A few metres between art and science

On the occasion of the project “200 metros” by the artist Andy Gracie as part of his art residency at LABoral Centro de Arte, we review some of the relationships between art and science.

Published: Jun 22, 2015
A few metres between art and science

Andy Gracie

By José Luis Calderón, Nicola Mariani Arte y Sociedad

Can a photo of a constellation or a galaxy be considered art? How about a device for measuring different types of forces between bodies? How about a video showing the most remote places of the ocean? Since the limits of art expanded in the 1960s beyond the exclusively plastic, it makes more sense that society wonders how far the limits of art are. The relationship between art and science is one of these, until very recently, unusual symbiosis. Very poorly developed in Spain compared with other countries where the investment in research is much higher. Nevertheless, this field is gradually becoming more visible. In this article I present a brief and updated overview of this relationship between art and science in our country, and at the same time I will take the opportunity to discuss the last project of the artist Andy Gracie carried out during his residency at LABoral Centro de Arte, related with marine science.

We, the less learned ones in this matter, could think initially that this relationship “art-science” occurs mostly when the latter is a topic included in the first one (art), or when an artistic technique (photography, video…) is the format or medium that reflects the result of scientific research. This first question from both side of the coin was one of the approaches presented in 2014 by the exhibition “Campos de la imagen” at the museum MARCO in Vigo, curated by Alberto Ruiz de Samaniego and resulting from the research programme BALIZA. However, as that show and many artists have expressed, the different types of relationships between science and art go beyond this double look.

The research group “Arte, Ciencia y Naturaleza” of Universidad Complutense has been exploring this kind of relationships for over ten years, focusing on natural sciences. The work carried out by this group has resulted in several exhibitions. The last one, “Ars Herbaria”, took place last March and April in Real Jardín Botánico de Madrid, featuring several artists that, by means of sculptures, photographs, paintings and other technological media illustrated the different types of links that exist between art, botany and zoology.


Exhibition of Marc Quinn at CAC in Málaga

Even though through history there have been some examples of this relationship, it is not until contemporary art and especially until post-modernity, that we got more evidence of the potential of this marriage. One of the first and most famous artists in this sense has been the British MarcQuinn, member of the group YBA, whose link with science revolves around anatomy and the human body within his artistic and creative process. Malaga’s CAC dedicated him an exhibition last autumn 2014.

There are also many artists whose work or research principles where not so directly based on science and, nevertheless, they have used topics linked with this field. A good example is the series of constellations by the renowned Thomas Ruff.

Thomas Ruff. Cassini 13. 2009. Courtesy of Thomas Ruff and JohnenCaler. Berlin.

Over the last years many artists have used technology and science as an essential tool in their creative process, but the perspectives to address this topic are as varied as personal. Obviously, related in each case with the interests or concerns of each artist. What should also be pointed out is how in many cases technology and science, instead of being just one more tool, are an integrated part of the research and the work of art in itself. This is what we see in the work of artists like Andy Gracie, who for quite a few years now has been researching the different types of relationships between these two disciplines. Gracie has studied for several years the fields of universe and space, astrobiology and robotics. He uses a variety of languages and formats (installation, robotics, sound, video …) that reflect the different ways in which human beings can relate with their world. And something essential: In this works scientific research is part of the work of art, and at the same time the work of art is based on scientific research, in a total symbiosis, where one cannot exist without the other.

As for this year in LABoral Centro de Arte, the participation of Gracie with the work “200 metros” is a result of his winning the art residency called by the Art Centre and the Port Authority of Gijon around six months ago. This residency consists of a research project on the relationship of art and marine science. His project consists specifically of an underwater probe that is introduced 200 metre deep in the Canyon of Aviles, equipped with a camera and sensors, to collect data (light, sound…) from this frontier between sea and deep sea. Between the place inhabited by sea animals and plants and the unknown and uninhabitable world. The artist is interested both in the final result and the process, and he insists on the importance of the work team –artists and scientists- that takes part in this research. The exhibition will open July 17 at the exhibition hall of the Old Fish Market of the Port of Gijon and will be open until the beginning of autumn. In this link you can see a video with a brief explanation of this project and the subsequent exhibition.

Gracie started this thorough research on the relationship between art and marine science last September when he met the curator specialising in “art and science” Monica Bello, during a seminar at the Railway Museum of Asturias (Gijon) that gathered artists like Jean Painleve, Jorge Chachero and the collective for the research on art and science Hackteria. Before, almost two years ago, Andy Gracie took part in a collective exhibition on the relationship between art and science in Bilbao, organised by Fundación BBVA, showcasing the work of students of the School of Fine Arts of the Basque Country together with the work of three established artists: Gracie, ChristmaSommerer and Laurent Mignonneau. On that occasion the show was accompanied by the forum “Overload” on art and science.

“Deep Data Prototype _ 2", part of the project “200 metros” by Gracie

Precisely the role played by forums, workshops and educational activities accompanying the exhibition is the other essential pillar in the path of this new and productive gap open between art and science. This is often linked to the exhibitions and it has been a topic in fashion (whether well or poorly disseminated) among the leading art institutions. Some from more traditional historical approaches, others from more tangible and current perspectives.

In March 2014 Fundación Telefónica hosted a seminar on “Art and Science” that gathered presenters such as the artists Rafael Lozano-Hemmer, Daniel Canogar and the aforementioned curator Mónica Bello, director of Arts@CERN. Regarding the three great museums of Spain’s capital city, in the autumn of 2014  Museo del Prado organised a seminar on the relationship between art and science based on art works of the collection of the museum. Museo Reina Sofia did the same that same autumn focusing on this relationship and the preservation and restoration of art works.

This following weeks Museo Thyssen-Bornemisza will also have a say in this field, with two essential activities. Firstly, the temporary exhibition “Arte y Ciencia”, that opens next June 22 as part of the exhibition programme “Miradas cruzadas”. It includes ten works of the permanent collections that illustrate the different types of links between science and art throughout the last centuries of the history of painting. At the same time, on June 24 and 25, the museum will host a professional summit on art and science that will gather some of the most important experts on this subject coming from American and European universities, in addition to the established artist Antoni Muntadas.

Let us be confident that this research on this interesting combination “science-art/art-science” go well, and these contributions are as fruitful as possible, in other fields of society, for as we can see, on occasions, just a few metres seem to separate one from the other.

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