The world faces big systemic challenges, and the only way to come to grips with these challenges is to look through different lenses. Climate change, for instance, is such a complex topic that we need both the understanding generated by science, and the emotional connections that are made possible through art.
Leonardo da Vinci, perhaps more than anyone else, embodies this symbiosis of art and science. Everything he did was inspired by the careful observation of nature. He made major contributions to the fields of physics, mathematics, art, music and architecture but the disciplines didn’t matter to him. He just wanted to understand the world around him using whatever tools and techniques were available.
“The world faces big systemic challenges, and the only way to come to grips with these challenges is to look through different lenses”
Nowadays, many scientific laboratories collaborate with artists. This is most prominently seen at CERN, which is one of the world’s largest centres for scientific research: They invite artists – from dancers to sculptors to digital media artists – to work with experimentalists and theorists. They do this not for outreach, but because these dialogues help scientists to look at problems differently, to visualise difficult and abstract ideas and to communicate those difficult ideas with other colleagues and, eventually, the public. In Singapore, the Centre for Quantum Technology once had choreographers express the behaviour of quantum-scale particles through dance; that may have helped scientists gain new perspectives on quantum entanglement.
The ArtScience Museum was founded to explore the intersection between art, science, culture and technology, because that is where we can see new ideas and glimpse the future. It’s very important to us that every exhibition here articulates this ethos. But we don’t want to have to explain what we mean by that; we just want to do it again and again with every exhibition to the point where it’s not a big deal anymore.
A great example of this is “Wind Walkers: Theo Jansen’s Strandbeests”, the first Southeast Asian retrospective on Jansen, which launched in late June. Jansen is emblematic of a modern-day artist whose practice is entirely informed by science – he was trained as a physicist and now practises as a sculptor. These “strandbeests” – Dutch for “beach animals” – are life-size sculptures that utilise wind to walk in a lifelike fashion, but they were originally designed to roam beaches and pile sand on shores to form natural barriers against rising sea levels. It’s the kind of work where it’s impossible to disentangle and say what is art or what is science. As Jansen puts it in his personal philosophy, “The walls between art and engineering exist only in our minds.”
This article was originally published in the July 2018 issue of SilverKris magazine.