Sunday, March 11, 2007

Catts: "Hands on" Immersion for Oron Catts

From: Oron Catts
Date: Mon, 12 Mar 2007 01:37:50 +0900

Hi Jill and all
The hands on approach can be read on different levels and artists are approaching it in different ways. From my perspective, getting into the lab does not always entail getting ones hands wet…
I once made up a taxonomy of models of artistic engagement with the life sciences and came up with twelve non exclusive ways (I will not attach names to the categories but I am sure that you will know the types…):
1. The illustrator
2. The commentator/representator
3. The visitor/guest/onlooker
4. The appropriator
5. The entertainer
6. The user
7. The industry worker
8. The Hoaxter
9. The hobbyist/amateur
10. The after hours/under the table
11. The mail order/ready made
12. The researcher/embedded in science/technology setting

I am particularly interested in the last model, but deliberately inserted the somewhat loaded term embedded in it, as I think that in the same way that the integrity of reporters embedded in military (such as in the war on Iraq) should be questioned so is the case with artists. Saying that, my own experience, and observing more than thirty residents coming through SymbioticA and “getting their hand wet”, it is important for some non biologists to enter the life science lab and engage with the manipulation (not just visualisation) of life in the most direct and experiential way (literally the phenomenological way…). The knowledge one gains by the multi-sensorial experience of dealing with life in such a way is something that neither text book, nor image can provide. The major thing that SymbioticA provides our residents with is getting equitant with the tools and techniques of the life science (this is not the same as science making…) so they can research their projects (and in some cases produce the work) themselves.
As for your questions:
Why do you think that the artist can become this very valuable 'outsider'?

The notion of the outsider is valuable to some degree but it is not my main interest – is the embedded reporter in the war on Iraq is also a valuable outsider? Is it about the artist providing fresh perspective to assist the scientist in her pursuit as suggested by you? My answer is that this is problematic.
Your example seemed to infer some hierarchy in the artist/scientist relationship; artists collecting the empirical evidence needed by scientists for their research may not be the best (or most beneficial) way to start working with scientists. For me it seems that it cements the position of the artist/research as inferior to the scientist, something that might be carried on in the type of relationships they form. In SymbioticA, we appoint our residents as honorary research fellows in our school (Anatomy and Human Biology); this position put them on equal footings with the other researchers (scientists) they are working with. The relationships that are then formed are those of mutual mentorship at the start and colleagues as the project continue. It is not so much about being in the service of the other; although in some cases we get some of the scientific collaborators complaining about the fact that they feel used… but this is more to do with the different ways the art and science worlds treat egos…
Is important is it for the artist to really understand the methodologies and methods of science and why?
I think that in the context of artists working with living systems, it is not just important for the artist to understand the tools of science, it is imperative for the artist to gain the skills that will allow her to do the work herself. However, following scientific methodologies is something I recommend our residents not to do. In my experience, it is really important to delineate to some degree the ways our artistic researchers operate from the way the scientists work. It is not about artists doing science or scientists doing art- my experience show that in most cases when this is being attempted the result is bad science and not so interesting art.

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