Article categories: Scientific Serendipity
March 16th, 2010

The Scientific Serendipity artist in residence program was initiated by ANAT in 1998, as part of a larger series of thematic programs called Deep Immersion. These programs aimed to provide a platform for research and development in the areas of theology; art and technology in the Asia Pacific region; and the interface between science and art. The Scientific Serendipity publication airs a range of issues surrounding the art and science nexus.The science and art focus included a range of initiatives, which in part celebrated the thirtieth anniversary of the important exhibition Cybernetic Serendipity held in 1968 at the Institute of Contemporary Art in London. This exhibition was one of the first international art and technology exhibitions, recognising the increasing interest and engagement between art, technology and science practices. By initiating the Scientific Serendipity program, ANAT aimed to contribute to the ongoing art and science dialogue, and to develop resources and research and development opportunities for Australian artists working in or interested in the art/science interface.

The residency program was developed and co-curated by Amanda Mcdonald Crowley (ANAT Director 1995 – 2000) and Linda Cooper (Adelaide based science curator and advisor) with the aim of “… developing collaborations between artists and scientists, opening up dialogue between these disciplines and encouraging the generation of unexpected and alchemic outcomes.”  With funding from the New Media Arts Board of the Australia Council and Dept of Science, Industry and Resources, a call for applications was made. Artists were required to submit proposals for a self-directed residency with scientists or within a science organisation.

The proposals from artists covered a broad arena, ranging from engagement with geological sciences to biology to research in acoustics. The first two residencies were held in 1999 with Sydney based artist D.V. Rogers developing the Earthquake Simulator and Oron Catts and Ionat Zurr from Perth working at the University of WA on the Tissue Culture & Art Project. Following an 18-month break, the final two residencies occurred in 2001. Brisbane artist Adam Donovan (with assistance from Linda Cooper) developed a residency program at the Underwater Acoustics and Ocean Measurements, Maritime Operations Division, Defence Science Technology Organisation (DSTO) in South Australia. Justine Cooper (New South Wales/United States of America) was in residence at the American Museum of Natural History in New York, assisting with The Genomic Revolution exhibition.

The residency program provided some funding and a period of time for the artists to research their work, and to access technology, knowledge and resources that may otherwise be unavailable to them. It also to encouraged dialogues between the artists and their host organisation or science contacts. This was envisaged as a two-way discourse, with the potential for the science host to engage with artistic practices and methodologies. In most cases, the research conducted by the artist was in direct collaboration with the science host and has contributed to and enriched the host organisation’s own knowledge and resource base.

As a continued contribution to these dialogues, ANAT has produced this publication to document the residencies and to garner some of the responses and benefits for both the host organisations and artists. Through a series of interviews, the artists the experiences of and provide insights into their residencies. To complement the interviews, San Francisco based commentator Rich Gold (creator of the Xerox PARC artist-in-residence program) offers illuminating perspectives on notions of collaboration and the ‘alliance’ between science and art.

The Scientific Serendipity publication airs a range of issues surrounding the art and science nexus. For ANAT, the continued support of this field is an important step in bringing art, science and technology together. At the same time, we encourage debate encompassing broader issues around scientific developments, the changing nature of innovation and the processes of collaboration. As part of the ongoing support research into the art and science sector, ANAT is developing the Synapse database (online August 2002) for the New Media Arts Board of the Australia Council. As a major component of the Board’s Synapse art and science initiative, the database is an essential tool in the ongoing development of art and science collaborations.

I would like to thank the artists for contributing their comments to the publication and to Kathy Cleland who conducted the interviews. I would also like to thank the host organisations, for providing expertise and resources to enable the artists to undertake periods of research and development – an important and invaluable space for thought and experimentation in the development of an artist’s practice. Finally I would like to acknowledge the Department of Science, Industry and Resource who supported Scientific Serendipity through a Science Technology Awareness (STAP) Grant and the New Media Arts Board of the Australia Council, for its continued support of ANAT and its programs.

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