Saturday, September 2, 2017

Re: [Yasmin_discussions] STEAM to STEM: redesigning science itself ? yes says sundar sarukkai

Ah, apologies, looks like the lockdown has just occurred again for the ISR
texts...please email me if you'd like to read this article and I can
speedily send on to you.....

Here's an extract to start with....

This paper draws on the encounters between UK artist Neal White (b.1966)
and the late

British artist John Latham (1921–2006) in order to explore ideas and
contemporary forms

of practice between artists who have shared interests in science, its
developments and

impact. The prominence of science-driven activity in the cultural sector
provides a

context for the discussion of a renewed interest in some key artists in the
early Cold

War period, 1947–1972, including Gustav Metzger, Robert Smithson and György

Kepes. Whilst emphasizing shared concerns around the potential of
destruction, in the

archive and in terms of formal artistic process, the paper also argues for
a deeper understanding

of the vision and values that these artists bring. In doing so, it points
to a contemporary

landscape of art and science that might contribute to society beyond the

current cultural/scientific spheres, addressing broader questions and
concerns that are

considered urgent for scientists and artists alike.

A perspective on art, science and culture

In the last two decades, we have seen the continuing growth of a cultural
phenomenon in

which art is exhibited in a scientific context. This has happened largely

organizations with impressive amounts of funding supporting refined and
engaging art

gallery spaces: from the Wellcome Trust in London, to the Science Gallery

working out of Trinity Dublin, through to landmark architecture initiatives
such as the

Art Science Gallery in Singapore. The often seductive and spectacular1

curated in these environments perform a contemporary take on the

or cabinet of curiosities, and are designed to appeal to mass audiences
with titles such

as the 'Institute of Sexology' – subtitle 'Undress Your Mind' (Wellcome
Trust, 2014),

through to 'Fat Lab' and 'Life Logging' (Science Gallery Dublin 2014–2016)
and revisit historical

works, as in 'Da Vinci: Shaping the Future' (Singapore 2014–2015). With

illustrated catalogues and advanced media strategies, all attract very
large numbers of visitors,

perpetuating the media focus on science that has developed its very own

plaudits. For many artists, this sector also represents a rich and
rewarding space within

which to operate.

The emergence of such vibrant cultural activity in the late 1990s has not
been without criticism.

Among many artists working in this period, there was a view that the forms
of funding

were only made available to those who supported the 'positivist' science
agenda. The view

became synonymous with institutional critique in visual art, a long and

area of practice in which the dominance of certain cultural forms,
represents control over artistic

freedoms. Art and Science in this respect can be problematic, from
restrictive practices on

artists working in labs, through to the broader agenda of life science

many of which were linked with the essential life support offered by
military spending on

research of all kinds. Whilst today it is argued a new wave of critics,
curators and artist challenge

this purely positivist approach, it has been difficult for those working
within this space to

shake off these pointed accusations. Even today, in appropriating more
critical voices within

the agenda of public understanding and science communication, the dissent
has not abated –

and other views of the relationship between art and science are being
valued. Many of these

values stem from a critical relationship developed by artists working in
the UK and USA in the

Cold War period (1947–1991).

The potential of destruction

The early Cold War period gave rise to artistic practices that engaged with
science and

over recent years, these pioneers have started to come to prominence in the

notably in the UK and US. In part this was due to their radical and
critical approach

that tore into modernist ideas and the privilege of aesthetics over other
values in art.

Further to this, there was recognition by a younger generation of artists,
critics and curators

of the critical and conceptual shifts that occurred during this period.2 In
the following

short sections, a personal and historic account of some of the range of
these practices sheds

light on what is now termed as art in the expanded field, or
post-conceptual art (Krauss

1979; Osborne 2013) being practised in art and science today.

In April 2016, a John Latham retrospective at The Henry Moore Institute,

'A Lesson in Sculpture with John Latham' included a re-staging of a
performance of one

of his most infamous series of works by the author (this work was called 'Neal

realises a Skoob Tower'). A key part of Latham's early oeuvre from the
1950s, the 'Skoob'

(the word 'books' spelt backwards) tower performances consisted of a tall
column or tower

of books, usually Dictionary Volumes, which were then set alight in a
public space. Having

remade Latham's work on several occasions the approach to remaking this
work has been

shaped both by a familiarity with Latham's work, but also as an ongoing
exploration of the

artist archive, and the role of events, including destructive acts through
practice led

research.3 In particular, the work follows a line of personal enquiry
started in 2004–

2005, having made a piece of work that campaigned for the restoration of a
series of

'destroyed' public sculptures made by Jacob Epstein on the Strand, London.
The project,

entitled The Third Campaign (2004–5) was conceived as an exhibition that

become an artwork within the archive of the Henry Moore Institute. It
included a campaign

film, letters to those involved and props, and now resides within the
archive as intended.

The 'Skoob tower' further addresses the significance of what might be
termed as

destructive events in historical and cultural terms, addressing what it is
that can be preserved

– artworks or events – within the institutional archive. As Latham commented

to me whilst I was working on the Third Campaign, the project was more than

polemic; it was conceived as an interruption to the stability of the
archive, an insertion

of work into official records and into cultural time. Marking a decade
since Latham's

death in 2006, the proposal to perform the 'Skoob tower' in 2016 was made
as a tribute

to his ideas, in the context of his notion of 'event structures' that are
also relevant to

the archive. The work was commissioned on the agreement that it would
eventually be

interred within the Henry Moore Institute itself, as a new work entitled 'The
Archive in

Ashes', which is now ongoing.

My own interest in Latham's work and his ideas did not emerge out of a
formal academic

study of Latham, but followed an introduction in 2003 to John Latham and
his life-long

working partner Barbara Steveni. At this initial meeting, showing them a
book I had

jointly authored with the writer Lawrence Norfolk (Norfolk and White, 2001)
became a

powerful catalyst. Within this short work, the 196 pages are numbered as
divisions of a

single second, one second being the time over which a sneeze was recorded,
captured by

an advanced laser camera at a laboratory in Oxford. Linked to the first
ever piece of copyrighted

film in the US, which was a 45 frame film of Thomas Edison's assistant

(1896), the book meditated on the filmed fragments of a one second sneeze
today and the

progress of technology from the chemical to the digital, referring both to
the speed of the

recording, and the disintegration of meaning into code. The book was itself
a piece of

time. In formal terms however, and unknown at the time of the first meeting

Latham, the spray of the sneeze we photographed and which features on every
page approximated

Latham's own early work, 'One Second Drawing', created for the Cosmologists

Gregory and Anita Kohsen in 1954 (1959; Walker 1995)4. It was through this

that John Latham had developed his own vision of art, a vision informed by
science that

shaped his entire life. He called it the 'quantum of mark'.

3Firstly at Portikus in Frankfurt as part of a joint show with John Latham
and sanctioned by the Latham Foundation following

specific historical research of previous events.

4Asked to produce a mural for an event at their home, Latham decided to use
a spray gun as an experiment. Having made a

one second spay with this new technology for artists, he realized that the
image not only resembled a cosmos of tiny

blobs on the wall, but spoke of the event, the spray and the end of the
spray. Latham often referred to this as the

most important discovery in the development of his ideas about time.

216 N. WHITE

Downloaded by [] at 05:15 13 August 2017

Latham, who had his own intimate engagement with ideas emerging in
theoretical and

experimental physics, recognized parallels between his ideas and those in
the book I left

with him. This was the start of a short but deep journey with Latham at his
home, Flat

Time House, Peckham, London. Exchanges took part through both rational and

means, an approach to art that would allow for both textual descriptions,
as well as 'eventbased'

works such as the 'Skoob tower' were discussed, and we planned for what was

needed in order to explore "the unspoken" in science now. It was, we
agreed, a form of

practice and research that required art to embody ideas and knowledge
beyond linear

and rational language. Without anticipating the effect, Latham's ideas
shaped my own

approach, as it had done for so many others, before and indeed since.

Latham had largely developed the ideas we were discussing after he had made
his single

spray paint gesture and following his exchanges with Gregory and Kohsen (
1959); together

they formed the Institute of Mental Images, later publishing a journal
called Cosmos. In

this period, where many ideas and possibilities were still open for
exploration, from cosmology

through to extra sensory perception, the distinct approach between

logical intuition and rational forms of enquiry were both real and urgent

Latham referred to how these ideas could be explored by different people
using Fyodor

Dostoyevsky analogy of the Brothers Karamazov.5 Whilst the psychophysical

had developed their proposition through a schematic they termed the '

(1959), Latham reworked this diagram with their initial input over many
years before

settling on the 'Basic T Diagram Roller' (1991) as a method of articulating
his ideas.

With this vertically striped roller blind, he was not only able to
translate further these

ideas, but to extend his own thoughts about scientific discoveries, from
quantum theory

through to string theory, and most importantly to find a new means to

how his ideas intersected with such approaches, through art.6

Latham's plan for the the 'Basic T Diagram Roller' work involved
positioning it on

the wall so that it could wind and unwind. As intended, it would be read
along the horizontal

at the top as the moment 'now', and as the fabric unwound against the

surface of the wall, the viewer could see through the canvas to traces of
the event now; a

schematic that reveals both history and present through time/movement. The

spaced along the horizontal were described as time bases; the amount of
time an

object exists for being the distance from left to right in the schema.
Starting on the

left with the letter A to Z on the right – that is, the distances represent
very small

amounts of time (the smallest measurable by science, to very, very large
amounts of

time – in other words from quantum to cosmic scale in one schema, unfolding

The artwork was therefore neither formally an aesthetic representation, or a

non-representational abstract system, but a schematic or diagrammatic
reading of time/

space. Our insistence on reading matter as a quality of space and not time
was perceived

by Latham as a habit. Objects, particles, even institutions and governments
could be

understood better using ideas of a unified theory of existence that bridged
science, art

and religion.

5The three Karamazov brothers, Mitya, Ivan

On 2 September 2017 at 10:03, bronac ferran <> wrote:

> Dear Yasmin friends
> I thought that this recent article by Neal White may be of interest in
> terms of this discussion (polymathy - v - ste(a)m) etc
> Neal's argument is not for an amorphous wholeness to embrace and infuse
> all disciplines but for a level of cognitive resistance and action informed
> by intersections and live engagement among fellow travellers in various
> coinsecting fields.
> With very best wishes
> B
> On 31 August 2017 at 17:08, roger malina <> wrote:
>> yasmilners
>> sundar sarukkai at NIAS
>> Bangalore sends this in response to our provocation that maybe in
>> steam to stem we need to think about redesigning science itself, both
>> the scientific method and the social embedding of science to meet the
>> situations of the 21st century= both the scientific method and its
>> social embedding have evolved over the centuries
>> as sundar notes- scientists are often allergic to any idea that
>> science itself needs redesigning
>> roger
>> Roger, I was very pleased to see this email you sent about the need to
>> redesign science and scientific method. This is a bigger problem in
>> India and has been so for quite some time. We are a unique country in
>> that our Constitution has 'scientific temper' as one of our
>> constitutional duties! Scientists have repeatedly misused this to save
>> the ordinary people from their 'blind beliefs' and 'superstition'. And
>> use this to ask for more funds for science. Recently some of them
>> organized a march for science which also recycled such uncritical
>> views on science. I wrote against this ideology in a national
>> newspaper - see
>> ay/article19459043.ece.
>> The scientists, especially those who organized the march, got furious
>> (expected trolls in the social media) and one of them wrote a
>> rejoinder in an online site called The Wire pedaling the same views.
>> I then wrote a response which set out the faults in that piece - see
>> superstition-lynching/.
>> You might also find another response to this debate useful -
>> As we can clearly see, many of these scientists don't read about
>> science - Wikipedia and dictionaries are enough for them to understand
>> any concepts in the non-sciences but they would not allow any
>> non-scientist to talk about quantum physics or relativity based on
>> their reading of such material. (I must also add here that there were
>> many scientists who did not agree either with the rationale for the
>> march or with the naive scientistic responses but the larger national
>> narrative about science continues to be at this level.) You are also
>> very right about the other point you raised, namely, the scientific
>> community's reluctance to accept the social character of science. To
>> try and incite a dialogue around this, I wrote an editorial for
>> Current Science on the sociality of science but haven't managed to get
>> the scientists to react - see
>> Glad you started this dialogue.
>> Thanks, sundar
>> 7
>> _______________________________________________
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> --
> Bronaċ

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HOW TO UNSUBSCRIBE: on the info page, scroll all the way down and enter your e-mail address in the last field. Enter password if asked. Click on the unsubscribe button on the page that will appear ("options page").
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