20 Sep

GV Art Gallery, 49 Chiltern Street, London W1U 6LY. 8th July-24th September 2011

This small group show has emerged from the notion (apparently still novel to some people) that “these days some of the most innovative artists are fusing art and science to create a brand new art movement inspired by science.” I love that grandma-esque “these days.”  When I was knee high to a grasshopper, none of the most innovative artists were fusing art and science to create brand new movements. We had to make do with unfused movements but we were happy with unfused movements, in fact they seemed very modern to us because we were used to just playing with a hoop and a stick and we didn’t have all the distractions that young people have today.

Anyway, “some of the most innovative artists […] fusing art and science” aren’t in this exhibition because so much space is being taken up by the usual suspects who show up in every single exhibition, conference or critical text about sci-art, like Stelarc or Oron Catts and his bloody pig wings. Stelarc is not and never has been scientific in any meaningful sense of the word: he fits neatly, however, into the look at my tits/dick while I cut myself and have a shit school of tedious, attention whore performance artists. Nor is masochistic self-harm a recognised scientific discipline, unless I’m even more out of the academic loop than I think I am.

I really wish curators and art writers would reach out more and do some proper research into the genuinely beautiful and innovative things that artists and scientists are doing now (i.e. not in the late 90s) with interpretation, inspiration and imaging of scientific processes, both within their own professions and in collaboration with each other. There’s so much going on that’s deserving of wider knowledge and appreciation; we really don’t need to keep seeing Stelarc being a really crappy homemade cyborg from Maplin or whatever the fuck he thinks he’s doing.

Most of these dalliances with science seem incredibly superficial and end up being neither scientifically insightful nor visually appealing. Even worse than that in an exhibition context, far too much sci-art (especially the biotech stuff) gives the impression that making the work may well have been such a brilliant private lark for everyone involved in the process that showing the work to anyone else is almost beside the point. You had to be there. The Catts/Zurr Tissue Culture & Art Project definitely falls into this category. The concepts are fascinating, the actual work produced is fairly irrelevant.

Paradoxically this is more like a scientific process than an artistic one: reading commentary on what was done is usually much more illuminating than seeing it with your own eyes.  Often your own eyes are not even adequate for the task of understanding what’s going on. This a feature in the scientific world but something of a bug in an art world that wants to put pictures on walls. That’s why the objective, intellectual process of scientific enquiry has a well established process of peer reviewed publication of papers, but the subjective and (mostly) visual practice of artists doesn’t. Even critical writing on art is primarily about what the writer sees and feels, or what they believe the artist thinks and feels, not about empirical observation or replicable results.

Likewise, Davide Angheleddu’s sculptures are made by a cool-sounding process, “digital laser sintering”, but the sculptures themselves are not interesting at all. This is completely the wrong way around. If you want to show the work publicly, then the process or the technology involved in making it should not be more exciting than the artwork it produces. Compare this with the generally impeccable combination of scientific credibility, truly contemporary relevance and aesthetic appeal that’s often on show in contemporary work shown down the road from this gallery at the Wellcome Trust.

Stray observation/PS: WordPress suggested “look at my tits” as a tag for this post. Is this an actual category of blog post? “Today’s post is the latest in the series I’ve been doing about looking at my tits.”


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