How to shape a productive scientist–artist collaboration

By | May 2, 2021

Art can be a powerful medium for discovering the deeper meaning of scientific endeavor. Collaboration between scientists and artists is underway around the world, and daily postings on social media with the #SciArt hashtag show that often-different domains are merging in a refreshing and exciting way.

Although many such collaborations primarily aim to engage and educate the general public about science, scientists and artists are recognizing that creative participation can transform science into captivating art.

High-profile funds – including the US National Science Foundation, Alexandria, Virginia, Simmons Foundation in New York City and Welcome in London – have promoted art and science projects on a wide range of topics, including climate change and artificial intelligence.

Yet artists and scientists often live in different worlds, making it difficult for them to find potential collaborators. And, once a team comes together, it takes time to build a productive partnership that can exchange ideas and set expectations for the final product.

Nature Careers sought top tips from art-minded scientists and science-minded artists to seek and sustain collaboration that could challenge ideas.

YUNCHUL KIM: Do Your Homework

I started electronic music in Seoul before moving to Germany in 1999 to study media arts in Cologne. Many young artists there wanted to share ideas with scientists, but it is not easy to reach institutions or professional scientists. Over time, I was able to open communication with engineers and physicists.

For example, scientists from the Leibniz Institute for Astrophysics Potsdam came to my lonely show in Berlin around 2010. He was interested in two fragments that demonstrated hydrodynamic flow using magnetic fields to create unique patterns of nanoparticles dispersed in fluid (see go.nature .com / hydro).

They invited me to their institute and showed me what they were working on. The experience of meeting and talking to him about Dark Energy and Dark Matter influenced how I use liquidity in my work. We developed a collaboration that led to a conference and an exhibition in 2012 (see go.nature.com/fluid).

In 2017, I was granted a two-month residency at CERN, the particle-physics laboratory in Europe, near Geneva, Switzerland. People think scientists teach artists, but I really wanted to learn their ideas. The first steps were not easy as our professional languages ​​were very different.

I’ve read a lot about theoretical physics to try to understand what sub-atomic particles are, what an accelerator does, and what scientists want to find with these detectors. This is important for artists who want to collaborate with scientists in an effort to understand scientific research.

Finally, I wanted to build my own functional particle detector that could demonstrate how these invisible forces work. I met some scientists who were skeptical and some who were really engaged. Helga Timko, a theoretical particle physicist at CERN, worked closely with me.

Every month for two months, we met and talked about her research and my thoughts. Over time, we figured out how I approach a topic and how scientists approach it while talking through creative and problem-solving processes. I was concerned that I took more than I took from him, but he said that the experience gave a much richer view on his research and the universe.

After my residency ended, I came back to my studio in Seoul and started building my own detectors for my artwork. I was inspired by cosmic rays that entered the atmosphere, colliding with the air to produce ubiquitous, negatively charged particles called muons. I created Cascades, the installation of three interconnected kinetic sculptures that use light and liquid and visualize the Muir movement.

Argos, one of the three sculptures, is a cosmic-ray detector consisting of 41 channels of ionization-producing tubes. It sends a detection signal to a second sculpture, called the impulse, which pumps fluid into an 18-meter tube in the third sculpture, called a tubular. It consists of microscopic tunnels that depend on whether the liquid is moving inside them.

The good thing is that many of the pieces that I have made since my time at CERN have traveled to Europe, giving me an idea of ​​how deeply art and science have a connection with contemporary art.

Fernandia Orzone: Define Success and Expectations

Scientific Sculptor and Marine Biologist at the Coastal Socio-Ecological Millennium Institute, SECOS. Based in Puerto Varas, Chile.

Artists should not only know that scientists are interested in making their work more accessible to the public, but also that grants often require outreach or public engagement.

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