Art & Science: An interrelationship

One can regret that nowadays the relationship between Art and Science appears to be limited to the use of new digital technology in the production of Artworks instead of questioning our vision of the world. But what is the reality of a dialogue that has never paused to strengthen itself in recent centuries? Which are the networks that stimulate the Art-Science interogation today?

Decoding of the world
What is the link between the artist Joep Van Lieshout, the astrophysicist Jean-Philippe Uzan, and the composer Eddie Ladoire? As a tribute from the Dutch designer to the first man in space, a rusty metallic cockpit named Vostok has been installed (untill March 2011) in The City of Science & Industry in Paris. The capsule has been placed here to let us hear the sound of the cosmos, within a composition made out of the information collected by the scientist. To experiment with the death and life of a star, a pulsar, a supernova.

Transcribing mathematical datas into sensible material, expressing what cannot be heard, or perceiving what cannot be seen, are missions given to the artists when scientific knowledge has reached the tangible boundaries of the universe. We all know that no sound can be heard from the void of space thus. But that is not the subject of the debate. Is this an Artwork? Let us call it a device made up with the aim of reconciling Art and Science, which actually never broke away!

When art, or at least its market has transgressed the limits of all vanities, looking for inspiration in the land of science, trying to find here a decoding of the world might be part of this necessary re-conquest of meaning at a time of political and religious bankruptcy!

This desire to stimulate the dialogue between Science and Art was not only brought back to life in Paris’s City of Science & Industry, not since the nomination of Claudie HaignerÈ, a former minister and cosmonaut at the head of the double institution(1). This interrelationship has been strengthened over the 20 last years by artists whose productions found a large audience in an emerging digital art scene, in video games, cinema and electronic music fields.

Scienar: the language of maths
Albert Einstein once stated that: the Artist and the Scientist each substitute a self-created world for the experiential one, with the goal of transcendence.

Convinced that Art and Science are not separate entities but just two facets of the same culture, which encompasses all human endeavours to understand, represent and transcend the world of “reality” in which we live, the members of the Scienar(2) European network decided to reinforce this relationship with symposiums, exhibitions and visualization tools for the web(3).

The group of researchers and teachers who gathered at the Royal Dutch Academy of Science in Amsterdam is not only taking into account that our common European cultural heritage, is profoundly based on the links existing between Art & Science from the very beginning of classical Greek culture, up until today’s digital time. The group also pointed out that this dialogue would have never developed without the common language of mathematics: three emblematic scenarios, three keyconcepts in the interconnected History of Art and Science were selected to introduce the oration: geometry, symmetry and relativity.

From the Antiquity to the Middle Ages, Classical Art represented the space “as it is” in its “frozen” and rigid Euclidean structure; platonic solids and the Golden Mean as the prototypes of beauty and harmony, recalled Dr Mauro Francaviglia, chairman of the Universities of Calabria and Torino
(Italy).The Art of Renaissance which was dominated by perspective has developed with the same conception of “beautiful painting” and harmony, relying on the same geometric basis as the only paradigm, but considering nature and space
as “it appears to the eye”.

Geometric interpolation

While Modern Art was trying to represent the world as the mind could perceive it, Riemannian geometry with the power of mathematics allowed us to anticipate the dissolution of an absolute space in favour of many private ones dominiated by non-linearity, curvature, extradimensions and dynamics, as time and movement were starting to pervade artistic expressions.

By the end of the 19th Century, scientific breakthroughs became a source of inspiration for artists. Examples begin with the Impressionists’ desire to decompose colours according to their light spectrum, while Muybridge was using photography as a research tool to apprehend human and animal motion. During this historical period of search and discovery, in modern physics, Brancusi, in his life long quest for the essence of things, overstepped the bounds of sculpture from academism basis to symbolism, just as Mondrian, in 1913 was starting to conquer the world with his geometric abstractions(4).

It has been only 100 years, since Futurism was trying to capture a restless world in motion, recalls Marcella Lorenzi, from the University of Calabria, pointing out how digital photography is now achieving the goals of that time: painting with light is now accessible for anyone with any digital camera, she said. It’s a kind a generative art able to include time as a fourth dimension.

Symmetry or the artistic expression of nature
What is the part played by symmetry in this ancestral dialogue? Dr Daniela Richtarikova from the Slovak Technical University (Slovakia) gave us a synopsis of its timeless relevance: Declared to be a fundamental organising principle in nature and culture, symmetry not only brings harmony, order, and elegance, it allows for understanding the organisation of a pattern, and provides a means for determining both invariance and change when interactions occur. It can both describe it’s own regularity and a chaotic state, produce objects with the complexity of an organic shape: regular molecular structure, periodic performances, music scores, orbital movement, moon phases, biological rhythms, heart beat…
Nature is a self-regulating complex system keeping balance, signified only by means of symmetries. Fractal geometry as an outcome manages to join random influence with a system of simple rules resulting in production of a deterministic object repeating its structure on any scale.
That’s why it is so useful in the description and modelling of natural shapes.

Our senses have been forged over millennia, by and around the physical conditions we commonly encounter in our life. If scientists of the 20th Century started to study more profound aspects that are far from our common experience, digital technologies make it possibile to represent and visualize experimentation of such extrapolations and phenomena. What can be more explicit that an excerpt of Star Trek to understand the effect of a black hole? What would virtual worlds be without the polygon?
No matter what one’s purposes, perhaps the most powerful methods of human thought are those that help us find new kinds of representations, pointed out Marvin Minsky, professor at MIT, the American technology institute that will celebrate its 150th anniversary in March 2011.

VÈronique Godè

(1) The Palace of discovery and The City of Science & Industry are now linked by the same management under the name of Universcience since January 2010.
(2) : will soon be transfered to - Next Scienar meeting will take place between Frebruary the 1st-4th in
Bratislava (Slovakia). See:
(3) WebMathematica presented by Slovak Technical University of Bratislava enables the creation of dynamic web sites through a simple development process, and visualization of complex mathematical
formulas such as fractals, directly from a web browser
(4) Untill March the 21st 2011, Centre Pompidou
in Paris matches a retrospective exhibition of the painter Piet Mondrian with the avant-guardist
mouvement De Stijl, of which he was a figurehead.

Published in the Digitalarti Mag #5.

Digitalarti Mag, the international digital art and innovation magazine.

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