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Durham University

Institute of Advanced Study

Past Events

IAS Fellows' Seminar - The Delicate Balance of Hybrid Arts: Concept, Language and Scale

20th January 2020, 13:00 to 14:00, Seminar Room, Institute of Advanced Study, Alexandra Carr


Science provides a wealth of source material for any artist, so the emerging art science field is no surprise. Artists are masterful at communicating complex ideas in a very visceral manner to a general audience. For this reason, art science collaborations are very welcome, in order to disseminate scientific research. This however, brings with it a problem. The art science field is awash with illustrative responses to scientific ideas, often simply serving as window dressing to the research. The movement of hybrid arts takes collaborative research projects a step further, to place both disciplines in the public eye with equal weight, establishing a new, third field. The methodologies and outputs of hybrid arts challenge public perceptions and provide avenues for more substantial engagement.

One of the difficulties in working in the hybrid arts is that the collaborative dynamic and methodologies, from project to project, are unique. Hybrid arts requires all partners to be willing to relinquish an element of ownership of their field and to step into new, uncomfortable territories. When working collaboratively in large, interdisciplinary groups, each party has their own agenda and imagined outcome, which is often not intuitively aligned with the aims of others. This makes the area in which the Venn diagram of intersecting goals exist, very narrow. Finding the common destination of the collaborative endeavor can be almost as challenging as the task at hand.

In addition, the nuances of the vernacular of a discipline can be a cause for miscommunication, so a common language needs to be established with each project. Stripping back the language of your discipline, whether that be, practical, visual or lexical, to get to the simplest form of the ideas, takes practice, as does identifying the amount of detail that is required for each discipline to develop, challenge and test those ideas with their own specific approach. Successful collaborative research requires knowledge exchange, but not so much so that it is merely an exercise in educating yourself in a new discipline. Each discipline must find a way to respectfully step into that of another and back again into their expertise, becoming adept at moving between these two conceptual spaces.

When artists work with scientists, there is a great deal of overlap in terms of practical concerns as both fields are constrained by physical limitations. The artist however, has the added challenge of scalability. A great deal of scientific research is conceptually and aesthetically rich; however, scaling this to a human scale and timeframe is a big challenge. This task can often be complicated, expensive, and at times, practically impossible. This can mean that a compromise has to be made, which runs the risk of losing depth and communicability.

Working in the hybrid arts provides many problems to overcome. For many, this is part of the joy of working in the field. It is challenging, exciting and, for the most part, it has never been done before. The skill in producing work in the hybrid arts, is to navigate your way through the problems to find the ‘sweet spot’ where the right balance between concept, scale, execution, accessibility and openness of interpretation can be found.

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