Article categories: Issue 56
March 16th, 2010

The Australian Network for Art and Technology has been supporting artists working in the areas of art and science engagement since its inception in the late 1980s. A founding principle of the organisation is ‘to establish and develop the interaction between the arts, sciences and technology’. This goal is realised through creating opportunities for artists to access technology and resources through science organisations as well as supporting collaboration and interaction between artists and scientists. Increasingly artists are engaging with scientific discourses and in turn the science field is attracted to the creative practices and methodologies of artists.

In 1993 and 1994 ANAT Directors Virginia Barratt and David O’Halloran curated the touring visual art component of the Great Australian Science Show. The 1993 exhibition curated by Barratt, featured the work of Deborah Kelly, Dale Nason, Troy Innocent, Moira Corby, Faye Maxwell, Brad Miller and Jason Gee. In 1994 Artists Thinking About SCIENCE curated by O’Halloran included Linda Dement, Jan Nelson, Richard Stanford, Kevin Todd and John Tonkin. David O’Halloran commented about the exhibition, “The artists…do not simply illustrate scientific principles with their work. They are dealing with attitudes and ideas about science, and not necessarily producing images that science may regard as correct or factual.”

From the outset, ANAT has been committed to providing opportunities for artists to produce new work. This goal was most notably achieved between 1988 – 1996 through the coordination of the Art Research and Development Fund, a devolved grant program from the Australia Council.  The R & D fund assisted numerous Australian artists in their endeavours to create new and original work which experimented with science, technology or new media.  The considerable impact of the R & D fund was acknowledged in 1997, when the Australia Council established the New Media Arts Fund. ANAT continues to provide direct funding assistance to artists using technology, through grant programs like the Conference and Workshops Fund, residency programs such as the Deep Immersion project and the LOGIN: Immersive Residencies for artists in mid-take off. (Amanda McDonald Crowley, ANAT Annual Report 1998)

The first of the Deep Immersion programs, initiated in 1998, was Scientific Serendipity, focussing on the interface between science and art and providing support for artists to undertake self-directed residencies with a science organisation or individual. The first two residencies were held in 1999 with Sydney based artist David Rodgers re-commissioning an earthquake simulator as a research tool with the Australian Geological Survey Organisation. The second residency supported Perth based Oron Catts and Ionat Zurr to work at the University of Western Australia, on the Tissue Culture and Art Project – now SymbioticA –The Art and Science Collaborative Research Laboratory. The final two residencies occurred in 2001. Brisbane based artist Adam Donovan developed a residency program researching focussed acoustics at the Maritime Operations Division of the Defence, Science and Technology Organisation in South Australia. Justine Cooper was in residence at the American Museum of natural History in New York assisting with the major year-long exhibition The Genomic Revolution.

Through the work of its New Media Arts Board, the Australia Council has also made investments in research and development between the arts, sciences and technology. In 1997, a pilot artists placement program was established with the CSIRO Division of Mathematics and Information Sciences. CMIS is interested in exploring synergies and ways in which artistic disciplines may influence their research across a broad range of discipline areas of mathematics, statistics, computer science and information technologies for example virtual environments and digital media research. Artists to complete this 12-month residency include Horst Kechle and Iain Mott.

After scoping the potential in this area for brokering new partnerships, the New Media Arts Board supported the development of an Art and Science Initiative. Named Synapse: enabling collaborations between art and science, this strategy aims to maximise the benefits of these creative collaborations through a coordinated program of support. This initiative has three key goals:

  • Develop new collaborations and creative partnerships between artists and scientists
  • Raise the level of awareness among artistic and scientific communities and the general public about the exciting collaborations being undertaken in Australia
  • Develop a sustainable support base for long-term collaboration across the arts and sciences.

As part of its continued support of art and science practice, ANAT is one of the key partners in this initiative, developing the Synapse database ( and the Synapse Art and Science Residency Program. The database, launched in May 2003, is an online resource promoting the nexus of art and science through a register of collaborative projects, individual artists work, and partnering organisations. The Synapse database is a networking and information tool in the on-going development of art and science collaborations.

The Synapse Art and Science Residency Program will create new opportunities for artists to work alongside scientists and forge new links with science organisations.

The other significant opportunity to arise from the Australia Council’s Art and Science initiative is in partnership with the Australian Research Council. Australian Research Council’s Linkage program supports collaborative research projects between the tertiary sector, researchers and industry. Through the Synapse partnership, the Australian Council can provide support as an industry partner for art and science research collaborations. The first round of these projects was announced in October last year: Auto Nomad: A location-based handheld audio device for sound-art applications (Nigel Helyer with the University of NSW) and Fish-Bird: Autonomous interaction in a contemporary arts setting (Mari Velonaki with University of Sydney, Australian Centre for Field Robotics).

ANAT recognises that art and science practice has developed a place in Australian contemporary culture. In the context of new media arts, the practice emerges as  ‘interdisciplinary art’ where the science or the scientists are the cross-fertilising partner.  The practise has an intimate relationship with new media technologies as the medium for their expression, or as tools for inquiry. Artists working with science often move within the technology, extending its boundaries and our perceptual relationship to it. Art and science practice should create new avenues of funding and support, providing the ability to broker new relationships.

ANAT is currently developing an Art and Science Policy to be completed in May 2004. The Policy will articulate ANAT’s art and science vision and ensure develop strategies to seek out and support new opportunities for emerging and established Australian artists. This may be in engaging with science processes in research organisations, or with individual expertise and phenomena. ANAT is also keen to develop promotional and discussion opportunities for the field, through a program of broadcast opportunities, publications, symposiums and exhibition activity, nationally and internationally.

Linda Cooper & Julianne Pierce

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