Eminent art historian Leo Steinberg, in an essay written in 1986, asks whether art and science necessarily need to be yoked.1 He spotlights the gifts of DaVinci’s cultural offerings as a case in point. For Steinberg, “unlike his surpassed scientific work, Leonardo’s artistic creation is unrepeatable, like the life of the man.” For Steinberg, the yoking of art and science remains a skeptical pairing. However, in an age of accelerating pixels and bits and bytes, images are both computational output and aesthetic barometers. This combination of laboratory life and imagery allows the visual artist to forge ahead into the conceptual intersections of liminality, ambiguity, and new representational spaces, which in turn form the epistemological underpinnings of the new hybrid “poly-disciplines” combining visual culture and the bio-sciences. Innovative, if not radical, perspectives become available.2
As an example, my sculptural series Remote Sensing refers to new digital technologies that can picture places that are either too toxic or inaccessible to visit. Using state-of-the-art satellite data, remote sensing apparatuses are employed to computationally create images of such spaces. As an extension of digital photography, these images garner information electronically in order to bypass onsite investigations. The fabrication of my Remote Sensing (2015-2017) series begins with two-dimensional digital photographs, which are converted into three-dimensional virtual models using a technique called displacement mapping. The resulting files are employed to fabricate physical objects using a 3-D printer. The software program determines the deposition of variegated color applied to the structure as it is being printed, one layer at a time. Dark areas are extruded less than bright colors, keeping in tune with the ways in which pictorial spaces are perceived.
These micro-landscapes offer the viewer a top-down topographic experience assembled by zeros and ones. In these rapid prototyped sculptures, forms become numbers, and numbers become form. Such computational methods of image-making are not merely technical exercises. They forge alternative ways in which opticality can be expanded. The software program is an alternative eye. Akin to early forays into the instrumentalized techniques of the microscope, 3-D scanning devices register topography. In my work, I transfer such a technique to object-making. The data generated in these objects come from still life sources that I set up in my studio. The components range from flowers to vegetables to geological specimens, creating a mix and match between organic and inorganic aspects of the world around us in its variegated hues and unique natural formations. Each configuration of these works takes the geometry of a circle, inspired by Jules Petri’s glassware dish, and crosses the divide between the disciplines of art and science.
- Leo Steinberg, “Art and Science: Do They Need to be Yoked?” Daedalus: Proceeding of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences 115, no.5 (Summer, 1986): 1-16.
- Suzanne Anker, “Biofictions and Biofacts: Staking a Claim in the Biocultural Bank” in Anker and Talasek, eds. Visual Culture and Bioscience, Issues in Cultural Theory 12, 2008
Suzanne Anker is a visual artist and theorist working in New York City.
Beyond the Janus-Faced Typologies of Art and TechnologyBy Charlotte Kent
JUL-AUG 2022 | Art and Technology
This column aims to focus on art that engages technology as a medium or a topic. We live in a digital culture and I have found that I better understand the technologies I use, as well as what to reject, in no small part through the thoughtful efforts of artists. Ive grasped the subtleties of coding and computational design by hearing about how artists struggle with it. Ive reconsidered the history of art because it suddenly seems so strange that the last five hundred years of creative practice could be presented as if these artists were not responding to, discussing, and adopting technologies ranging from perspective, gross anatomy, printing, navigational charts, biological categories, camera obscuras, trains, electrification, photography, moving image, and here we start to get into the more recent technologies that are so easily disdained: television, computers, the internet, social media
Past and Present for a Creative FutureBy Charlotte Kent
MARCH 2023 | Art and Technology
Two museum shows opened in February about art and technology that, combined, span the last seventy years and present some of the different discourses surrounding the convergence of these two fields. Ill Be Your Mirror: Art and the Digital Screen, curated by Alison Hearst at The Modern Museum of Fort Worth presents nearly every contemporary medium from paintings and installations to games and face filters in an expansive exhibition of fifty artists across twelve sections touching on some of the major psycho-social outcomes of our mediated landscape. Coded: Art Enters the Computer Age 1952-1982, curated by Leslie Jones at LACMA includes prints, video, textiles and sculptural objects that admirably present a historical trajectory of artists experimentations with the possibilities of computational devices across those early years, when design limitations foregrounded composition and structure. Those constraints also contributed, occasionally, to a kind of didacticism, for which the field remains frequently derided.
Difference Machines: Technology and Identity in Contemporary ArtBy Charlotte Kent
DEC 21-JAN 22 | ArtSeen
The curators, Tina Rivers Ryan and Paul Vanouse, focus their broad agenda through four themes: the use of digital technologies for passive (but not always effective) surveillance, how identities are shaped by technology, the erasure of marginalized communities, and the active reassertion of control.
The Slowest Wave – Dancing for DataBy Dillon Heyck
FEB 2023 | Dance
A striking collaboration between neuroscientists and contemporary butoh dancers culminated in a moving assemblageJapanese dance, EEG technology, databases, light, pregnancy, science writing, and emergency alarms remixed with house beats. Vangelines The Slowest Wave is a hybrid work featuring choreography inspired not only by deep psychological sensuousness but also material, electromagnetic properties of the body.