Science need not be the enemy of art,
but neither should it be the master
A longstanding concern of art is the nature of life itself. And especially since the discovery of the structure of DNA in the 1950s, science has revolutionised the human capacity to understand and modify all living organisms, including ourselves as a species and as individuals. More recently, over the past couple of decades or so, there has grown up a varied international community of artists who engage with or utilise the biological, medical and environmental sciences, often working under the wing of scientific research institutions and funding bodies. Their work often questions the ethical implications, potentials and challenges of these fast-developing technologies, confronting some of the thorniest issues of our time in ways that are both perennial and urgent.
Close correspondence between science and art is nothing new, not least because artists have always sought out new media and techniques and offered a critical lens on prevailing ways of sensing and perceiving the world. However, this recent movement is distinct because its proponents have sought to transcend the polarization of objective versus subjective knowledge and taken the ideas, insights and methods that science has to offer into the core of their practice. With their pioneering interdisciplinary achievements, these artists are claiming their substantial and adventurous contribution to artistic culture.
Room Two is a collective of artists, curators, and art and cultural historians, who are inspired, informed, fascinated, concerned or otherwise stimulated by scientific learning, especially in the domains of biology, medicine and ecology. Many of us have benefited from artist residencies in laboratories and other modes of collaboration with scientists and their organizations. Our creative and curatorial work is widely collected and exhibited not only in leading specialist venues, but also individually in definitive biennials, festivals, museums and galleries around the world. As a group, we have moved beyond the niche of hybrid ‘art-science’ or ‘bio-art’, or variations thereof, into the dialectical mainstream of artistic movements that have responded to the technological changes that determine modernity.
Humans have already impacted the Earth and the life upon it to such an extent that many scientists now speak of an 'anthropocene' era in which the indelible stamp of our species can be seen in every aspect of the natural world. Global warming is only the most recent and urgently apparent outcome. The increasing sophistication of new biotechnologies such as gene editing stands to influence the biosphere in perhaps more radical ways, and how benign these effects prove to be depends in part upon the ethical considerations that artists are preeminently able to add. Artists have long responded to the conditions of their times: the achievements of the Renaissance, for example, emerged from the concentrations of wealth, power and innovation in early modern capitalism; later, Modernism devised revolutionary aesthetic strategies from the shattering experiences of mechanized industry and world war. In the present era of big science and massive data driving technological and social innovation, we wish to map, develop and promote the exciting artistic consciousness that is responding to these epoch-making changes with extraordinary works and new kinds of practice. A major artistic movement has taken root around the world, and it deserves to be recognised and to flourish in the full sight of the public sphere.
We propose to do this not only by determining our own creative agendas through practical means such as group residencies and interventions, but also by means of mounting a major exhibition in a high-profile, canon-forming contemporary art venue both nationally and internationally. This will be based on a thorough programme of international research to assess the state of the art, and to discover the finest examples from the field, to show alongside selections from our own bodies of work. The curatorial process will be collective, with guiding input from the artists. Such an exhibition should not ignore the potential for raising the market profile and commercial value of this genre of artwork.
Fundamentally, art grapples with the stuff of human experience. It gives form to the various ways in which it is possible to live and to be, whether in reality or in the imagination, and in so doing expands our mental and physical horizons. What has been happening at the interstices of science and the arts, in laboratories and a few interdisciplinary research programmes, venues and galleries over the past few decades has been too important to be left there, where it risks falling between the two stools of experimental art and mere science communication. This movement -- in which our members are leading lights -- needs a landmark international survey exhibition from the commanding heights of the art-world. It will show not only that interdisciplinary art and science have come of age, but most of all, that art beyond science can enlighten and enthuse large and diverse audiences in the UK and further afield.