From gene-editing to the inner workings of smartphones, we interact with science and technology every day. A new show—named after a quote from Arthur C. Clarke— seeks to demystify the sciences with Distinguishable from Magic, which showcases the experimental artworks of an organization called SciArt. Twelve artists are showing projects that deal with the environment, molecular systems, and generative computer programs using SciArt as an online platform. Accompanying the online showcase is an IRL pop-up exhibition at Collar Works, an art space in Troy, New York.
A handful of the SciArt projects feel like contemporary art, like Amber Eve Anderson’s Free to a Good Home. It's a compassionate Craigslist intervention that asks anonymous users to share their motivations behind acquiring a free material on the website. In a refreshing change of pace, the show offers a platform to several artworks that defy the trends circulating through the larger art world.
Most of the work on display is a departure from what you would see in a Chelsea or Chinatown gallery. Greg Dunn’s neo-naturalist fractals etched onto 22 karat gold sheets are one example. Another is Anna Fine Foer’s ecological collage of an Israeli aqueduct, with the water replaced by an endless array of cellphones. The works, while bound by the requirement to incorporate scientific principles, find freedom in this limitation. They're liberated to explore unexpected, perhaps even "un-artistic" ideas to the end of the artist’s imagination.
“The best way to think of science-based art is to think of it as an avant-garde movement in the art world. Just like war, sexuality, paternal relationships, and so on, science is subject matter. It just happens to be newer to the art world than other tried and true topics,” Julia Buntaine, the director of SciArt, tells The Creators Project. “The amount of science-based art has been on the rise in the past two decades due to a number of factors, including advances in scientific technology and the fact that science is in our lives more daily now with the increase in knowledge and pending global issues. Science has become more culturally central and artists always respond to what is culturally central.”
While science and art are certainly more entwined than in the past, it would be misleading to say that the intermixing of the two is widely approved in an art world that can feel elitist and exclusionary. “There is a huge stigma in the art world against science-based art. It is decreasing, but it is still very much there. This is because of the gulf between art and science culturally, because of Post-Modern left-overs, because of our tunnel-vision education system,” says Buntaine.
The SciArt director remains hopeful, "Since art is, at the end of the day, for ‘the people’ as opposed to for galleries and critics, I think the industry will come around.”