Quote of the Week: Between Art & Science

From an interview with media artist Andrea Polli, who is discussing the difference between artists and scientists:

“The difference between the two for me has been when you get down to the nitty gritty making the work. Not being scientists and being familiar with all the scientific tools, I usually can’t be involved with the hands on scientific work. So I can ask if data sets can be formatted in certain ways but I can’t actually do it alongside the scientists. With other artists it’s different, all of us can get into the code of what we’re doing and make adjustments. So there’s a little bit of a disconnect unfortunately when working with scientists, where you have to use language to communicate the ideas rather than working directly. So this requires a lot of clarity and a lot of understanding of what the science is.”

The interview was conducted by Mark Peter Wright, and it was published earlier this month at earroom.wordpress.com, which hosts an ongoing series of interviews about sound art. Polli has produced an extensive body of work, sometimes in collaboration with scientists

The Polli-Wright conversation covers a lot of bases, some alarming (one gallery scheduled to display Polli’s work seems inordinately focused on real-time processing, presumably because it’s more immediately exciting to an audience than is the time-intensiveness of research-based work), some historical (she talks about the early days of personal computing, when programming was something far more common for computer users to participate in than it is today), some about the limits of art (she notes that for all the potential in acoustic technologies, the world is best experienced through that particularly complex technology: the human body).

By distinguishing artists from scientists, Polli helps accentuate the point that simply employing technology doesn’t make one a scientist — the life’s pursuit that is scientific inquiry is a distinct type of engagement than is that of the artist. And while scientific and artistic pursuits have much in common, they also have significant differences, ones not to be lost sight of. And while much computer music has its roots in science, and while many computer musicians may have advanced facility with the technological components they utilize, they are not to be mistaken for scientists.

Polli’s point of view reminds me of that of artist Gail Wight, whom I interviewed recently for Nature (see nature.co.uk), in that Polli’s affection for science makes her respect the divide between herself and the scientists with whom she collaborates, and (as I interpret her comments) makes her wary of anyone who might employ science as a guise intended to undeservedly suggest depth or complexity, something Wight has expressed concern in regard to.

More on Polli at andreapolli.com.

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