Scientists/Artists Research Collaborations (SARC)

Co-directors: Jack Ox and Richard Lowenberg

SARC seeks to understand and foster examples for how mutually furthering collaborations among artists and scientists can be encouraged, stewarded and realized, with ultimate social benefits, through collaborative processes, research, learning and creation of new works.

SARC intends to develop a pragmatic yet creative strategic path forward, document its research and projects, evaluate methodologies as case study scenarios, determine problems and issues of interest to all parties, work on projects that address questions and afford solutions, coordinate with regional education programs and foster valued benefits for local and global society. Ultimately, SARC will focus on creation of new works, in the convergent sciences and arts.

SARC’s Summer 2012 pilot initiative laid the groundwork, creating a space where conversations and relationships were initiated between selected artists and interested science researchers, in order for them to continue collaborations in any combination that fits developing target issues. The first five artists chosen from a SARC- ISEA2012 international call, spent parts of Summer 2012 communicating and interacting with researchers at both Sandia and Los Alamos National Laboratories (LANL). A two-day Working Group meeting in September at Santa Fe Institute, included intensive scrutiny of the SARC pilot experience while also focusing on larger issues and opportunities facing ongoing art-science collaboration.

University of New Mexico is also directly involved through the Center for Advanced Research Computing (CARC). Start-up funding for SARC’s Summer 2012 initiative was provided by The New Mexico Consortium, at LANL, and by Lockheed Martin-Sandia Labs. Under fiscal sponsorship of 516 ARTS in Albuquerque, SARC’s Summer collaboration processes and outcomes were showcased at ISEA2012 through a series of regional community panel discussions, presentations and an exhibition.

Art-Science is a hybrid. When successful, it blends aspects from both the domains of the arts and the sciences, and remains open-mindedly ventilated to benefit from many disciplines and worldviews. Traditionally, there are oppositional values, including a graduated linking scale between them, which shows conceptual connections between both domains in varying degrees. Some of these oppositional values are: explanatory versus experiential; quantitative versus qualitative; or simply having the goal of only one possible outcome on the science side — to acceptance and possible joy for having multiple possible outcomes from a single hypothesis on the art side.

There are also many organizational, structural and economic variations for SEAD initiatives, including those initiated in universities, by corporations, by funding institutions and federal agencies, by nonprofit entities and by individuals. Most attempts to engage artists and designers and engineers or scientists in projects to date have produced un-equal collaborations; with the artist serving as a graphic illustrator for science researchers, or engineers/technicians creating the apparatus or applications needed by an artist to do their work. This has proven to not be sustainable. The advent of digital code and media technologies has largely taken precedent over broader issues that are the domain of the sciences, resulting in creative works of ‘techne’ rather than of ‘world-views’ and complex understandings. Art-Science ought to seek a more balanced approach, achieved by nourishing and developing all sides of the equation.

Some of the evaluation questions to be considered by SARC participants:
• Is there a successful methodology for enabling equal but diverse collaborative relationships? What are other assessed ‘best practices’?
• A conceptual blend results in emergence: a quality that is more than the sum of its parts. Are there aspects of the collaborations that have ’emergent’ qualities?
• If mutual arts and sciences benefits are realizable, how may they be valued, as basis for development of emergent and supporting program economic models?

While we understand that the very term and individual words ‘art and science’ are self-limiting, we also understand that there are many variations on the Art-Science theme, and that SARC is only one among many rich possibilities of contextual variations. SARC will be a unique case study, not directly replicable or applicable to all other SEAD initiatives, but a most important opportunity to learn, practice and apply necessary lessons that may inform timely and vital actualizations of trans-disciplinary socially motivated objectives.