Recent VCS graduate Alyse Anderson has set out on a project that will further develop the ideas she explored at SVA. Titled “Sew Science,” the project grew from a larger investigation of the implications that art and the sciences have for each other. In order to gear up for Sew Science, Alyse has put up a fundraising page on Kickstarter, which can be seen here. Her ultimate goal is to make works that honor the power of both realms, without oversimplifying the scientific elements or making aesthetics a slave to dry facts. As her proposal on Kickstarter states, “Sew Science is the idea of making artwork that has a foundation in the hard sciences, but has been transformed into a tangible, aesthetic, and sometimes even a cuddly object. Not only that, but I want people to get interested in science. It is such an amazing world to explore and discover and I want to share my passion for knowledge with everyone.”
Coming from a background in the sciences (she was pre-med before she came to study art at SVA), Alyse has an obvious love for both research and artmaking. She has combined the two in a variety of ways, as in an installation in the senior thesis show Da/Sein that tried to portray the nature of several chemical elements in artistic terms.
Her senior thesis paper focused on the ways art and science are valued differently within our society. She argued that past partnerships between fine art and the sciences are generally glossed over during the course of our education, with art often treated as an inessential afterthought. Both realms end up suffering in the public eye; lay audiences are often blind to the beauties of science, while more rationally oriented people sometimes dismiss art as being frivolous. When the two worlds do cross paths, the results can be less than ideal. Scientific knowledge often becomes distorted through its use as visual metaphor for some other point that the artist wants to make, while art that adheres too slavishly to scientific conventions for representing information gets reduced to little more than illustration.
Alyse’s research and writing were done in tandem with a final art project that reflected her concern with making science approachable and interesting to a lay audience. Created on a computerized sewing machine in SVA’s digital embroidery lab, the piece consisted of a twelve-foot-wide quilt replicating the periodic table of the elements. While designed to be beautiful, the quilt also used aesthetics to convey information. For example, the fabrics Alyse chose to represent the elemental subgroups contained patterns meant to allude to the properties of each group.
As I mentioned above, art and science have a long (but often ignored) history of interaction and mutual influence. Sometimes the relationship has been informal, as in the quiet influence that new understandings of perception in the late 19th and early 20th centuries had on the development of styles such as Pointillism and Cubism. At other times the partnership between the two has been much more deliberate and collaborative, as in the legendary Experiments in Art and Technology (E.A.T.) initiative, an organization created in the late 1960s that brought artists and engineers together to create cutting-edge, technologically literate artworks. The rise of the era of new media and ubiquitous computing has led to the creation of a number of programs throughout academia and the art world dedicated to examining the impact scientific and technological knowledge can have on the world of artmaking. Organizations such as Eyebeam and Art Science Research Laboratory (both based in New York City) and university-based centers such as the MIT Media Lab are slowly making inroads into the mainstream art world, with the dual goals of enriching artmaking and creating a greater understanding of how technology and science affect the way we relate to the world around us. The relationship between artists and scientists is also a growing topic of academic writing, as witnessed by an increasing number of publications like David Edwards’s book Artscience: Creativity in the Post-Google Generation.
The best new media art finds ways to convey information or comment on human knowledge in ways that are engaging, beautiful, and exciting, without oversimplifying the points they’re trying to make. This exactly the sort of work that Alyse is hoping to create; her ideas and techniques are directly in line with a wide range of contemporary art that’s attempting to heal the split between the rational and creative worlds. It will be exciting to see where her investigations take her.
(For a view of what’s happening in the world of science-based art, I recommend this page of categorized links organized by Stephen Wilson, professor in the Conceptual Information Arts program at San Francisco State University. The page contains links to literally hundreds of new media and science-based art projects, many of which are both beautiful and profound in their implications.)