Monday, May 30, 2016

[Yasmin_discussions] FW: Mercado Central Exchange. Artists and Scientists

Dear Guillermo, Roger, and all,

I'd like to add to the mercado some observations from the Moon Vehicle project (2008-10). This was a project I mentored in Bangalore as an artist and I'm just going to say a few things about why scientists from the Chandrayaan Moon mission and science institutes in the city began to work with us.

It took me a long time to understand that the scientists who worked with us were not doing so necessarily because we were doing an interesting art project, or because of the quality of what we were doing! We attracted participation because we presented an opportunity for the scientists who joined in to achieve something of their own - to push forward certain of their own agendas to which they found themselves in a delimited capacity to change through any other means.

>From the art and design side I think this sense of a delimited capacity to act through other means was also exactly why Moon Vehicle began in the first place (based at Srishti Institute of Art, Design and Technology, an idea that came out of the Bangalore Space, Arts and Culture symposium in 2007, ideated by Geetha Narayanan, Sundar Sarukkai, Roger Malina, Rob La Frenais and Nicola Triscott, Meena vari among others and initially tutored by Gabriel Harp at Srishti's Centre for Experimental Media Arts).

Moon Vehicle was in many ways an activist project and motivated as a protest against the exclusion of the arts and humanities from the cognitive, conceptual and workspaces of space mission design. The activities of the two-year project staked a claim - graphically (ideas of 'counter-visuality and 'performing heterogeneity' Nicholas Mirzoeff and Daphne Brooks for instance seemed relevant) and from the apparent serendipity of events the art/science project created opportunities and platforms otherwise not available.

One such opportunity that I noticed revealed why scientists joined forces with 'creatives' happened during a press conference for a very significant event that came out of the two-year process. In 2010 Srishti collaborated with the Indian space agency (ISRO) and the Indian Institute of Astrophysics to stage a first-of-its-kind public festival of astronomy called Kalpaneya Yatre: Journey of Imaginations. At the press conference the official from the Public Relations office of ISRO stood up and said to the cameras that they had specially provided for the exhibition models of the spacecraft, rockets and large antenna dishes which the public otherwise did not have access to.

Immediately after, one of the ISRO scientists who had been collaborating with us (and in fact whose idea the festival had been) stood up from behind the cameras and stated very forcefully that the reason the festival had been put on was to convey the science of multi-wavelength astronomy to the public.

It was then that it dawned on me that this is what the transdisciplinarity, the hybrid and shared activities had been about all along for our fellow collaborators (I mean at least in part and something that hadn't been apparent to me before that point). The science of the Moon mission was what scientists working on the mission wanted, very passionately, to convey to a wider public. The official ISRO sources of public information turned the mission into a set of icons, exhibited usually as trophies (some exceptions to this). The art project had presented, however tenuously, an opportunity to sidestep the political assimilation of the technology and for the makers of the mission to take matters into their own hands.

The scientists themselves, it was demonstrably clear, were absolutely sure that multi-wavelength astronomy could be conveyed and should be shared. Something of the history of social activism within science in India helps in contextualising these sensibilities further. But this is one example of many kinds of ways that activity generated from the ambivalence and chaos (and Temporary Autonomous Zones that John Hopkins referenced of Hakim Bey) that art/science encounters can create, come to be used and why they are propagated.

I found Alyce Santoro's comment to do with the proposed pipeline through Big Bend National Park (a place I also love) important and resonant here:

" Who is left to fight, and to point out this conflict of interest? The answer is artists, students, self-employed and retired people, and others without affiliations or anything much to lose."

because there is also much to say about how agendas and motivations become shared and passed between participants in such interactions, such that those with more to lose (the government employed scientists) could work through the 'artists,' who, in the case of Moon Vehicle for sure were willing scapegoats, willingly disruptive of the status quo!

All best,

Dr. Joanna Griffin

Teaching Fellow, CEPT University, Ahmedabad, India<>

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