What if we could grow our own spare body parts? What would life be like without bees? What if we had to start again? These questions were posed in rooms displaying jars of de-cellularized organs, landscapes of photographed flesh, and sketches of an imaginary cold-blooded and eyeless “Homo Sentire” at GV Arts.
GV Arts was showcasing the work of second year students from the University of Westminster who had signed up for Broad Vision, a one year interdisciplinary art and science elective. The theme for this year’s class was “Future Human” speculating on how we as human beings might sustain, adapt and evolve. As a hub for the interplay between contemporary artists and scientists, GV Arts holds public events alongside its exhibitions. One of these was Future Human: Symposium on June 26, an evening of presentations and a panel discussion from those involved in Broad Vision.
By Liane Fredericks
To step into a program like Broad Vision, students have to accept that it might not be the most direct route to PhD funding. They need to be prepared to work within an emergent and “chaordic” learning process. In return, Broad Vision provides an unpatronizing mentored space for students to go beyond their disciplinary silos.
The symposium discussed the similarities—and differences—between art and science processes. What was clear from the speakers was that the experience of swapping between art studios and laboratories feels alien at first. “What the heck is a reflexive exercise?” asked Benjamin Palmer, an aspiring neurobiochemist. “It’s like being dropped in the middle of a forest and having to find our way out again.” And yet, as Benjamin points out using the Wallas model of the creative process, the scientific process closely mimics that of the artistic one.
“What is so special about working with artists, or can any non-scientist offer fresh perspective and stimulate curiosity?” the panel was asked. The response was that your field of work influences the types of questions you ask. Where philosophers might ask why, artists ask why not. Why not make a beautiful agar jelly mold of your face and grow your own facial bacteria on it? In this case Mell Fisher, an illustrator, was inspired to find that her biological portraits are as educational as they are beautiful when a member of the public exclaimed “oh, I didn’t know we had bacteria on our face.”
Students from both disciplines seem motivated by a desire to break free of the fixed structures and mindsets they experienced in their first year of university. While discussing his work Robbie Anson Duncan, an illustrator, could not bring himself to look at a picture of a cell in his textbook. For him its comic sans font epitomizes the dire way in which he was taught the dogma of science at school. In comparison, he then shows a video clip of an interdisciplinary workshop with school kids going “wooh” and “ahh” as he shows them the strange behaviors of hydrophobic liquids.
Broad Vision allows students to step out of their comfort zone and develop collaborative relationships. Based on the passion of the speakers that evening, it is something that future humans will welcome too.