Saturday, May 29, 2010

Re: [Yasmin_discussions] : International Collaboration in the Sciences and Humanities

It seems that this discussion is in a silent bubble....

but perhaps there are a lot of people who still might share their experiences and idea's on which factors are successes and which are pitfalls in art-science collaborations. It's such an old discussion at the same time, so perhaps people might point out existing discourse? Has anyone made a taxonomy of different types of collaboration?

Dear Lea,

You wrote:

"Jennifer, I was really interested in reading your vision about what makes
collaborations between artists and scientists successful and how the ultimate
goal of successful collaborations would be knowledge production. I do not know
what the percentage of collaborations between artists and scientists, which
produce knowledge, is, but I bet it is not very high. It seems to me to be quite
an ambitious task to aim for producing knowledge, even so it is undoubtedly a
sign of success.

In my opinion, a successful collaboration is when the expectations of
both sides (art and science) are met. [Of course, defining the expectations and
the aims of the collaboration are vital in order to produce a successful
collaboration.] Generating knowledge would be for me going beyond the
expectations and almost the icing on the cake (unless of course it was the aim
of the project from the starting point)."

The idea of art as a form of knowledge production is being discussed in the emerging field of artistic research.

I think it is important that when scientists (academics) and artists want to collaborate with the aim of new forms of knowledge production, that they consider to formulate their research question together. So indeed having a collective aim at the beginning. I believe that when artists and scientists first get to know each others languages (for instance in a Socratic Discourse Bootcamp as we do with our students) they formulate questions that they otherwise might not do. And they can find ways of finding answers to the questions from several different methods that they would normally not try. It means that both the artist and the scientist temporarily need to let go of their backgrounds in order to best formulate how a question can best be approached.

To give an example. We now have a group that studies the question: "Can You Take the Top Off of a Mountain?" A deceptively simple question at first, but this question allows for approaches from numerous fields. How would you approach this question from your field of expertise and what knowledge do you think it could generate when combined? As soon as you take a top off, a new top exists. What do you consider as the top? The highest blade of Grass? The structure on a building on the top? The atmosphere just above the trees? This approach led the group to now study possible (social and political) implications of Saba becoming part of the Netherlands, thereby taking away the official highest point of The Netherlands, which normally was in Vaals. They chose to combine methods of interviews with academics with the artistic method of found footage (video and photographs). They built a scale model of the height difference within the school stairway section so
that one could experience the difference in height etc. They are now talking to politicians involved. They are still in the process of understanding the 'urgency' of such research, but already it is very promising.

Last year we had a group that studied public spaces at night by experimenting in social activities at different locations at different times. For instance by handing out freshly squeezed orange juice in winter at temperatures of - 5 C. The interaction of public at the different times and locations provided insight into the effects of different designs of public spaces at night time. It said something about how comfortable people felt at night in different locations.This was later found valuable by municipal initiatives such as Museum Night.

I do not think that this method of working and combining is new in the sense of never been done before, but by allowing questions to form from a middle ground platform we professionalise such practice. We provide platforms for 'hybrid' people who could not chose between the arts or the sciences in their education. And Yes, I think that this is currently only being done by few. Acting and doing in ways that you normally do not, the experience, brings that edge, that extra value. There is an extra challenge in understanding which methods to use that are best to present the research results...the results themselves being perhaps not completely artistic and not completely scientific, but inspiring speculation that opens windows to new discourses.

One successful method of finding common ground on collaboration and forming a combined research question we use is to ask the students from University and Art School to bring a set of 'rules' with them. This is done in a workshop by the artist and academic Tine Melzer. Any rule will do. Think about: 'it has to be white', 'become naked', it has to be 25 x 40 x 65 cm. We then mix the rules and ask them to produce work based on these rules, using them all. We encourage taking the rules very literal. This is a successful way of letting go and at the same time using your particular background. The rules become the glue between the different methods.

Pitfalls are to get over our fear of 'Bad' science and 'Bad' art and just do. As the guest teacher Tine Melzer said to the students in her workshop. Lets decide later if something is silly or not, if it is art or not.

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