|Titel:||The Translation of Scientific Projects into Works of Art|
|Abriss:||Dieser Aufsatz wurde für den Bfa Honours Kurs im Fach "Malen" geschrieben, und erläutert den Kontext meiner Prüfungsarbeit an der Tasmanischen Kunstschule in Hobart. Der Text baut auf meinen Gedanken über die Beziehung zwischen Kunst u. Wissenschaft auf.
The Translation of Scientific Projects into Works of ArtIntroduction
The separation of art and science in Western culture has always been the subject of historical and philosophical investigations. The definitions of what constitutes art or science vary. Nobody would seriously argue for a dichotomic, black-and-white image of art and science. Nor would it make sense to see them as the one and same cultural phenomenon. The obvious differences of cultural meaning, public interest and funding are a result of certain patterns and paradigms of differentiation.
This differentiation may also be reflected in the way artists and scientists conduct research. The underlying hypothesis of my Honours Year Research is that there are patterns and paradigms of scientific research which differ to these of artistic research - despite many common means and methods. The extrication of these patterns and a creative redefinition of paradigms may well help to develop new and interesting forms of collaboration between artists and scientists. The question therefore to be answered in my Honours Year Research is what might these patterns be.
It is important to see my work in relation to the philosophy of Paul Feyerabend, who argues that non-scientific methods, such as art, philosophy, religion, magic, etc. contribute to our understanding of life and reality. In his book Against Method, Feyerabend makes clear that these methods do not necessarily have to be kept within their own realm, but "that it is possible to retain what one may call the freedom of artistic creation and to use it to the full, not just as a road of escape but as a necessary means for discovering and perhaps even changing the features of the world we live in". I agree with Feyerabend, and I would like to point out that the search for differing paradigms in my research is guided by my interest in the cognitive value of art making. This cognitive aspect has been recognized by many artists, among them Joseph Beuys, Herman de Vries, Sjoerd Buisman, the Bauhaus Artists Johannes Itten, Laszlo Moholy-Nagy, Josef Albers, Wassily Kandinsky, etc.
In this paper, I will first present the method and direction I have chosen to extricate these paradigms. Though the method initially seemed quite appropriate, I was to be later confronted with puzzling, philosophical questions. In the discussion following the presentation of my method, I will argue for a solution based on thoughts influenced by a study of Nietzsche's philosophy of knowledge and Jean Cocteau's film Orphée. The later was the subject of my essay in the Art Theory Course, this year. Finally, a brief presentation of my submitted artwork, together with a reference to a wider context, will lead to the conclusion of this paper.
Animals, Materials and Methods
Given that future collaborations between artists and scientists are likely to happen in scientific institutions, I decided that the best approach was to set up a proposal for a scientific project. However, it was not the intention to import a scientific experiment as a "Duchampian" ready-made into an art gallery. Rather, my scientific project was to be translated into works of art. This rather simultaneous translation process of a case study (the scientific project), into works of art, would then become the focus of my Honours Year Research. In order to allude to the general nature of this research-within-research project, the terms "scientific projects" as well as "works of art" , used in the title, are kept in the plural tense. In one of my earlier projects, I had noticed that pigs often rub against objects to clean parasites and dust from their skin. The measuring of this rubbing behaviour seemed to me, an interesting theme for a scientific investigation. An initial literary study of this behaviour frequently performed by pigs, revealed that this subject matter was quite conventional, and had been mentioned before in a remarkably original research, by a scientific team, at the University of Melbourne. The olfactory stimuli responses of sows were tested, by placing cotton wool swabs soaked with Eucalyptus Oil in their stall. Hutson and his team noted that many sows began to rub their flanks, heads or backs on the walls in response to the odours.
The translation process began with the decision to design the experiment not according to the best scientific method - which would have required 24 hours of video surveillance. It seemed more appropriate to apply artistic methods, such as introducing a plurality of connotations. The idea was to have a french polished panel attached to the wall inside a pig pen. A sensor behind the panel would link it with a computer, which would record the time of every rubbing activity. An electric fence around the pen would prevent the pig from rubbing against any other parts of the wall.
The construction of the 1.8 x 0.9 m black panel became the major task of the first term. In an elaborative process, I began to study the technique of french polishing. Hundreds of micro thin layers of shellac had to be applied. In between stages, I sanded down the surface irregularities. I had to experiment with small samples and test a variety of fabrics used for the polishing task. The french polishing technique requires an almost obsessive desire for perfection. At one stage, I decided to build a cabin-sized dust cover to create a dust-free working space. The steel frame holding the panel was powder-coated in black, at an industrial site, and lined with red felt to emphasize the special status of my measuring device.
The experiment with two pigs took place in a shearing shed during the midyear break. To allow for adaptation, the electric fence was gradually installed after the third day. The recording of the rubbing activity, with a laptop, began on the fifth day. The experiment was successful in the sense that, the measuring technology worked perfectly. I managed to record the time and duration of the rubbing periods, during two consecutive days (see Appendix). Though the recorded data is, scientifically spoken, unreliable, it allowed me to see, at what time of the day, the pigs were active and investigating their pen. I found it very fascinating to have records of their activity taking place during my absence. One of the aspects noticed was that the pigs had quite extensive sleeping periods during the night - just like human beings!
With the experiment completed and documented on video and photographs, I found myself ready to deal in depth with the theoretical evaluation of the translation process. The basis was a broad range of connotations. The following points roughly indicate the scope of this range:
Does this conceptual flaw imply that we cannot research the difference between artistic and scientific research? Not at all, it means that the concept of knowledge must be understood differently in different contexts! My research was tied up with the notion of gaining knowledge. Despite an initial vagueness of definitions, I had thought that by the end of the year I would be able to present a body of knowledge. This knowledge would have been clearly outlined by statements, facts, rules, found evidence, etc., and would have related to the submitted artwork.
The reason for my later quandary, was that I had utilised only a singular concept of knowledge, across both, the realm of art and the realm of science. The focus on knowledge began therefore, to turn in upon itself. One cannot gain scientific knowledge on scientific knowledge, or gain artistic knowledge on artistic knowledge. One can gain, however, scientific knowledge on artistic knowledge and vice versa, if they imply different concepts. Thus, one of the basic differences to acknowledge in artistic and scientific research, is the difference of how each discipline uses and understands the concept of knowledge.
The quest for scientific knowledge presupposes a transcendent reality of universal laws and truths. The credo of omniscience and omnipotence, already upheld by Bacon at the beginning of the scientific revolution, means that scientific research can and must discover these hidden laws. One of the most famous contemporary physicist, Stephen Hawkin, suggests a definition for a good scientific theory, which may stand as an example for this paradigmatic belief. In his book A Brief History of Time he writes that: "A theory is a good theory if it satisfies two requirements: It must accurately describe a large class of observations on the basis of a model that contains only a few arbitrary elements, and it must make definite predictions about the result of future observations." In scientific terms, knowledge is based on "true" statements - a rational description of reality. Though this description may change with new discoveries, it is tacitly implied that the final knowledge, the Theory of Everything, will be a stable, static, objective body - hence the metaphor 'body of knowledge' and the accompanying words, such as 'having', 'gaining', 'attaining', 'grasping', etc.
In a philosophical dispute on knowledge and truth, the scientific concept of knowledge would be difficult to defend. Nietzsche, for instance, fiercely rejected any picture of static knowledge and absolute truth. It would by far, exceed the scope of this paper, to present a sound philosophical argument against the scientific concept of knowledge. Furthermore, I do not think it is necessary to dispute the scientific argumentation, as I am looking for collaboration - not opposition. I will therefore simply accept the scientific picture as appropriate in its own realm, and present an alternative, artistic point of view.
In the following paragraphs, I will discuss an alternative concept of knowledge, which I unveiled during my research for the Art Theory Essay on Jean Cocteau's film Orphée. In my essay, I argued that Cocteau's film Orphée explores the subject of artistic inspiration. Cocteau linked artistic inspiration closely with the phenomenon of knowledge. According to my interpretation of his film Orphée, artistic knowledge seems to be less of a descriptive, factual phenomenon than scientific knowledge. There are no platonic laws governing causes and effects in the realm of art. Ultimately, there is no static thing - such as a recipe for good art - waiting to be grasped, nor an apprehensible source of inspiration to be found. What Cocteau shows is that the nature of his envisaged artistic knowledge is rather that of a relationship. Artistic knowledge is dynamic and changing, continuously creating itself out of a struggle between knowing and not-knowing.
The nature of artistic knowledge is reflected in the figure of the Princess. Personifying Death, Cocteau could have cast her as a veiled skeleton with a scythe, endowing her with absolute power. Yet, he portrays her as a woman whose changing emotions and power, express the dynamic nature of a relationship rather than a solid cliché image. In her role as a sponsor of poets, she does not reveal descriptive knowledge. When the owner of the Café des Poêtes shows Orpheus her critique on Cegeste's poetry, he presents him with a book of blank pages. The Princess enters a relationship with Cegeste and has to struggle with his immaturity, and with her own feelings of love for Orpheus. She has the power to order, yet she disobeys the law in her desire for Orpheus. Covered in a blanket, she watches him secretly at night, and yet, plays a powerful hide-and-seek game in the town. She loves him, but has to kill him at the end of the film in order to maintain their love.
The suggested distinction, between the scientific concept of knowledge and the artistic concept of knowledge, is not meant to be a definition of what constitutes scientific research and how artistic research should be done. As I wrote in the beginning, my research is about extracting patterns and paradigms. The suggested pattern can be seen as a conceptual framework and viewpoint, allowing orientation - especially in collaborative research. This does not exclude other frameworks becoming more useful in certain circumstances. I believe, though, that my discovery offers some particular advantages.
Knowledge understood as a body of facts and statements, as a description of reality, is ultimately based on language. There is no scientific knowledge without words, or symbols that are ultimately defined through language. As a consequence, the limits of language determine the limits of scientific knowledge. What cannot be said never becomes scientific knowledge. Knowledge seen as a relationship, in contrast, is not necessarily based on language. It can be based on a feedback situation, where progress is based on improving the reaction to sensory experiences - cutting short the brain¹s language function. The knowledge of driving a car is not based on descriptions, but on feeling the idiosyncrasies of the steering, the clutch, the brakes and being able to sense the distances. The knowledge required to become a master of french polishing can not possibly be gained through reading the appropriate technical books. Descriptions can help, yet the french polisher has to gain a feeling for the processes involved - this takes many years.
Knowledge as a relationship is not limited by language. It is, furthermore, dynamic and it accepts ambiguity, obscurity, failure, dependency, obsession, passion, revenge, humour, love, etc. Of course, scientists encounter these phenomena as well, but they are seen as rather disturbing influences of life. Scientists must make sure that these disturbances do not influence the outcome of their research. Artists may opt to use scientific and literary methods (in contemporay art see i.e.: Christine Borland, Herman de Vries, Michael Liddle). Fortunately, they also have the chance to develop knowledge purely on the basis of an ongoing, non-descriptive dynamic relationship, i.e. with their favoured material.
Artworks are often the subject-matter of research, or the results of a research activity. Jean Cocteau's film Orphée was the subject-matter of my Art Theory research, whereas the black panels are the result of my research into the technique of french polishing. Both activities can be seen as separate tasks of my whole Honours Year Research, the result of which is the postulation of the two distinctive paradigms mentioned above. Since the pig experiment and the associated art making process was meant to function as a cognitive tool, my submitted works of art must be recognized as witnesses of the artistic research process, rather than results.
One piece of my submitted artwork consists of an installation with three polished panels, exhibited in a gallery environment. The first panel is shown before the final layers of shellac have been applied. The second panel was used in the experiment, and shows traces of the pigs' rubbing activity. In the installation, it is mounted to the gallery wall, at the same height it was in the pig pen. The third polished panel is untouched and ready to be employed for a repetition of the experiment. It is presented in a crate used for the shipment of works of art. Being the last panel polished, it also demonstrates my progress in french polishing. The decision to juxtapose the raw quality of ply wood and packaging material with the polished surfaces is not a mere conceptual matter. It partly originates in my aesthetic preference for art works showing a physical rawness (see i.e. works of Jessica Stockholder, Fischli and Weiss, Richard Artschwager).
As a second piece, the equipment for my research into french polishing is exhibited in my studio space. It consists of the cabin-sized dust cover with a table inside and various paraphernalia used for the french polishing process. The idea to introduce the artist's work space and working condition in an art exhibition was, according to my view, successfully realised in Hilik Mirankar's 'Sukkah Installation' at the 9th Sydney Biennale.
Finally, the third piece of my submission is presented on a computer. It is my World Wide Web site - called PIGVISION. The WWW site borrows the structure of a fictitious research institute, and presents the documentations of my projects, such as this years "HogRub". Many contemporary visual artists are working in the area of fiction, such as Peter Hill, Res Ingold, Servaas, Juan Foncuberta and Pere Formiguera, Seymour Likely. The initial version of my WWW site, which I had set up two years ago, did not reveal its fictitious nature. After the experiment I began to overhaul the site completely. It is still structured according to a research station. However, in the "Interpretation Centre" visitors are informed that PIGVISION's facilities are fictitious. Rather than disguising myself behind a fictitious collaborative team, which I did in the previous version, it is revealed that all activities are part of my artistic concept. PIGVISION changes from a playful fiction into the platform of an artist with a high-profile research program.
The World Wide Web is increasingly becoming the media to communicate concepts and ideas. It also helps to observe and define one's wider context. There are several WWW sites which focus on the art/science interface. Californian based YLEM, for instance, is an international organization of artists, scientists, authors, curators, educators, and art enthusiasts who explore the intersection of the arts and sciences. With science and technology as driving forces in contemporary culture, YLEM members strive to bring the humanizing and unifying forces of art to this arena. Its members are given space to document their work on the Internet. They exclusively present art works which use the technological benefits of science, but fail, according to my view, to explicitly address Paul Feyerabend's cognitive function of art. Roman Signer, a Swiss artist, who recently featured in the art magazine Parkett, represents a much more powerful example of a researching artist. In his sculptural performance pieces, often using fireworks and explosives, lurks the spirit of exploration, or, as Christoph Doswald states: 'To him [Signer], the self evidence of scientific logic is an artistic challenge and an opportunity to engage in field studies with an aesthetic actionist bias.'
In concluding this paper, I would like to show what the artistic research program of PIGVISION may involve in regards to the interface between art and science - by referring again to Cocteau's film Orphée. In this film, Cocteau created a scene which, according to my view, is a beautiful suggestion of how artists may keep their dignity in a scientific world. It is the scene where the Princess plays a hide-and-seek game with Orpheus. Though he is a poet, I believe that Orpheus impersonates the scientific interpretation of knowledge, insofar as, during the whole film, he is constantly asking for a rational explanation of what is happening to him.
At the time of the scene, Orpheus is in the middle of his desperate search for comprehending the origin and meaning of the surreal radio messages, sent by his Death - the Princess. He has to drive into the town to see the Police Inspector, and faces an inquiry into the strange connection between his latest poetic discoveries and the mysterious disappearance of his rival poet Cegeste. The scene opens with a poignant low-angle shot, showing Orpheus as he leaves the car and turns towards a massive architecture of stairs and balustrades receding uphill. Up in the town, Orpheus perceives the Princess, on the other side, of the town square. He starts running in order to meet her. The Princess, however, begins to play a fantastic game of hide-and-seek. Several times she appears out of nothing, to let Orpheus follow her, and then disappears behind the dark shadows of columns and corners. When running to reach her, Orpheus is exposed to the incompetency and sarcasm of the town people. At the end of the scene, a group of signature hunting schoolgirls, prevent him from reaching the Princess who steps into her car and departs.
In the film Orphée, the Princess is a woman in love with Orpheus, who has her own ways of gaining what she is longing for. According to my interpretation, the Princess not only figures Death, but also knowledge seen as a relationship. The hide-and-seek game she plays with someone she is actually longing for, beautifully suggests what artistic research can mean in a scientific world: Sharing the passion for knowledge with scientists, the artist may powerfully play the Princess¹s game with everyone who seeks to comprehend the artist's work.
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