Art versus science or art and science?

4 September 2014
 The Sunflower Panel was the focus of Dr Barry Hill's (left) presentation Photo: Dr Barry Hill.
The Sunflower Panel was the focus of Dr Barry Hill's (left) presentation Photo: Dr Barry Hill.

Contemporary society tends to class the arts as a different field to science; where art is seen as emotional and science as factual. This separation begins early with primary and secondary school subjects and is the basis of what little relationship there is between art and science in western culture.

This separation begins early with primary and secondary school subjects and is the basis of what little relationship there is between art and science in western culture. 

To bridge the gap between the two fields, the Northern Rivers Science Hub staged an Arts vs Science Festival in August during National Science Week with free interactive lectures, group workshops and exhibitions.

The Arts vs Science Festival aimed to "engage people that would not normally be involved in science and to conduct it in a creative way," said Kristin Den Exter who was co-ordinator for the festival.

"The two have always been linked and [the festival] was successful in creating interest to science and the arts." 

Southern Cross University academics of the Arts and Humanities fields spoke at the festival to persuade audiences that art and science are cut from the same cloth.

This involved artists with musical, visual arts and media backgrounds as well as scientists and professionals from careers that are outside of the studies of science and art. 

SCU Contemporary Music program coordinator Dr Barry Hill is educated in music and the creative arts.

Dr Hill presented a one-hour interactive workshop on new, energy efficient devices that provide the electricity for festival stages, including his Sunflower solar-powered sound system, which has been used at Splendour in the Grass, the Bluesfest, Byron Bay Writers Festival and Sydney's VIVID festival.  

Dr Hill said that with the inclusion of solar-run generators and energy efficient lighting, the performing arts are more energy efficient than ever before.

“The music industry has been viewed by some theorists as a sector of the economy where new ideas and technology can be trialled and then introduced into other parts of the economy," he said.

Seventy people were involved in building the solar-powered Sunflower generator at Southern Cross University.

Solar-powered energy is ecological and environmentally-friendly compared to high carbon energy sources.

Associate Professor Elizabeth Stephens is neither artist nor scientist but comes from the cultural studies field. Her focus is the history of anatomy during the 18th century society. Stephens argued that scientific discovery originally developed from the relationship between scientific and artistic ideas.

The main focus for her research revolved upon scientific procedures and medical contraptions that were derived from artistic contexts. Human anatomy for example, was unfamiliar territory in the 18th century. It was the public display of anatomical art that sparked interest and desire for greater information.

“The way anatomy becomes acceptable over the period of the 1700s as a field of medical research is through science and public exhibition,” she said.

“Therefore, public exhibition makes it possible to do the anatomical research.”

Dr Stephens reviewed a medical creation that is of great significance to modern society. This creation is the incubator. Premature babies would be put on public display for guests to witness something of the unusual.

“Incubators were not first developed in a clinical or hospital environment. They were developed inside Coney Island, the fun fair in New York, and they were a part of public exhibition.”

Senior Lecturer Grayson Cooke also researches between the arts and science nexus. 

Dr Cooke concentrated on "experimentations that artists and scientists do [which] are very similar".

"A process of experimenting and coming to knowledge through practice."

In collaboration with the School of Environmental Science and Engineering, Cooke presented a one-hour workshop on how to generate chemical reactions on printed images, known scientifically as redox reactions.

The workshop used chemicals such as sulfuric acid, concentrated nitric acid, copper nitrate, sodium hydroxide and sodium chloride and is based on the after | image project he and collaborator Southern Cross University scientist Dr Amanda Reichelt-Brushett have produced.

At the festival, they worked with members of the audience who monitored the effects of the reactions closely.

“The results were utterly beautiful. Each compound or chemical did something different to the photographic negatives. It destroyed them in different ways over different time periods,” Dr Cooke said.

This award-winning art and science experiment has been exhibited internationally.

Art and science, not art versus science.