Wednesday, August 19, 2015

 On The Edge Gouache on paper 34.5 x 53.5 cm 2001

Last week I attended a very interesting and stimulating symposium in Melbourne, hosted by Deakin University. The title for the symposium was Unruly Techniques: Linking Knowledge Practices Through Art, Science and Technology.

Also, last weekend, I visited the National Gallery of Victoria's fabulous exhibition Masterpieces From The Hermitage: The Legacy Of Catherine The Great


On Sunday, here in Brisbane, I attended Neil deGrasse Tyson's amazing presentation where he discussed a range of cosmic, intellectual and social topics.
 Neil deGrasse Tyson event in Brisbane August 16 2015. Hosted by THINK INC

So, I had an array of stimulating experiences within a few days. Always a great thing! But, given my interests in art, science and technology, I come away from these experiences with some clearer thoughts and perspectives.

But, some background first.

Brisbane born [!] twin sisters Margaret Wertheim and Christine Wertheim both made keynote presentations at the Unruly Techniques symposium. Margaret has studied physics and mathematics and is a well known science writer. Christine is a writer, performer and artist who teaches at the California Institute For The Arts in LA. Christine's keynote Pata-Critics: The Art and Science Of Imaginary Solutions was fascinating and will be discussed in another post. Both women live in Los Angeles and are co-founders of the not-for-profit The Institute For Figuring .

Margaret and Christine Wertheim are also the instigators of a most wonderful project ie: The Crochet Coral Reef Project which the website describes as The Crochet Coral Reef is a woolly celebration of the intersection of higher geometry and feminine handicraft, and a testimony to the disappearing wonders of the marine world. It is one of the largest community arts/science projects in the world with around 8,000 people contributing I first heard of the project a number of years ago and was intrigued by its hyperbolic math inspiration, as well as the use of handicraft to explain/visualise a difficult concept. The project's intersection with hyperbolic maths is explained HERE. Subtexts include environmental issues as well as disruptive perceptions of a traditional feminine handicraft

Seeking Perspective Oil on linen 92 x 102 cm
I've uploaded this painting because many people who saw it at my recent exhibition CODE commented on it being like coral. This description if often given when my tree-of-life cascades across the painting.

Margaret Wertheim made some interesting statements and observations that are dear to my heart. I was thrilled that she clearly articulated them and to such an audience. Early in her presentation...remembering this is at a art, science and technology symposium... she quite forcefully stated that science does not need to have creativity added to it...because it is already intrinsically creative!

And, towards the end of her presentation she made a comment about the crochet hook being a piece of technology - a handicraft technology. She made a plea for the arts to not think of legitimate technology, for enabling creative expression, as only being the kind you plug in, a computer etc. She cleverly and humorously described our fingers as creating digitised work!

SO - Some thoughts-observations:

After listening to Neil deGrasse Tyson and thinking about all the other science events, books, Youtube videos etc I've read/watched/attended - something occurred to me. I actually think that science generally is currently much more exciting, innovative, flexible and creative than the arts [generally] currently are! I agree with Margaret Wertheim - science does not need to have creativity added, even bestowed, upon it by the arts or artists or anything else.

Indeed, maybe it's the arts that needs self-examination, to become more dynamic, reach beyond the tight boundaries of the market and go searching for its creative restore a kind of inspirational capacity that contemporary science is stirring.

The so-called art/science nexus, I believe is not about one being good for the other or appropriating aspects of the other, but more about each pursuit maintaining a confident integrity. Science, I suspect is more confident than the arts, which in some areas seems to be needy of science's approval. If there's to be cross inspiration I suggest it comes from a confidence that exudes, not only academic and intellectual rigour, but also playfulness....and all that it encompasses.

DeGrasse Tyson made a comment that struck me as significant. He said that by being a scientist he could stay a child ie: keep the wonder, play with ideas, imagine the seemingly impossible, have fun. I don't detect a lot of fun in the arts, particularly the visual arts, these days! Perhaps the arts, somehow, disallows the inner child, quelling the kind playfulness that pushes boundaries at the same time as inspiring. Maybe artists need to also feel happy to declare, I love being an artist because it means I can hold onto and love my inner child?

[Christine Wertheim's Unruly Techniques symposium presentation on pataphysics - the fictional in science as distinct from science fiction - gave clues for art']
Tree-of-Life Time Travelling Oil on linen 85 x 150 cm

The Neil deGrasse Tyson Brisbane event attracted 2,500 people. He received a standing ovation from the entire audience. The rise of the intelligent-geek-science-'celebrity' is refreshing and illustrates the public's desire to be informed and inspired. People like deGrasse Tyson will help spread scientific literacy, thus leading to increasing public understanding, and informed critique, of 21st century issues. Politicians, policy makers and educators...take note!

Here's me at the Neil Degrasse Tyson even in Brisbane. I got there early - keen!
Margaret Wertheim's comment about the crochet hook being a technological tool, is exactly how I have thought about the paint brush and paint. They are technologies - yes, old and traditional - but given they have been around, in some form or another, for 40,000 years I suggest there must be something about brush and paint that is important ...something about us being human. New technologies offer amazing possibilities for everyone including scientists and artists, but they belong to a pantheon of tools that include seemingly simple ones too.

A full and diverse tool-kit reflects sophistication...don't you think? Indeed, it's much more fun if you have lots of things to play with!

And, now to...

The Masterpieces From The Hermitage exhibition. This exhibition illustrates Catherine The Great's dexterous ability to govern, learn and see the potential in cultural activity, expression and acquisition. The art in the exhibition provides many examples of visual language, that an audience of the time could decipher to gain meaning and knowledge, both explicit and implied.
 A didactic that gives some idea of Catherine The Great's expansive thinking - from the NGV's Masterpieces From The Hermitage exhibition

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