The distinctions drawn between scientific and artistic endeavors have a long, historical trajectory, punctuated by a series of debates on the relative merits of each. T he apparent consensus regarding the impermeability of their categorical boundaries has two roots. The first was the scientific revolution of the Renaissance, predicated in large part upon the rise of Copernican cosmology, empiricism, and the systematic development of modern mathematics, physics, biology, and chemistry. The second was the gradual institutionalization of disciplinary divisions in the faculties of the modern university, which in the 19th century culminated in the segregation of the European educational system between classical studies and scientific and technical training. Despite the legacy of a modern-day institutional compartmentalization that seeks to distance the arts (and the humanities of which they are a part) from the natural sciences, they revolve within a shared history characterized as much by negotiation, mutual learning, and symbiosis as by pronouncements of fundamental difference. The recognition of this shared history as well as a desire to draw upon it as both intellectual resource and source material helps drive the emergence of what has been termed the "new Leonardos" and "Renaissance teams," a loosely held movement that thrives upon the collaboration between artists and scientists. The participants in these collaborations have forged new intellectual pathways, often articulating areas of study that combine insights from the sciences and humanities. This international collaborative research project will explore the institutional, political, epistemic, and technological matrices that both allow for these interfaces to emerge and that shape their development and wider impact. The investigators will conduct a multi-sited study of contemporary collaborative projects involving diverse groups of scientists and artists in the United States and the United Kingdom. Major questions that the investigators address include: What sorts of resources (material, financial, and regulatory) are marshaled for the collaborations? How and why do artists engage with and reinterpret a range of scientific practices? Why are scientists interested in artistic representations of their work? What new forms of public access are created when scientists open their laboratories to artists? How do such collaborations tackle the ethical and political dimensions of complex problems? How do these collaborations allow for a shift to occur regarding how participants and their various audiences understand the content and purpose of art and science as well as their place within society? In pursuing these questions, the investigators will employ participant observation, interviews, focus groups, surveys, and visual interpretative methods in order to generate detailed descriptions and analyses of the day-to-day activities and products of five sites of art-science collaboration. In addition to previously used approaches, the investigators will focus particular attention on geographic aspects of the interactions among scientists and artists in order to recognize the spatial situatedness of people, things and the relations that bind and transform them.

The project will make a substantial contribution toward understanding how "lessons learned" can be transposed into other contexts, thereby developing and realizing models for public outreach at different sites. Because the examination of science-art collaborations often entails the advancement of public knowledge about a number of contemporary world-wide crises and discoveries, the project will serve as a study of the development of innovative strategies for the delivery of popular education and knowledge transfer devoted to timely, policy-related issues of the larger public interest. The project will aid in the mapping of a broad network of emerging resources for further collaborations across the humanities and social and physical sciences, making it a resource for researchers and funding agencies seeking to develop new directions in research collaboration. The project also has the potential to have a transformative impact upon funding agencies. As interdisciplinary, collaborative projects, funded by both public and private foundations and occurring both inside and outside the bounds of the academy become more widespread, projects like this one can help provide a model for investigation and a baseline for assessing their effects and effectiveness.

Project Report

In our research we sought to explore and learn from contemporary art-science endeavors. We were interested in the contexts, mechanisms and procedures that have shaped the dynamic and engaging forms of these collaborative projects. This work is of interest to many academic disciplines, science institutions, art-science organizations, creative practitioners, and the public. The art-science collaborations we studied represent a great diversity of endeavors and generated a number of insights. We group these insights under the research questions that fostered them. What particular institutional and networked spaces and conditions are shaping art-science collaboration? The institutional landscape of art-science is maturing through a series of internationally recognized and highly influential art-science organizations whose role is to commission and curate. They sit alongside a myriad of artist-led projects. Art-science is becoming well-established, with high profile organizations and institutions providing or supporting both production and display. There is also a rise in the number of participatory, "extra-institutional" efforts, born out of alliances between artists, scientists, non-profits, city agencies, and funding groups. A growing alignment of art-science organizations with higher education institutions is producing a broader recognition of the value of art-science collaborations. The development and maintenance of art and science organizations and projects is increasingly being facilitated by the skills base, access to grants, and technologies, enabled by operating in academic settings. In what manner do art-science projects address the ethical and political dimensions of complex problems? Undertaking art-science projects creates a set of critical spaces and practices for artist and scientist alike, where reflections on the ethical and political dimensions of the scientific process can take place. These projects can create rich experiential and informational contexts through which audiences can explore the ethical and political dimensions of complex problems, often in participatory ways. Art-science projects enable critical interventions into the ethical and political dimensions of science by raising important issues and challenging its often unquestioned power. The participatory engagements at the center of some art-science projects provide community members with the opportunity to express their own views, rather than rely on artists or scientists to do so on their behalf. Art-science projects facilitate technological development that illuminates the politics and ethics of these technologies. What kinds of technologies emerge from new art-science collaborations and what is their impact on spaces of knowledge production? The process of art-science projects fosters new encounters between those involved and the technologies central to their production. In doing so, these projects reconfigure the technological orientation of users, shaping their bodies and minds in the process, as well as fostering the emergence of critical spaces in which to reflect on the place and use of these technologies. Art-science projects often result in prototypes of technical objects that extend and/or re-configure the capacities of the individuals encountering them. The problems generated by art-science projects often stimulate the development of new technological solutions that can have unintended uses. The practical and conceptual tools art-science projects develop reconfigure spaces, including regenerating natural environments, critically engaging the spaces of the studio or the lab, and extending the possibilities of public and private display spaces within and without the gallery. What types of public impact are art-science collaborations having and what are the implications for public access and debate around the critical social questions they raise? Art-science projects proffer aesthetic engagements through which cross-cutting issues in contemporary science can be addressed and by which the ‘publics’ for these issues can be extended. Art-science projects based in the community often involve diverse community members and groups. Many art-science projects help to catalyze the formation of new publics for the production, consumption and critique of scientific knowledge and information. Art-science projects can offer different pathways into contemporary scientific questions and reflections on their social implications for diverse audiences. Art-science projects mobilize the aesthetic force of art to engage lay publics with embodied experiences of scientific investigations and distant environments What contributions do art-science projects make to art historical and theoretical discussions? Along with their contributions to scientific and technological innovation, art-science collaborations also catalyse the critical advancement of discussions and developments in the art world. These concern ideas of the production of art, its critical force, contexts of display and the forms of audience encounters it generates. Art-science collaborations, informed by ideas of relational aesthetics and new-genre public art, continue to question both the nature of the artists’ labor and the kinds of relationships that are created as part of the art-making process. Art-science projects that experiment with scientific techniques and practices extend the art world’s critical questioning of the process of art-making and the materiality of the outputs. Art-science projects bring interdisciplinarity, an increasingly important subject in the art world, to the fore. For a longer report with images and publication infomation please go to the website ( ) to download the project report.

National Science Foundation (NSF)
Division of Behavioral and Cognitive Sciences (BCS)
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Thomas J. Baerwald
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University of Arizona
United States
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