Picking up a previous strand, scientist Craig Hilton answers the questions
On his career as a scientist involved in the arts- his self questioning
Ties in with our discussion about the status of art science in the art world
And the career advice for young hybrids
1- what is your background as a scientist? In the arts, design or humanities ?
PhD Biochemistry (genetics), cancer research, immunology
Otago University, Malaghan Institute of Medical Research Harvard Medical School, Dana Farber, University of Massachusetts
MFA, University of Auckland, Elam School of Fine Arts
Religious upbringing, Father -Minister of the church (protestant, Christian)
2- when and how did you become involved in a hybrid art/science practice?
I became interested in art through science. While sometimes science allows big questions, it mostly does not (for most scientists). Art is always enticing in that regard. I was also lucky enough to study at a university that mixed students of different disciplines and so had many friends across science and art. My long-term interest in photography (initially through mountaineering) allowed me to put together reasonable portfolio which (alongside my PhD) opened the door to an Arts Masters programme. My interests in photography has not waned but I no longer take photographs and my art practice is no longer media driven.
3- what have been the major obstacles to overcome?
Isolation. I have sort out other hybrid-type folk over the years. For me the key to the hybridity is to maintain genuine understanding of the art and the science / attempt genuine value across. Thus is not easy - I once commented in an interview - it is like being bisexual when nobody will sleep with you.
Despite the general agreement that we are beyond objects in art -ideas still struggle and art is often focused on the media and less the idea.
4- what have been the greatest opportunities/breakthroughs?
a. Acknowledgement of work by scientific and art communities (especially- The Immortalisation of Bily Apple -an ongoing project)
b. Attention of Science Communication community towards arts a means to initiate much-needed conversation. However, I am provoked by Oron Catts' informal comment made to a scientist colleague in response to the scientist requesting the work work in a certain way - We are not here to make you life easy . I entitled a talk to science communicators with this Catts quote...walking a fine line between traitor and advocate possibly.
5- what would you do differently, knowing then what you know now?
Not too much big picture-wise-this is by nature difficult. Lots of things when it comes to details.
6- any advices to someone who may want to walk in your footstep?
Like any art practice, the work needs to be informed. There needs to be more to it than an artist fiddling with the tools of science or a scientist presenting the images of science in an art context. Study for a while.
7. Add other questions and your responses you think are relevant
Does it matter?
I am convinced it does. The influence of science and technology remains largely uncontested by culture. What can happen will happen. Advances in molecular and cellular biology and the application of resulting technologies have vastly increased not just our understanding of the foundation and mechanisms of life but also our ability to adjust life according to our whim and needs. Artists have a unique opportunity to represent communities and engage science and technology, directly addressing the tension between society and the scientific community. Art can be an effective way of stimulating debate and engaging people with biotechnology and the ethical questions it raises.
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