radical difference between two poles while showing the puzzle effect by which they manage to intertwine: fat grasses and desert drought, transparency and opacity, day and night, clarity and mystery, life and death impulses – all oppositions which, by coexisting, constitute a completeness, a balanced whole. It is the radicality of the difference that allows complementarity: and this difference must reach the end of the poles. If the difference is not significant enough, we are in another register. This may be referred to as variation or inequality, similarity or dissonance, variety or disparity. The difference, when it is assimilated to a simple variation, is similar to an almost linear continuity where the face-to-face encounter does not take place. The coupled art & science presents the privilege of this radicality in several aspects. To speak of privilege implies that it would be an “election” in the sense that one elects the other in order to deprive himself of other possible options and thus make it his right. They privilege each other – sometimes without even realizing it.


How we look; what we see

Art & science, by this radical difference that separates them – and by the same token places them opposite each other – are brought to dialogue. One may ask what does science need from art? And conversely, what does art need that science alone can provide? Because that is the reason for their exchange: both have something to say to each other that would make no sense outside their tandem. Art expresses to science “things” that it would not tell anyone else. Conversely, science has exclusive addresses for the art, even secrets.

It is tempting to say that art brings a part of irrationality that science lacks, while science on the contrary brings to art foundations and logic that can act as beacons. There is certainly some of that, but it would be too simple. Nothing is simple. The look, for example, is not simple. Looking at it implies, in particular, points of view. A multitude of possible points of view then come into play, making the gaze a paradoxical “gesture”, where every detail can be considered and put on an equal footing with the others. The gaze can very well be a dynamic flattening operation. It can also be selective and require attention to specific elements. In this way it makes the part exist for the whole – which can call into question the whole. In addition to what is strictly speaking looked at, there are different levels of looks that depend on what you put in it. Is there any questioning or affirmation? Does it contain a priori, knowledge or is it rather indifferent, or even ignorant? Are there emotions in this look? Is it crossed by an aesthetic, intellectual, conceptual, historical bias? Is it inhabited by an intention?

And how does art view science? What does he see it through his intrinsically artistic bias? What does he see? What do we see when we look at something or someone who is complementary to us? Do we really know what we see? Do we perceive this complementarity? Is complementarity a visible thing or is it only seen after the fact? And what does science see when it looks at art? Because of course, one does not see the same thing as the other, and does not know what the other sees. And what exactly do we see in a glance if not our own reflection, increased by otherness. The gaze is a two-way mirror: it sees what it is capable of projecting into it that can be reflected in it and pass through it all at once. In this return of the reflection, what he sees belongs to him in his own right, but not only. What you see in a look is always yourself more what you look at. In doing so, this amalgam can take different forms: an overlay, a juxtaposition, an interlacing, a remix, etc. What the eye catches is treated, a perception x is eventually directed towards the thought. When art looks at science, it certainly sees what can be artistic in the scientific proposal in question. Conversely, science’s view of art seeks to identify what could be part of a scientific logic. But beyond their radical difference that guides their eyes, they recognize themselves through the creativity and inventiveness that inhabit them. Their reciprocal inventiveness creates a form of silent mutual recognition: you can see what you know, and what there is of yourself in the other. They see that they invent, find and discover. Let them create and imagine.


Invent contexts to deploy inventiveness and the (necessary?) presence of a third party between science and art

By partially recognizing each other in each other’s eyes, art and science authenticate each other. Here, the question of mutual inventiveness is not insignificant. Art and science both seek and invent at the same time. Inventing is as much finding and discovering as creating and imagining[something new]. Science certainly recognizes itself better in the find-discover duo, while art is directly related to creation-imagining. However, this dosage is variable. Unpredictable too. Through a certain irregularity, the inventiveness of both will be based – if necessary – on discovery and/or creation. In both cases, this inventiveness is not magic: it is previously masterfully carried out by research, which continues throughout the process. Inventiveness can take place on the corner of the table or on the corner of the street, or not. It sometimes requires specific contexts, favourable opportunities, dedicated places and times. For a long time hidden from each other’s eyes, this mutual inventiveness now goes beyond the simple look. While a mutual desire for collaboration between artists and scientists is increasingly asserted, initiatives are following and are emerging everywhere, here and abroad. The publication The Practice of Art and Science (Gerfried Stocker and Andreas J. Hirsch, 2017, Ars Electronica) provides an overview – mainly European – of this type of context/occasion/place.

This shared curiosity has generated to date many collaborative art-science initiatives, including artistic residencies in the scientific community. For example at CERN in Geneva, Switzerland, ESO (European Southern Observatory) near Munich, Germany, ESA (European Space Agency) based in Paris, STEAM artist residencies including Fraunhofer MEVIS (Institute for Medical Image Computing) in Germany. In America and on a smaller scale, there are initiatives such as Sporobole’s “Interface” residences in collaboration with the Université de Sherbrooke and, for 2018-2019, with the Observatoire du Mont-Gégantic, the Institut de recherche sur les exoplanètes – iREx and the Astrolab du Mont-Mégantic. In view of this brief – and absolutely non-exhaustive – list, it is interesting to note that most of these are initiatives that have benefited from third parties in order to be set up, and in terms of their management. Neither artists nor scientists, art professionals are almost invariably in charge of these residencies. In the case of CERN, MEVIS and Sporobole in particular, it is not the scientific community itself that is in charge, but rather the artist-run centres and cultural workers who work there. Sporobole itself being an artists’ centre, STEAM Imaging Artist Residency at MEVIS is a programme run by Ars Electronica and CERN, the residencies of the Arts@CERN programme are directed by Monica Bello, independent curator and art critic; while the specific programme Collide@CERN was created by Ariane Koek, artistic director and cultural producer. These are just a few examples. Nevertheless, it seems significant to me to note the importance of a third party providing a form of link in the implementation of this type of collaborative project. And what does this mean if not that the presence of a third look is (perhaps) necessary in order to “see” that something can emerge from this encounter. It is as if, in the interplay of looks and the recognition of reciprocity x, the presence of a third party was positioned in such a way as to reveal the perspective that, very precisely, was missing from the whole picture. That being said, this is only a hypothesis. One of many ways to make thoughts run.


Going beyond what is missing

Eyes in their eyes, they recognize each other, recognize their mutual inventiveness and mutual curiosity, but what about more concretely? What is this complementarity? What form does it take? How does it manifest itself? Is it visible? Or is it rather the intangible manifestation of living forces… Or esoteric? On what is a principle of complementarity based?

What is complete is also what is missing and, often, what we need to access something – knowledge, know-how, technique, result – are tools. These can take different forms: a text, a workshop, a tutorial, a hammer or a microscope, a trip or a conversation. You can go and get the tools you want yourself, but you still have to know what you are missing. A third party can also play this role, that of identifying what is missing. Not only can he designate which tools are necessary for the task, but he can also imagine which tools could transmute the task and reveal its artistic or scientific potential – are we facing a work in progress or an imminent discovery? It would thus be a question of going beyond identifiable needs and projecting what could flourish there, of representing a development, of perceiving the ferment of what is absent, latent. Perhaps we can talk about intuition, cultivating a certain vision, taking risks too. Whether there is an intermediary – such as a cultural worker or a commissioner – or not, ideally one should be able to go beyond what is lacking to generate active complementarity. Let’s imagine, for example, that an artist is interested in astronomical observation issues: he is then given access to a powerful telescope, trained so that he can operate the tool, given a period of time to familiarize himself with this environment, meetings between the artist and the scientist are arranged – here, attention, mirror effect – meetings are arranged between the scientist and the artist, the scientist is invited to visit the artist’s studio, he is introduced to his artistic approach and explains the current project, asked to share his scientific point of view on the issues addressed and then – another mirror effect, a new angle – he is given access to the tools and materials of the workshop in order to reflect on his own research that would overlap the artist’s interests. We propose that the scientist get involved, in a certain way, in the project and we suggest that the artist can have a look at the scientist’s research. In doing so, we ensure that we cross eyes and, by extension, cross practices. Mirror and smoke: a certain magic is invited to work.

What one person lacks is not necessarily missing from the other. The scientist does not necessarily need brushes, clay, video cameras or 3D software – although it is possible that they do. Similarly, scientific equipment x is not necessarily the object of an artist’s desire. On the one hand, there is what is missing, which will define a more or less anticipated trajectory, and on the other hand, what is not missing, which will perhaps open the way to fertile and unexplored territories. This risk is to be taken, it is the condition for the development of possibilities. And it seems that a third party is an option to consider in terms of crossbreeding orchestration.

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Crossings and braces: what supports

The use of braces is generally intended to support and solidify a structure by crossing some of its components – I am thinking very precisely of the braces on my IKEA shelf (I know, it is a high level reference). By examining what precisely intersects when they meet, it emerges that what crosses from art to science and vice versa, from science to art, is often of the order of the tool. Taking different forms, as mentioned above – a reading, a workspace, a tutorial, a hammer or a microscope, an encounter or a conversation – these tools become real crosspieces dedicated to solidifying the couple that art and science form. It is in the very crossroads, in this repeated exercise of encounter and exchange – that several structures and organizations are currently striving to orchestrate aspirations and desires and needs to the best of their ability and beyond – that art and science can learn to support each other and share their mutual perspective on the world. Through trial and error, missed appointments (because there are some), risk-taking, invitations and intrusions, it seems that we can hope for something and even more – we must, among other things, know how to look.

Nathalie Bachand

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Images: screenshots in Word, except Astrological Signs, Perspective and Crosshatches: Google Images.


Translated with www.DeepL.com/Translator