Art experiments

True to its commitment to researching and disseminating in Spain the most current creative practices, LABoral Centro de Arte de Gijón opens the exhibition Materia Prima.

Published: Nov 15, 2015
Art experiments

"Environment Dress", María Castellanos and Alberto Valverde. Courtesy of the artists.

Por Nicola Mariani, Nicola Mariani Arte y Sociedad.

True to its commitment to researching and disseminating in Spain the most current creative practices, LABoral Centro de Arte de Gijón opens the exhibition Materia Prima. Experimentos en arte digital y ciencia. This show, designed as an artistic-scientific experiment, focuses on the relationship between art, science and technology, emphasising the possibility to generate knowledge through art. From November 14, 2015 to May 8, 2016.

In his celebrated book The Scientific Outlook of 1931, the philosopher and mathematician Bertrand Russell states that science, in the beginning, resulted from men that loved the world. Men (and let me add women…) who realised the beauty of the stars and the sea, the winds and the mountains. And, precisely because they loved it all, the focused on the elements, the shapes and matters of nature trying to get a deeper understanding of Nature, going beyond the mere superficial observation.

The knowledge of the laws of the functioning of nature, brought about by their discoveries, granted humans a huge power to master their environment. The power based on the method and the concrete results of science explains, according to Russell, the success and prestige acquired by science in recent centuries as the leading paradigm to explain reality. The scientific technique, continues Russell, tends to consider nature and its components not as simple data, but as a “raw material” that serves any human purpose. The main characteristic of the scientific technique, in this sense, is that its way to know is not based on tradition, but on experiments. Therefore, the English philosopher thinks that scientific mentality -based on the experimental spirit- is the most distinctive characteristic of modern times.

If we extend these ideas of Russel on the experimental spirit as the defining feature of modernity to the field of cultural and artistic representations, we can realise how, along the twentieth century and the first half of the twenty-fist century, the scientific mentality has deeply penetrated the worldview of the contemporary man. From the avant-garde concerns of the first decades of last century to the most current forms creation of digital art, some of the key concepts of art theory and critic have been, and still are, things like observation, research, innovation, hybridisation and, especially, experimenting. In our digital era, science represents a source of inspiration increasingly important for artists.

Regarding the contemporary relationship between art and science, we should not forget a memorable page written by Umberto Boccioni in his book futurist aesthetics and art. In this passage the Italian artist summarises very well the aesthetic concerns of the futurist movement, emphasising that artists of his time needed to be updated on the great technical and cultural changes of that time and to connect especially with the new scientific sensitivity. Boccioni writes:

«The microbe is chased in the unfathomable depths of matter, its typical behaviour is monitored, photographed and defined in its infinitesimal individuality. Tens of thousands of electrons spin around the atom, separated from each other like the planets of the solar system and, like them, with inconceivable orbits and speeds, and the atom is already visible to our eyes, to our optical tools… Continents are cut into sections, the depth of the ocean and the incandescents gorges of volcanoes are explored… And artists: What do we do? We continued dividing nature into landscape, figure etc., etc. measuring the perspective of a street, and we are afraid to affect a light, slightly change a shape, create a work that does not follow traditional aesthetic laws! Let us admit that, if this infinite, this imponderable, this invisible gradually turns into an object of research and observation, this is because there is wonderful meaning flourishing among contemporary men, in the undiscovered depths of their conscience» (Futurist aesthetics and art, Acantillado, Barcelona, 2004, p. 171-172).

As we know, over the last century the limits of art have gradually expanded beyond the merely plastic field, towards traditionally foreign domains like technology or science. From the late 1970s, in particular, many initiatives have focused, in different parts of the world, on the intersection between art and science, starting lines of research, production and dissemination of these new creative practices.

Gene Gun Hack, Rüdiger Trojok. Courtesy of the artist.


Among other experiences, we should emphasise the historic exhibition Cybernetic Serendipity: The Computer and the Arts that took place between August and October 1968 in London's Institute of Contemporary (ICA) curated by Jasia Reichardt. This show was aimed at reflecting upon the way the “new technologies” were impacting the field of artistic creation. Following a pioneer approach that focused on the incipient role of computers in contemporary art, the show included pieces that combined disciplines as diverse as poetry, music, graphic design, animations, painting machines and robots. Gordon Pask, Bruce Lacey, Nam June Paik (one of the founding fathers of video art) or Jean Tinguely (well-known for his sculpture-machines) among others took part in the show.


Another landmark in the field of the research on the hybridisation between art and science is the foundation in 1979 of Ars Electronica in Linz (Austria). With its innovating initiatives (from the Sky Art Conference in 1980 or the 1992 nanotechnology festival, to the category of Hybrid Art at the Prix Ars Electronica created in 2007) Ars Electronica has made an essential contribution to the development of this field, introducing scientific issues in the theory and practice of media art.

Some months ago in this blog our colleage LABlogger José Luis Calderón published the post A few metres between art and science, where he suggested an interesting overview of the relationship between art and science in Spain. This updated summary must be now extended with another event that is clearly important in our country. It is Materia Prima. Experimentos en arte digital y ciencia that LABoral Centro de Arte de Gijón opens from November 14, 2015 to May 8, 2016.

Curated by Gerfried Stocker, Artistic Director of Ars Electronica, Materia Prima is an exhibition/activity made up by sixteen projects by international artists and collectives. It has been taylor-made for LABoral, considering its peculiar nature a s venue for artistic creation, education, research and participation at the same time. The discourse of the curator tries to go beyond the traditional exhibition format, it is an attempt to generate knowledge through works that are halfway between and science. In summary, visitors are offered an experimental exhibition or, rather a exhibition, collaborative and interdisciplinary process-based experiment.

The title – Materia Prima – clearly refers to that first raw material mentioned by Russell. However, now-a-days which, using Jeremy Rifkin's famous definition, we could as well call the age of access (The age of access, 2000), the concept of raw material, understood as a primary resource for human technical activities, acquires also an intangible meaning. As we know, now-a-days, data are probably the most valuable primary resource for many service providers that develop their successful businesses on the web 2.0 (Like, for example, Google or the leading online social networks).


ARTSAT team: Art and Satellite Project. Courtesy: Ars Electronica, 2015.


The exhibitional experiment Materia Prima is structured in six thematic labs, open for the observation and participation of visitors: BioLab (Bio-science Laboratory); FabLab (Digital fabrication lab); DataLab; Visualisation lab; GeoLab and Philosophy Lab. The goal of this labs is to group works according to the different phenomena chosen by the artists. The projects cover different scientific topics, such as, genetic engineering, as in the case of Andy Gracie's Drosophila titanus, aimed at breeding a species of fruit fly (drosophila) that in theory should be suited for living on the largest moon of Saturn, Titan; the machine-human relationship, as in Environment Dress by the Asturian artist María Castellanos and the Madrid native Alberto Valverde, who propose clothing with sensory devices, or data compilation, as in the case of ARTSAT1:Invader, the first artistic satellite in history, sent into space on February 28, 2014 by a team lead by ARTSAT: Art and Satellite Project, with the aim of capturing and broadcasting image data and communication with ground control.


AGRIEBORZ, Nick Ervinck. Courtesy of the artist.


Lovers of the interaction between art and science, as well as the general public interested in the most innovating and experimental trends in current art should not miss the visit to Materia Prima. Experimentos en arte digital y ciencia. The interesting Programme of activities related with the exhibition can be seen in the web site of LABoral Centro de Arte.

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