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Wrap Up: Art of Artiscience Symposium

We held our ‘Art of Artiscience’ Symposium as part of 2015 Edinburgh International Science Festival on Saturday 4th April inside the Anatomy Lecture theatre at Summerhall. The event explored the interactions and the relationship between the art & science. Presentations were made by artists featured in the exhibition programme How The Light Gets In; Andrew Carnie, Fraser Ross, Sylva Caledonia with Tim Collins and Reiko Goto Collins. Following the presentation Colin Sanderson who runs The Artiscience library at Summerhall and Professor John Mullins, Director of the British Heart Foundation Centre for Research Excellence at the University of Edinburgh joined the artists with initial comments before opening up the discussion to the audience; a lively debate followed.

The artists described their practices and areas of scientific interest. One described experimentation with a scientist in a neurobiology lab; although the artwork is produced outside the lab. Another artist is informed by natural science and plant physiology using new materials and technologies to experiment with the mimicry of plant movement. The last two artists work with scientists but focus on the cultural experience and social understanding of a Scottish forest.

Featured artist Andrew Carnie has worked across art and science for decades. His current work focuses on brain science. During his presentation Andrew spoke about his relationship with Dr Richard Wingate of the MRC Centre of Mental Developmental Neurobiology. Andrew explained how this collaboration was a helpful “testing bed” from the point of view of Dr Richard Wingate’s teaching and how this has sparked other interests for him as a scientist in the SciArt field. Andrew described his own work as being “based on the science and removed from it… I make art, I don’t make science…”

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Like Andrew, Fraser Ross also talked about his work in a practical sense. Having a background in product design he explained how he experiments with different ‘smart’ materials and technologies to achieve a sense of natural movement and interaction. He explains the idea behind his man-made objects on show for How the Light Gets In, which are a series of works based on plants and nature. By taking direct casts of organic forms Fraser is able to make man-made interpretations of natural textures and shape. Fraser relates his method of working to the way a scientist would carry out research highlighting similarities in the way they both develop an idea to try and get achieve a conclusion.

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Tim Collins and Reiko Goto Collins are artists and researchers; they are both PhDs working across art, science and the humanities. They talked about their current work on the Black Wood of Rannoch, one of Scotland’s most iconic ancient pine forests. Working with citizens, land managers and scientists; they conduct an integrated reading of the scientific, cultural and aesthetic conditions of the forest and its history. Describing the ‘Sylva Caledonia’ exhibition Reiko explained their interest in a contemporary understanding of Gaelic place names; talking about how they related to experience, perception, memory, empathic attention and a symbolic relationship to the landscape. She described how these ideas were explored and embedded in the living materials, sculpture, video and maps in the exhibition.

A Q&A session with the audience concluded the event focusing on the historical and contemporary relationships between art & science. It was especially insightful to hear from Prof. John Mullins who gave a scientific perspective on these topics. The discussion then moved in the direction of language. Colin Sanderson who has devoted his life to the study of relationships between art and science coining the word ‘Artiscience’, spoke very passionately about the importance to have a word for this practice. One audience member asked whether it was necessary to place so much importance on the language used when discussing the subject of art & science, sparking discussions on the relevance of language on for both artists and scientists.

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It was clear to see there is important and ground breaking work being carried out that explores connections between Art & Science. The event left those who attended with some questions answered and others perhaps still to be fulfilled. However there is no doubt that contributions by the artists were enlightening, providing insight into different perspectives of the contemporary Atriscient practices.

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