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Spring 2006 | v.02 n.01 |

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Zev Robinson


artafterscience was formed by Adrian Marshall and myself to explore the intersection of art, science and technology, and as an open-ended project in collaboration with others. Although we have created a wide variety of works, randomness, not only as a concept but also as a way of working, has become a core element in developing our projects.

Using Flash as a platform, we started out creating works in which color, movement and the juxtaposition of elements were random so the piece goes on without the viewer ever seeing the same thing twice. Whether randomness truly exists, or how a computer calculates randomness (or pseudo-randomness), is a debate external to our interests. What is important is that a series of images and events occur that the viewer cannot predict nor will see again.

When I was in art school in the early eighties, someone told me about a performance by John Cage in which he read Finnegan’s Wake accompanied by a slide show of a variety of random images. Since I was interested in free-association in art – from surrealism to Joseph Cornell to Bob Dylan – this idea stuck in my mind, and was reborn in some of artafterscience’s works. Going out and videoing chance occurrences, whatever comes across the camera or whatever the camera comes across, then cutting it up and reassembling it into a broken, non-linear narrative based on music has been the process in the creation of many of my video works. Unlike the Flash-based pieces, the form is fixed, but randomness and free-association are still central to them.

John Cage’s ideas keep coming up in artafterscience projects. Air Waves combines the idea of recreating his Imaginary Landscape No.4, for twelve radios, for the digital age, combining it with the clichéd repetitiveness of mass media and advertising (Figure 1).

Figure 1. Airwaves. http://www.artafterscience. com/airwaves/airwaves.htm

Sometimes it seems that Cage himself is part of the random process of artafterscience. I clicked on a link to the site of the art critic Edward Lucie-Smith and made a snap decision to email him about several things. He in turn introduced me to the Italian pianist Claudio Crismani, who is interested in creating The Prometheus Project, an audio-visual project based on the synaesthesia of Russian composer Alexander Scriabin ( www.artafterscience.com/scriabin/scriabin.htm). Crismani has also recorded a double CD of Cage’s Etudes Australes, which is being used for a video installation based on Edward Lucie-Smith’s poem on Caravaggio (www.artafterscience.com/caravaggio/caravaggio.htm)

I told one of the scientists who had been interviewed for Randomness and Certainty (described below) about our various projects, including the one on synaesthesia, and he suggested that I contact another scientist doing research in that field. We will be developing a sci-art project with her, perhaps within the context of ThePrometheus Project, perhaps separate from it.

What was interesting was how the two projects met up, as it were, creating a full circle. What seems like a series of random coincidences, or perhaps a confluence of events, has created a momentum and Zen-like flow within artafterscience. The randomness element is important not only as subject matter but as a way of working and of being.

Randomness and Certainty

Barbara Zanditon, a friend with a keen interest in both science and the arts, and I had been talking about collaborating on a new media piece, slowly developing it over the course of many months and meetings, until we distilled it into Randomness and Certainty, asking scientists how their professional experience has affected their personal understanding of life. The interviews are then edited and included in a Flash-based work, in random order and juxtaposed randomly with a variety of images (http://www.artafterscience.com/randomness/index.htm).

If scientists are being objective, then why do they disagree on just about everything? As the focus of much of artafterscience's work has been how context affects meaning, Randomness and Certainty explores to what extent this (the imagery, the other interviews) affects what they are saying.

A fascinating coincidence often occurs between what is being said and the imagery, as well as between the interviews themselves – it is as if the scientists are often talking to each other.

The dichotomy between the subjective and the objective is another aspect of the question, or at least our idea behind the question, and that is that science is a human activity, created by humans, of interest to humans, and affecting us all. A wide variety of subjects are talked about, including the relationship between science and religion, between humans and nature, being a woman in a male-dominated environment, the role of knowledge and of education in peoples’ lives, and how and why they became (and, in a few cases, stopped being) scientists.

With Barbara Zanditon conducting the interviews, Randomness and Certainty started off with three scientists we knew personally, and slowly built up from there, again by what seemed like a random series of events. The more we added, the richer the piece became, and the more interesting it became for new potential interviewees. At present there are five hundred clips based on twenty-six interviews, and more will be added shortly.

Though the form is quite simple, in terms of its content, Randomness and Certainty is the most complex and robust of our random works, and is taking on a life of its own, perhaps a consequence of collaborating with so many people.

Besides the project on synaesthesia described above, one of the scientists has put us in touch with the BA (British Assoc. for the Advancement of Science), and they in turn gave us a list of scientists to contact.

The BA will also present an installation version of Randomness and Certainty, with full-screen imagery (since download times won’t have to be considered), at the Science Museum's annex, The Dana Centre, London in October 2006, as well as showing it at a science fair in Norwich (UK) in September 2006, and perhaps at different venues across the country.

We will be developing other sci-art projects as well, not only for our interest in the pieces themselves, but because the barriers between disciplines are being broken down. The science/art distinction is fairly recent. Artists such as Leonardo or Rubens (who were creative in both fields) would not have made such a distinction, and we welcome the possibility of new media and digital art to once again merge the two.

New media and digital art, from video to prints to net art, also hold the promise to de-compartmentalize other aspects of the art world. Artists no longer have to be confined to gallery spaces, but can use web sites, CD-ROM’s, DVD’s and video screenings to show their work and promulgate their ideas, undermining many recent theoretical assumptions and myths about what is and is not art. It has made many of our projects and ways of working possible.

We see John Cage as a precursor to this attitude in many ways, and hope to continue to create works whereby chance, variety, collaboration, and the dissolution of borders play a critical part.

For more information, please visit www.artafterscience.com or email info@artafterscience.com

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