Science Friction Series: #1
Page last updated February 3, 2007













Science Friction Series: #1: The Hottest Scientists in the Art World with Doug Fitch, W. Bradford Paley, Michael Rees, Adam Zaretsky; moderated by Kóan Jeff Baysa

If indeed the naysayers can have their day and say that there are no new ideas in art, then perhaps we can look to mediums as a source of innovation. These four individuals were selected on the basis of their working with unusual mediums in their artistic practice: hi tech materials - Michael Rees, living tissue - Adam Zaretsky, food - Doug Fitch, and data visualisation - W. Bradford Paley. Each of them will give a ~15-20 minute presentation with visuals and a roundtable discussion will follow. Intrinsic to these topics are issues of thinking-outside-the-box, health and safety, legal and ethical dilemmas, marketability, materiality, ephemerality and the “nature” [sic] of art.

The Penthouse at the Roger Smith Hotel. Admission is $5 with reservations, $10 at the the door. Refreshment will be served. RSVP to (212) 339-2092
Sunday, February 4, 2007; 4:00pm

Doug Fitch

I have found the realm of the edible to be fertile ground for making work. For the last ten or so years, I have been working with Mimi Oka on a series of feasts that explore the nature of food as an art medium where feasting works as a kind of performance which can draw attention to how art is a kind of food, and digestion becomes a useful metaphor for how we process all that we bring into our beings. This work is about taking food and shifting the context in which it is normally experienced—the process of cooking, the act of dining, the experience of tasting—so that the food that we think of as food is not the only thing that we think of as food. By seeing all things as food and food as all things, it is easier to see how we are the product of all that we experience.

My inedible work has taken many other directions which always seem to have a lot to do with the materials that choose me. Every material has its first language and has a lot to say about the world simply by its nature. New materials offer the challenge of learning new languages where new forms are spoken—forms which inherently bring a contemporary meaning to the work as it emerges from the process of collaboration with an artist or designer. I have designed homes and constructed furniture out of resins and foamed metals and fibers and light, I have designed and directed operas where many things pretend to be what they are not and I once had a company that produced handmade objects with new materials in the Philippines. I find that the choice of material and the way a material’s properties are brought to light, contains and imparts one of the primary messages of the art of our times.

Michael Rees

Often, when people ask about your materials they want the short hand about what artists are working with. Acrylic or Oil. Wood or Steel and so on. Those are materials that say “art” and not too complicated either. To answer any differently is to suggest that materials are a complex ingredient in the meaning of the work.

The primary materials of my sculpture are systems. The pieces move From inception through drawing into 3 space and virtual machine space, into reified machine space, and then out into the hand manipulated environment. There, they are worked inside and out with hands and synthetic chemical systems, and structural systems, and engineering. They are conditioned and trained and exploded and manipulated in many subtle mediated ways. Often many people work on the pieces and they too are the material of the sculpture.

Ok, maybe too much is made of this material quality... Maybe material has no meaning or context; it is the idea of the work that is the import of a piece. The rest of it a kind of trained monkey or bear performing the will of the magician. Material in some sense is denied or overlooked in favor of the artist maestro. I think this is wrong, material is a seemless contributor to the way we experience the work. It works on our nerves in subtle ways and gives clues that we know and feel without conceptualizing. We experience the work through material and we can do so in great detail or in a quick short hand kind of look.

To consider material and the artist’s intent is like the relationship of mind and brain. Its a sticky mess of assumptions, presumptions, free will and conditioned response. To leave it out of the conversation about art is to side step and important set of issues. For the moment, it is a material question in art.

Adam Zaretsky

On Mutaphobia

A brief analysis of the attractions and repulsions, responsibilities and sociopathologies which are coincident with the flesh hacker’s arena of sculpting inheritance.

Is our ecosphere being altered by Genetically Modified Organisms built for profit margins without authentic oversight or risk assessment? If the technology for genome sculpting of new style humans is a possibility, what, if any, effect will imagination play in our future kindred? What can we know about animal sentience and non-human awareness? How are artists taking these factors into account as they try to express themselves through living collage? As new biological comprehension sprouts new technological processes, what are the overt and covert roles of creativity on the decisions of which traits get embedded into whose new bodies? These are today’s major issues emanating from the intersection of Art and Biology.

W. Bradford Paley

Artists have striven to render the invisible visible for as long as man has made motions, sounds, or marks. W. Bradford Paley’s subject is the overwhelmingly influential—yet still invisible—new substance of our time: the data in our databases. That data, if it was carefully sampled from the world, has the structure of the world. It is not the undifferentiated morass of numbers many people imagine. For some databases this is obvious: the beautiful fluid dynamic vortices that stream away from a simulated jet have the variability and grace of reality because that data comes from a physical simulation. And we have evolved to delight in identifying physics-driven forms.

But non-spatial data also reflects the real world: the thousands of spiky lines Wall Street produces each day aren’t just numbers: they’re the trace of aggregate psychological behavior. The social networks we weave as we meet & bond, the relationships between words in a book, between different areas of science: these, too have the clumpy structure of reality—but they might need vastly more dimensions to capture. While we live comfortably in our three-dimensional space, information scientists think nothing of invoking a 1.3-million-dimensional space to describe such phenomena. Mr. Paley addresses this challenging problem: how do we cast this incredible complexity into forms that are suited to human perception? How do we make the important parts of the data stand out, tell a meaningful story about the subject? Might we even try to make them interesting to view?

There’s a simple solution: he takes direction from the experts. Whether or not people familiar with a data set have ever seen what they study, they mentally resolve it into figure and ground, subject and object, story and setting. Mr. Paley tries to render what they know is there, creating paint-by-numbers rules that let a computer show us some of the true structure in these realms—not inventing forms but revealing them. And because we delight in finding forms with the rhythms of life, we sometimes see beauty even though the forms are only transcriptions—perhaps a deeper beauty because they’re transcriptions, because we know they come from a process not limited by one person’s mind: directly from the invisible world itself.