Methods in art and science

Peter Weibel


Director of ZKM | Center for Art and Media Technology, Karlsruhe

Banquet_nodes and networks is an example for the current paradigm shiftin curating contemporary art. The time of surfing on a hedonistic waveseems to be over. Works of art addressing science, technology and societyare becoming more and more relevant. Traditional art after 1945 obscuredthe relationship between art and science, and only the media artsmaintained a dialogue and contact with the sciences, because theythemselves were based on technology.Artists are attracted to the methods of science, because they sense theirstructural similarity to the methods of art. The methods of art are differentfrom the methods of science, but are still methods. Art and science shouldbe compared on the basis of the different methodologies and theirparallels and differences. Science is not influenced on the level ofproduction by art, but on the level of methods. Because any time thatscience develops a tendency for its methods to become too authoritarian,become too dogmatic, science turns to art and to the methodology of art,which is a plurality of methods. The methods of science are characterizedby doctrines, by enforced methodology. Art lives on the tolerance ofmethods, on the diversity of methods. The success of Ramon y Cajal indiscovering the true nature of the neural nets is not only due to themethod of Camillo Golgi, who articulated a wrong theory about thedynamics of the neural nets. The success has also to do with Cajal’sartistic virtuosity in drawing. Cajal is an example of the mutual influencesof art and science of a higher order.In his book from 1984 Science as Art, Paul Feyerabend tried to show themechanisms of the social construction of science which are comparable tothe mechanisms of the social construction of art. A community ofinstitutions and individuals (artists, critics, curators, collectors, galleries,museums) creates a social consensus about what art is. Likewise acommunity of institutions and individuals agrees consensually whatscience is. From time to time there are individuals who challenge theconsensus and propose a change of paradigms. In his books LaboratoryLife (1979) and Science in Action (1987), Bruno Latour shows that our ideaof modernity is based on a strict distinction between natural and socialinstances. But he shows that the distinction between culture and nature,between society and natural sciences is not totally clear. How much socialinstances helped to construct nature and how much have the naturalsciences and their ideas of nature constructed culture and society? Heclaims that in reality there is an exchange between society and nature andart and natural sciences, which has created hybrids. The transfer of social categories on the construction of nature through modern natural scienceshas also transformed our society. The transfer of natural categories on theconstruction of culture through modern society has transformed anddefined our ideas of society and culture. There is a mutual transfer goingon between society and culture, nature and natural sciences, betweenculture and natural sciences. There is no objective nature any more,separated from social construction. Art and science meet and converge inthe method of social construction. Art as social construction and scienceas social construction converge in the postmodern field. Just as thebanquet_nodes and network exhibition shows, and Manuel Castellsexplained in “The Rise of the Network Society” (1996), volume one in histrilogy The Informat ion Age: Economy, Society and Culture, ourtechnological devices are social constructions too, and Internet doesn’tmake any exception.