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Art as Science - Science as Art
The project "Art as Science - Science as Art" presents artists whose thematic interests include the new relations between art and science. On the threshold to the 21st century, if it still wants to be taken seriously, art must move on from the programme of the modern age, which has become an art pour l'art of liberation. "At that moment when art, in its movement towards autonomy, relates exclusively to itself as a process of reflection, general interest dies out. In addition, it loses the opportunity to convey a message to any future." (Durs Grünbein)
While artists are using scientific methods, scientists are speculating, experimenting and formulating risky hypotheses. They have turned back to a living nature, nature with a soul as their starting point - something which had been dismissed by the mechanistic revolution. In the spirit of Romanticism's speculative physics, nature is once again being seen as something which organises itself, although now it is not conceived as guided by a world soul, but by a universal field of gravity. Uncertainty, spontaneity and creativity are new, shared key words.
Joseph Beuys' extended concept of art and science, for example, allocates a joint field of activity beyond mechanistic thought to both art and science. He already spoke of the return of a "living nature, with a soul", long before scientists like the English biologist Rupert Sheldrake were able to demonstrate this insight scientifically with their research. (The rebirth of nature. A new view of the world).
The project "Art as Science" also poses the question of whether co-operation between the sciences and the arts - which began with collecting, contemplating and visualising in the cabinets of arts and of miracles, the theatrum naturae et artis - ends definitively today with what is impossible to visualise and describe. Is there an "epistemological break" between a view through binoculars and a mathematical construction? The modern age has brought with it doubts in the sovereignty of perception, in our own visual assessment. By means of instrumental crutches (space telescopes, electron microscopes etc.), we have left our own dimension and have penetrated into worlds far beyond our anthropological horizon of experience. We are no longer able to examine these closely, can no longer grasp them.
The complexity and relativity of our perceptions are a challenge to artists and philosophers, who are our specialists for visual and intellectual knowledge of the world. In 1913, Wassily Kandinsky wrote: "Within my soul, the disintegration of the atom was comparable to the disintegration of the entire world. Suddenly the solidest of walls fell. Everything became uncertain, shaky and soft (…)." In the spirit of Rudolf Steiner's theosophical teaching, he saw atomic physics not as the opening of Pandora's box, but as an overcoming of the dominance of the material ethos with its admiration for industry and technical progress. Rather than the dominance of science and technology over nature, Kandinsky sought reconciliation with and concord with the forces of nature. In the tradition of romantic modernism, he continued to believe in the possibility of a union between mankind and nature, the entire cosmos; a union based on feeling and brought about by art. Sensual eyes and ears were to become spiritual eyes and ears. By contrast, the painter Gerhard Richter made scepticism regarding our ability to "get close to" this reality into the principle of his art. In opposition to a "scientific socialism" fixated on progress and rationalism, his sober attitude towards art was shaped by orientation on a rather conservative anthropology. Man is artificial by nature! Nature is not natural, it is neither good nor moral. We ourselves have projected all those good characteristics and aesthetic qualities onto it. Notions of a great construction plan for creation with inner logic and wisdom are the product of a human weakness for inventing meaning.
In his polemic "Ende der Natürlichkeit", Claus Koch pleads in favour of a radical, self-determined life with the assistance of biotechnology. He argues to the same extent against both conservative guardians of morality and left-wing, green purists, feminists and apostles of a "natural" and healthy way of life, warning against the dangers of a morality "for which the most unbearable aspect of a duplication of human genes is the presumption involved in repeating the act of creation, which would make mockery of the idea of evolution and take the business of selection and differentiation away from the invisible hand by producing copies."
Many artists operate on the borderline between fascination, shock and criticism of man's handling of the possibilities offered by biotechnology. "One discovers that what it is which makes man possible is an ensemble of structures - something which he can perhaps conceive of and describe, but the subject of which, the sovereign consciousness of which he is not." (Michel Foucault) What consequences do the insights of the biological sciences, in particular of genetic technology and neurology, have for man's image of himself?
No institution, no teaching, no ideology, no philosophy and no religion can point us the way in future. Only we ourselves can decide whether there is any purpose in walking about as cyborgs. Art poses questions regarding the sense of technical possibilities without being able to answer them. Art does not compete with the sciences. In face of euphoria regarding the sciences which threatens to become a replacement for religion, art poses the question of our self-understanding: what wishes, pretensions, ideas do we have? What is it we want from life? What is happiness?
It is not only the role of those institutions which govern morality and ethics which has been relativised, that of artists has also changed. The creation of legends and a self-styling as prophets, engineers of the soul, seismographs, those who remind and warn us has become incredible, since artists themselves participated in the project of the modern age, or bore guilt regarding the totalitarian ideologies of the 20th century. Their present task is the permanent discussion of various models and hypotheses. It is located within the sphere of ambivalence and of analogy. Modesty is also called for alongside scepticism. Today we do not expect certainty regarding the future from art, but a sense of what is possible (Robert Musil), an ability to project scenarios and "images of thought" (Walter Benjamin) as solutions to problems we must face. Artists and scientists - as a result of their capacity for "imaginatio" as a basic creative ability to observe natural phenomena above and beyond the visible - have been able to open up common fields of contemplation once again, to offer "experimental set-ups" (the title of many works of art in recent years), thus contributing to communication and society's understanding of itself. It is not the artist, but the viewer who must find the answer.
A symposium of the same name, taking place within the context of the "Wissenschaftssommer 2001", will open the project "Art as Science - Science as Art" as a prologue. It will be continued by the series "WissensKünste" initiated by the Berlin Zentrum für Literaturforschung. In addition, preparations are being made for an individual exhibition of works by the English artist Paul Etienne Lincoln, who lives in New York. The finale of the project - according to present plans - will take place with the large-scale "Exhibition of Art and Science" in 2004.
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