Between Art and Science

written by Josipa Bubaš

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The structures of the invisible exhibition, opened on 16 April 2014 at the Klovićevi dvori Gallery, is part of a larger interdisciplinary project which includes the collaboration of artists and scientists. The potential of such collaboration is emphasized by the topic of the project, and access into an area which is outside our everyday perception. The encouragement that the artists see in scientific paradigms as a way of communication with reality is not new – in recent Croatian art history it was, perhaps, manifested most evidently in the New Tendencies movement (1961–1973) which was formed in Zagreb, and which gathered many artists and scientists who, among other things, also explored perception. The structures of the invisible exhibition thus continues the tradition, showing eight works which were created in the dialogue between artists and scientists, while emphasizing the equality of the position of these similar, and yet very different, perspectives. Artists used scientific facts in different ways. Scientific cognition, as a valid image of the world, served as a starting point to art in the exploration of invisible structures of reality. The assumption is that science clarifies that which is sporadically insinuated. We must not forget the words of Werner Heisenberg, one of the pioneers of quantum physics, who in the book titled Physics and Philosophy says: Natural science does not simply describe and explain nature; it is part of the interplay between nature and ourselves. What we observe is not nature itself, but nature exposed to our method of questioning. The potential of the question posed lies precisely in the possibility to restructure the answer which creates reality. Art is the act of questioning; ideally it is the possibility of liberation from an unambiguous answer.

In the communication between art and science, however, the hierarchy of the western worldview becomes apparent – it is rational and empirical, as opposed to the flexible and intuitive, even if the science itself refutes its foundations which rest on the existence of the subject, which is separate and independent from the surroundings and the world. In the dialogue between art and science it seems that science provides assumptions, and then art elaborates them in, a more or less, casual manner. However, it would be interesting to apply artistic strategies to scientific processes, and try to find mechanisms which are not based on pure rationality, whose existence is more a paradigm than a reality, if those categories can still be used. In the exhibition catalogue there are several discrepancies in terminology used by artists and scientists, as well as conflicting approaches to the same problem. This area is potentially the most interesting since it allows the possibility of the evaluation of the existing terminology and performative acts. Heisenberg says: The real problem behind these numerous controversies was the fact that no language existed in which one could speak consistently about the new situation. Ordinary language was based upon old concepts of space and time, and this language offered the only unambiguous means of communication about the setting up, and the results of the measurements. Here we can draw a parallel between the elusiveness of scientific discoveries in language, and the relation of art and normative reality, or finding new modalities of being, and new ways of perception/creation of reality inherent to artistic activity. Reality is constructed in language, but language cannot describe reality. Can art? While science is based on the assumption, art is based on the possibility. In that context the collaboration between an artist and a scientist is potentially fruitful, provided that they are equal. If science becomes a teacher of art, and if a hierarchical relation is established, there can be no dialogue, and art becomes merely an artistic translation of scientific assumptions. The exhibition The structures of the invisible occasionally reflects such a relation, which is merely a reflection of time in which science is practically a new dogma. Yet, the exhibition works partly manage to open a new area, creating a dialogue where the performative quality of the work of art manages to be more than just an illustration of science. Making visible the invisible thus in no way implies that invisible is translated into a familiar language, but that the perception of the visitors is opened to new levels of activities. In that segment works still employ a familiar vocabulary, and take on a format of spatial installation which the visitors enter, or are drawn into. The significance of the perceptive apparatus of the observer is made apparent, mostly by emphasizing the visual, or the spatial experience. Such an approach can be seen in the works of Pierre Gallais, whose works are based on abstract mathematical principles, and function as mathematical experiments with light. Similar is the work Black over Blue by Marine Antony, who puts plates which are black on one side and fluorescent on the other, on all levels of an obscure space, which results in a kind of a visual vibration field. Mirjana Vodopija places a projection screen in a dark room; it is narrowing into a thin line, and makes an impression of simulated particles acceleration. Drawing Box by Isabelle Sordage creates an area where the observer dives into the sound simulation which is experienced almost on a tactile level. Entering the space with three concave surfaces, which reject the sound waves against the wall, the visitor feels the changes in the intensity of sound vibrations as he walks. The red wall creates a velvety impression which establishes the relation of optic and auditory stimuli thus creating a specific atmosphere.

The principle of mixing different modalities of perception (mostly auditory and visual), which can be seen in White noise by Marine Antony, seems to be a good choice for dealing with invisible structures. How to insinuate the existence of the invisible by raising awareness of the mechanisms of perception?


Art and science are cognitive tools which participate in the creation of reality, and therefore they have a large responsibility. The problem of the rationalist system is the tendency to separate and categorize, which impairs communication among different activities. The problem of language is also an aggravating circumstance, as is the question of methodology. In an ideal situation neither art nor science should be on their separate pedestals, communicating only occasionally. The hidden structures of reality, if we take Heisenberg’s words into account, will then be just another reflection of the known, and the potential of the different will be lost. The art of asking questions is the beginning of destabilization of the accepted stability of the answers, and that is the domain where art should profit from its declarative freedom, and dare to make a breakthrough.