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Connections

 

Humanity has just entered what is probably the greatest transformation it has ever known . . . something is happening in the structure of the human consciousness. It is another species of life that is just beginning.

~Pierre Teilhard de Chardin

 

Question: What can artists and scientists learn from each other?

 

We are part of a rare and exciting moment, where humans, coupled with their communication technologies, are creating new and unprecedented interdisciplinary communities. The joining of these formerly disconnected communities is accelerating, and new invention, which functions at the intersection of art, science, and technology, is blooming everywhere.

 

 HEXAPOD by Stelarc. 2003 5 meters in diameter, 250 kgms. 

 

Both art and science encompass research, pose questions and propose hypotheses and artist and scientists have always been explorers where research guided by new ideas and hypothesis have given rise to new ways of seeing. Both Art and science involve asking questions, investigation and informed expression about the nature of our physical universe, materials and structures. Both art and science pose hypothesis, create systems of analysis, investigate, question and evolve these systems. Both art and science explore perception and consciousness through analysis of the nature of color, shape, and form. Research and action in both the arts and sciences fosters an understanding that creativity is a primary necessity for advancement in the arts and sciences.

The Italian painter, draftsman, and scientist Leonardo da Vinci (1452–1519) has, historically epitomized this joining of the arts and sciences. His creations, observations and methods of investigation were akin to both artistic and scientific modes. We can see the artist/scientist fusion in looking at Leonardo da Vinci’s methodical study of anatomy as it informed his understanding and ability to paint and sculpt the human body. His research into the anatomy of the humans eventually resulted in the design of the first robot in human history. It is speculated that “Leonardo's robot” as it was called was designed to move its head, twist its arms and sit up. This design was the result of his research in human anatomy from the Vitruvian man, drawings and notes from 1490. [1]

 

 Vitruvian man by Leonardo Da Vinci. 1487. 34.4cm by 25.5cm.


 

The Dutch artist Johannes Vermeer (1632-75) was said to use a camera obscura the forerunner, of the modern camera, to realize his accurate and realistic perspectives. Here the vision of the artist is fusing with the high tech science of the time as Vermeer was a friend with Anton van Leeuwenhoek (1632-1723) the Dutch scientist known for improving the microscope. In a camera obscura, a lens in an enclosed room creates a projected image of an interior on the wall, which are both upside-down and backwards. Since then the film Tim's Vermeer with Tim Jenison has done a wonderful job of looking at the painting techniques of Johannes Vermeer, in order to test his theory that Vermeer painted with the help of optical devices.

In observations that allowed Leeuwenhoek to observe life in a drop of water he says:

No more pleasant sight has met my eye than this of so many thousands of living creatures in one small drop of water..." ~ Anton van Leeuwenhoek [2]

Pablo Picasso’s (1881–1973) Cubist painting style was said to reflect Albert Einstein’s (1855-1955) theories, about the relative nature of observations, where our points of view effect and reflect the elusive nature of seeing. [3]

The scientist Billy Kluver (1927-2004) and the contemporary painter/sculptor Robert Rauschenberg (1925-2008) founded the EAT group (Experiments with Art and Technology), which fostered and supported ongoing collaboration between artists and scientists. This led to the iconic moment in 1966 when they organized “9 Evenings: Theatre and Engineering”--a series of performances that united artists and engineers and accelerated these relationships. These early collaborations continued to break down barriers between the arts and scientists in the 60’s, 70’s, and 80’s, and indirectly launched and supported the experimental sound artist John Cage, dancer Merce Cunnigham, and pop artist Andy Warhol. [4]


Chronos 10 by Nicolas Schöffer. The Musèe de Sculpture de Plein Air de La Ville de Paris, an open-air museum created in 1980 on the banks of the River Seine, features sculpture by French and international artists from the second half of the twentieth century.


Today, more than ever before, there is an increasing bond between the artistic and scientific communities, with scientists and artists finding mutual inspiration in each other’s work. Some of this research is happening at universities, while other explorations are located within industrial and research labs across the world.

Stelarc’s work is a good example of the coalescence of art and science. HEXAPOD, with a leg-span of five meters and weighing 250 kilograms, walks more like a dog than an insect. The human rider controls locomotion and navigation by turning his torso and shifting his body weight.

If the rider lifts one leg, three mechanical legs are released and swing forward, while the other legs are restrained, keeping the robot stable.

With no onboard computer or sensor system, HEXAPOD is a mechanical animal with a human brain. [5] This project is a collaboration with the Performance Arts Digital Research Unit at The Nottingham Trent University in England and the School of Cognitive and Computing Sciences (COGS) at The University of Sussex. [6] While the concept and performance are by Stelarc, Dr. Harvey Inman of COGS designed the robot, Dr. Sophia Lycouris did the choreography, and Professor Barry Smith of NTU acted as the director of the Digital Research Unit, coordinating the work.