Responses to dialogue generated between Artists and Scientists at the Imagine 2010 SummerLab...

Hosted by Domain D'O in Montpellier, France. The focus of the four-day event was forests. Supported by ArtsAdmin...



Imagine 2020 SummerLab at Domain D'O

Informal write up for ArtsAdmin

My objectives / Why are we here? / Obligation / Some ideas on INTIMACY (commons, ownership, branding) / Metaphor CENTRALE / SummerLab 2014: Art School for Scientists / Me, Me, ME!/ A short art-for-science bibliography

My objectives

To examine the relationship between art and science aims and find a mutual space within which I feel comfortable working. To locate or develop a site or platform that is my own.

To learn to articulate the problematics I feel to be present within the suggested coordination of art and science practices. To begin to provide solutions to these conflicts, to benefit both my own practice and, more broadly, this collaborative venture as a whole.

To produce responses that directly engage with the issues that emerge and are mutually defined as priorities in a way that is in-keeping with my own practice.

Why are we here?

"Conceptual artists [...] leap to conclusions that logic cannot reach." -Sol Lewitt

The general implication of the structure of the event (i.e. science talks for artists) was that the artists were there to learn about science and then do some art about it. I began to ask people what they thought the common goal or ideology was between these two practices, or what the scientists thought artists could give or do for them.

It seemed that the scientists were hoping for the artists to enact on their behalf because of their apparent blockage, which they feel has been caused by their methodological approach to the world. Implicit within Driss's talk was a sort of call to action for artists that seemed to be based on the fact that scientists were poorly equipped to form structures for operating within post-modern culture; That science was somehow entrenched in capitalist (modernist) structures, and that art has a better chance of finding ways to replace these (what he suggested as failed or failing) structures.

Charles' description of his role as a scientist as being to help politicians / people / administration to make good decisions, to understand the world as much as possible whilst knowing it will never be understood completely, and to help societies live in harmony with other components of the world.

He also described science as being aware that it can never fully understand everything, just each piece of information in its own time and perhaps later together, which is also similar to my own practice which has a microscopic approach to big issues.

I was able to connect with Charles' ideas in terms of the manifestations of my own art practice, but not its core values, or on behalf of art as a whole. If social orientation is art and science's common ground then I feel that it is difficult to locate the autonomy that acts as a barometer for the integrity of whatever activity ensues. At no point did I get the sense that scientists undertake any autonomous practice, and that this is perhaps what scientists are lacking in order to react on their own terms to the issues that surround them. In short, the scientists would like to borrow some autonomy.


"Of course artists should oppose US involvement in Nicaragua... just as dentists should." -Donald Judd

So, the implication of the event was that our mutual space was social obligation . There was assumptive talk of art as healing, and of artistic ventures being driven by the heart rather than the head, as well as the suggestion that artists should focus more energy on environmental issues.

Despite the social orientation of my practice I do not feel that art is inherently anything in particular, and - as outlined - I feel that the autonomy of art needs to be granted in the first instance of any engagement with it, and it is from this point which a social orientation can emerge as the artist or artwork sees fit.

I realised that it was this clash of starting points - with the scientists fifty yards ahead at social obligation- that was blocking my engagement with the issues presented.

In a similar vein, Richard illustrated the idea that we were all looking at the same issue/common goal (the environment), and suggested that there needs to be a further exploration of the spaces that connect us (and whether these connections have anything to do with art).

Some ideas on INTIMACY (commons, ownership, branding)

Abstracted relationship with nature/ FOREST AS MUSEUM / forests as a cultural commodity...AndRoyal Forests!

Richard will likely have already mentioned to you his research around commons, and the process by which we have come into legislating land use and our current perception of public land. That is: public parks and forests within which we undertake leisure activities, i.e. walking the dog, eating a picnic. Within this contemporary relationship the forest is most prominently pleasant scenery, not a necessary life source.

Questions that emerged in discreet conversation: How can we lose consciousness of the idea of yours/mine/"public" ownership in favour of a sense of group responsibility and responsiveness to forests? Reinstate the type of ownership that operated before boundaries, within a direct and necessary relationship? Ownership of land is problematic, but is the only way to reject this notion to be without land? In short, how do we reinstate an intimacy with nature?

The Domain D'O (castle of water) was a royal park, making it an interesting place to discuss our relationship with nature. Well signposted in lime green, with instructions on litter recycling points, maps, information points, park benches and an invitation to bring your own lunch.

I was particularly interested in the signage around Domain D'O as both the problem and the cure for this lack of intimacy. An attempt to help us understand the natural environment, a symbol of our disconnection, a reinforcement of how this relationship should be undertaken, encouragingreliance on the representation and direction of our experience.


"A tree's branches are only as big as their roots." - As a metaphor for social change.

"It is not a forest, it is just a field of trees." (Mono-cultural) /"It is still a forest, but there are no trees." (Bio-diversity) -Frédéricthe Forester

"Defining a tree is like defining stupidity; It is impossible but we can all think of good examples."

The definition of a forest that has "never been managed by a human being" as "pristine" forest -Frédéricthe Forester

SummerLab 2014: Art School for Scientists

I think Summer Lab 2014 should be an Art School for Scientists. To help scientists to create their own autonomy and action.Providing science with ways to appropriate and adapt the art tools they have demonstrated an interest in during SummerLab 2011, and which their own discipline could not generate. This would truly innovate science: rather than art lending science a fiver, it would enable science to make art. This would include workshops on:

Collaborative practice- its many forms, relevance to situations and sites and problematics of different models.

Autonomy- asking scientists to appropriate and project the effect of different applications of autonomy to their own practice; discussing the situation specific nature of science and the difficulties of working in this applied manner; exploring how they might use pure theory to analyse complex ecologies (rather than the remit of their commissioners) for the purpose of their own personal integrity.

Share and compare session- comparing art and science approaches to morality, funding, logic, etc. These core issues and values were not explicitly shared, with the focus being on facts and information and methodology (in the most practical sense, rather than the theory of methods).

Art workshops- drawing, thinking, writing exercises, perhaps dadaist/fluxist/surrealist, to encourage a less linear approach, which the scientists themselves seem to feel is problematic.

In terms of the environment being in line with the intention of the collaboration, I feel that we may be better off in the pub... I was thinking about an event I mentioned to Mark, run as part of Art School UK (John Reardon), where artists and mathematicians got together for a chat round a table in the back room of a pub. The approach was very much like a blind date, with someone suggesting that these two fields might get on, find a connection, and that the best place to do this would be in an informal environment. More likely to spark some sweet poetry between art and science...?

In terms of the amount of information given to us, I feel that integrating much more space for action would be valuable... Encourage individual or collaborative responses that take the event out of the realm of having nice chats about good ideas. In the environmental mission in general it seems that there is a huge need for application and not so much need for further conceptualisation.

Me, Me, ME!

Environmentalism has a strong voice and aesthetic that resists the subtlety that my own work claims to be most powerful in stimulating social change (especially from polarised debate), which has been one challenge to locating a comfortable space for me between art and science.

At the previously mentioned maths gig, the crossover emerged as 'pure art' and 'pure maths' being concept driven and formally preoccupied. Coming from a conceptual art background, this is a very comfortable space for me.

One place in which I found a personal crossover with my own practice was through Driss's talk, in which he mentioned the impact of the industrial revolution on our relationship with nature... namely as the cause of our estrangement from nature, through mechanisation and compartmentalisation for the sake of efficiency.

My own work has often been dealing with labour's estrangement form craft due to these same reasons. I find this tension - existing in both craft and environmental discourses - very interesting. Evoking the of Garden of Eden problem... temptation, progression, responsibility, consciousness, aggressive exploration... and perhaps futile attempts to return to this romanticised perfection through mystic means and historical mimicry.

Driss and I also discussed high / low entropy for nature / man, which links in with some of the urban interventions I have done.

And with Regis and Frederick the Forester I discussed grid systems / natural boundaries / "organic" boundaries (i.e. what is natural...?). Human centred VS nature centred approaches to forestry, the need to spend time in the forest (on site) to develop a mixed approach, andhow much do we tap into the forests logic?Which relates to the 'auto-collaborations' I have done taking two sets of approaches to a single subject (perhaps one developed on site and one in a board room) and creating a 'solution' that integrates both intentions perhaps to the opposite affect.

A short art-for-science bibliography

Artist Placement Group (APG) and Percent-for-Art .I believe the APG archive is currently held by the Tate.

I wrote the term "Domestic Forest" in my sketchbook based on the idea that we needed a more intimate relationship with forests in Europe, before realising that "Domesticating Forests" is an actual term used to mean developing balanced ecological relationships with forests where communities directly rely upon forests for their day-to-day lives. One lady called Lawrence spends most of her time trying to convince foresters: "If local people appropriate their territorial spaces they will manage them responsibly", in an attempt to allow people to keep their own land*. Regis from CIRAD spoke of how he works to try and get a proportion of commercially maintained forest given to local people to sustain themselves. I found this mixture of livelihood and commercial values within the same site, as it reminded me of percent-for-art schemes. Although often these schemes are often used to fulfil an often insincere Corporate Social Responsibility policy, the effect of having to integrate a set of non-commercial values into a development is undoubtedly of value. Also the placement of an alternate set of aims within commercial or governmental settings is seen in the work of the Artist Placement Group.

*An aside: This quote reminded me of a section of Stephen Willats' Art and Social Function, in which he suggests artworks should be"operating within the domain of the 'audience', using their language and priorities"and that "this actual personal creative experience [is] more meaningful to people than their innate position as passive witnesses to referential experience in the traditional audience role".(London: Ellipsis, 2000) p8.

Disclosing New Worlds: Entrepreneurship, Democratic Action, and the Cultivation of Solidarity, by Charles Spinosa, Fernando Flores and Hubert L. Drefus.(USA: MIT Press, 1997)

Book about innovation theory, outlining the various ways in which innovation can occur. The innovation model I suggest for the coordination of art and science practices is 'cross-appropriation', where science appropriates the art practices that it finds useful but could not have generated itself.

The Ivy League, Space Hijackers.<>

The idea of this project went down well with artists and scientists alike... If generally we can say that capitalism is killing nature, then the intention of this project is to kill capitalism with nature.

The Lure of the Local: Senses of Place in a Multicentered Society, Lucy R. Lippard.(New York: The New Press, 1997)

Particularly Part III, entitled Land Use: Down to Earth.

Sentences on Conceptual Art, Sol Lewitt.(Art-Language, 1969) p 11-13. Excerpted by editor Peter Osborne, Conceptual Art (London: Phaidon Press Limited, 2002) p 222. Also available online.

Might be useful for the scientists to consider in application to their own practice.

The Social Turn: Collaboration and its Discontents, Claire Bishop.(ArtForum, February 2006) p 178-183. Also available online.

Explores some of the problematics of art's relationship with ethical matters.