Arts and science

How to apply scientific techniques in artistic research on collections and archives. This text is an introduction to the course "Beeldproject" at LUCA School of Arts for the academic year 2021-2022.

"I’ve always perceived art and science as complementary fields. One shouldn’t forget that a scientist is in some respects also an artist. He invents a new technique and he describes it. He uses language like a poet, or the author of a detective novel, and describes his findings. In my view, a scientist must work in an artistic way if he wants to communicate his research. He obviously wants to communicate and talk to others. A scientist invents new objects, and the question is, how to describe them. In all of these aspects, science is not very different from art."

Heinz von Foerster

Heinz von Foerster is described on wikipedia as "As a polymath, he wrote nearly two hundred professional papers, gaining renown in fields from computer science and artificial intelligenceto epistemology, and researched high-speed electronics and electro-optics switching devices as a physicist, and in biophysics, the study of memory and knowledge. He worked on cognition based on neurophysiology, mathematics, and philosophy and was called "one of the most consequential thinkers in the history of cybernetics." (source: Wikipedia)

He is quoted by Hans Ulrich Orbist, curator at Serpentine Gallery of the exhibitions on Ian Cheng. Cheng build in 2018 a serie of Artificial lifeforms that were first shown at Serpentine and traveled the world afterwards.

This exhibition has also been refered to in "The Creativity Code, how ai is learning to write, paint and think" by Marcus Du Sautoy. Du Sautoy is a mathematician that illustrate the relation between artistic research and science. His description of the exhibition :

"As I entered the gallery I was confronted by Bob, an artificial life from created with code by Ian Cheng. In fact there are six BOBs. Each started out with the same code, b ut the evolution of these life forms is affected by interactions with visitors. By the time I made it to the exhibition, the six BOBs had gone off in very different directions."

Marcus Du Sautoy, "The Creativity Code, how ai is learning to write, paint and think"

He describes the choice of the curator as follows:

"Hans Ulrich thinks of art as one of society's best early-warning systems. given the importance of the debate about the role ai is playing in society, it seemed urgent in Hans Ulrichs mind for Ai to take its place in the gallery. ... Using art to visualise the algorithms helps us to interpret and navigate these algorithms more knowingly"

Marcus Du Sautoy, "The Creativity Code, how ai is learning to write, paint and think"

Artistic research

"Research that defines art as its object in one way or another is generally called art research. Art can, however, also offer a premise and an aim for research: a motive, a terrain, a context and a whole range of methods. This kind of research is often referred to as “artistic research”. It is not a counter concept of “scientific research”, but instead, its primary aim is to describe the framework of research in a way that does not simply reduce art to the subject matter of a study".

I got this definition from Units, an open meeting place for the arts and a critical university community for bold reformers and experts of tradition, based at the Academy of Fine Arts, Sibelius Academy and Theatre Academy from Helsinki, Finland. The description as a "framework ... that does not simply reduce art to the matter of study" is maybe militant in its formulation but a same concern can be found in The Vienna Declaration, a document that is set up by a group of international actors of the artistic scene and universities. It is intended as a policy document addressing political decision makers, funding bodies, higher education and research institutions as well as other organisations and individuals catering for and undertaking Artistic research.

The declaration aims at (1) presenting a clearer, better articulation of the concepts and impact of Artistic research within the Frascati Manual – the OECD manual for collecting statistical research data. This clarification will assure the realisation and acknowledgement of successful research activities in the field, and, consequently, contribute to (2) the restructuring of funding policies and programmes at regional, national, European and global levels in such a way that they support Artistic research in line with the sciences and humanities, and (3) the securing and embedding of practice-based third cycle studies in Higher Arts Education, in all countries across Europe, to further develop AR and underpin the contemporaneity of the curriculum.

Artistic research and science: research on collections

An interesting example where science and artistic research intervene is in the edition of Gerhard Richter – Texte zu 4900 Farben, met teksten van Benjamin HD Buchloch, Peter Gidal, Birgit Pelzer, Gerhard Richter en Marcus du Sautoy – Hatje Cantz ISBN 978-3-7757-2402-9

"4900 Colours in part grew out of Richter’s design for the south transept window of Cologne Cathedral, which replaced the stained glass that had been destroyed during the Second World War. The window, unveiled in August 2007, comprised 11,500 hand-blown squares of glass in 72 colours derived from the palette of the original Medieval glazing. The seemingly arbitrary distribution of colours was generated using a specially developed computer programme. This interest in using chance to define composition was significant in the development of the artist’s concept for 4900 Colours.'' (source: Serpentine Gallery)

"Tomorrow I am giving a talk at the Serpentine Gallery about the new Gerhard Richter exhibition 4900 Colours. I must say that this exhibition has started to obsess me somewhat. The pictures consist of 96 25x25 colour girds. In this exhibition, he puts 4 together to make 49 10x10 colour grids in what he calls Version II. Richter produces the 25x25 colour paintings by randomly picking from a selection of 25 colours. I'll be considering questions tomorrow like: how many possible paintings are there? If they were laid out end to end how far would all the possibilities stretch? What is the chance that you get two colours together? three colours together? How many other versions are possible? (Richter details 11 possible variations.) In how many paintings will a colour be missing?"

Marcus de Sautoy

De Sautoys analysis - which will be handled during the beeldproject courses - was translated in German and published in the corresponding edition by Hatje Cantz in 2008. An intriguing part of the analysis is the similarity with AI techniques like

AI and artistic research

Computer vision is an interdisciplinary scientific field that deals with how computers can gain high-level understanding from digital images or videos. From the perspective of engineering, it seeks to understand and automate tasks that the human visual system can do …

The scientific discipline of computer vision is concerned with the theory behind artificial systems that extract information from images. The image data can take many forms, such as video sequences, views from multiple cameras, multi-dimensional data from a 3D scanner, or medical scanning device. The technological discipline of computer vision seeks to apply its theories and models to the construction of computer vision systems. (source: Wikipedia)

Natural language processing (NLP) is a subfield of linguistics, computer science, and artificial intelligence concerned with the interactions between computers and human language, in particular how to program computers to process and analyze large amounts of natural language data. The result is a computer capable of "understanding" the contents of documents, including the contextual nuances of the language within them. The technology can then accurately extract information and insights contained in the documents as well as categorize and organize the documents themselves. (source: Wikipedia)