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Making sense of art and science

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If you have a question about this talk, please contact Agnes Bolinska.

Historian of science Charlotte Sleigh has been working with science-artists since 2013, and in this talk she presents her reflections on hoped-for and actual relations between the two disciplines. A brief history of the field of A&S (art and science) will highlight the different purposes that art-science hybrids have fulfilled in different contexts, with particular emphasis on the past twenty years in the UK. Key concepts that have been marshalled to mediate between the two fields are subjected to critical analysis.

A second part of the talk draws on Charlotte’s particular experience in two A&S projects of her own: Chain Reaction! (2013) and Biological Hermeneutics (2017). In it, she reflects on some of the difficult and even embarrassing realities involved, drawing on Shapin’s notion of ‘lowering the tone’ to help highlight some of the political tensions between art and science. Institutionalisation, money and space emerge amongst the categories in urgent need of more honest appraisal. Finally, related questions of research and critique are raised. There is a failure on the part of many scientists (just as there is amongst the general public) to understand and hence respect the research and critical practice that underpins contemporary art practice. What appears in galleries and elsewhere is the top tenth of the iceberg; research and critical practice are the nine-tenths that lie beneath. A&S collaborations may be improved, Sleigh argues, by an improved communication of this little-appreciated feature of contemporary art. Additionally she suggests that contemporary artists (as well as scientists) may have their research enhanced through an engagement with STS , which may be considered as the ‘out-sourced’ critical practice element of science.

This talk is part of the Departmental Seminars in History and Philosophy of Science series.

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