Investigating new areas of Art/Science practice based research with the MA Art in Science postgraduate program at Liverpool School of Art and Design
By Mark Roughley, Kathryn Smith, & Caroline Wilkinson, MA Art in Science Program, Liverpool School of Art and Design, United Kingdom
Art and Science are sometimes seen to be two different entities with very separate ideas of what constitutes as research. The MA Art in Science program at Liverpool School of Art and Design aims to bring together artists and scientists to explore collaborative approaches in Art/Science research and practice.
In 2016 Professor Caroline Wilkinson, Mark Roughley, and Kathryn Smith from Liverpool School of Art and Design at Liverpool John Moores University (LJMU) established a taught postgraduate program, titled MA Art in Science.
The program is a unique opportunity for artists to deeply engage in the world of science including in the fields of public health, astrophysics, sports science, technology, museum practice, computing, medicine, and forensics, and gives students the ability to explore art/science project briefs in unexpected forms in readiness for application in the world of work.
Students have access to a number of different established research centers in Liverpool John Moores University, such as the Public Health Institute, Astrophysics Research Institute, Center in Evolutionary Anthropology and Palaeoecology, Research Institute for Sport and Exercise Science, ARTSLABS, and the Centre for Advanced Policing Studies, and work collaboratively with other students, practitioners, and researchers across art and science disciplines.
“This program offers an opportunity for artists to work together with scientists and provide impact and knowledge exchange from a number of different fields across LJMU. Learning takes place predominantly through the creative and critical exploration of research focused Art in Science projects” - Professor Caroline Wilkinson, Program Leader MA Art in Science, Liverpool School of Art and Design
The first year’s student cohort is made up of students from Fine Art, Illustration, Animation, and Computer Science backgrounds. This interesting mix of previous disciplines has allowed for stimulating interdisciplinary discussions and projects to occur.
During the first semester, students had the opportunity to define or enhance their existing practice and extend its scope and ambition through a combination of self-initiated or set art/science projects defined by our LJMU scientific partners. There were opportunities to develop or augment existing skills in digital painting, scientific illustration, and 3D printing and fabrication. Students also had the opportunity to study Life Art with a focus on human anatomy.
One student’s research focus is the face, and they produced a series of virtual sculptures demonstrating how a person who has cluster headaches feels during a headache, with the aim of exhibiting the sculptures as part of the Arte Cluster initiative. Another student’s focus was cryptozoology - myths or products of chance? The student focused on myths with scientific basis such as the Jackalope, human/animal mutations, and the misinterpretation of findings found in examples like dinosaurs during the ‘bone wars’.
Throughout the taught semesters, guest artists and scientists delivered lectures and workshops to introduce students to a wide variety of art/science collaborative projects and disciplines. There were exciting ethical debates with bioartist Gina Czarnecki; a fantastic discussion with astrophysicists around explaining gravitational waves to a public audience using flora and sculpture at the RHS Flower Show; a thought-provoking presentation showcasing a collaborative African mammal conservation project that allows conservation biologists to use space telescope technology and drones to track animal numbers across vast distances; an innovative 3D printing in healthcare demonstration; an eye-opening injury depiction for legal/courtroom scenarios seminar with forensic artist Ray Evans; and a great wax pathology workshop with anatomical artist Eleanor Crook.
Students are also fortunate to have access to Liverpool School of Art and Design’s cultural partners including Tate Liverpool, FACT (Foundation for Art and Creative Technology), and the Liverpool Biennial, plus access to local partners such as National Museums Liverpool and Arts in Health Merseyside.
In the second semester students had the opportunity to work closely with internal partners within the School of Art & Design, the wider John Moores scientific community, or with external partners in the U.K. and internationally as part of their “Collaborative Practice” module. Through key partnerships, students are able to engage with a range of collaborative projects which challenge the notion of the interdisciplinary practice within the context of the contemporary art and design, and which enable them to propose, plan, organize, publish, and promote their work within the context of an external body. This module is shared by the six taught postgraduate programs at Liverpool School of Art and Design and allows students to collaborate across programs.
There were opportunities to work with students from the other postgraduate programs and a scientific partner on live projects, concepts, or active research. Some students from the postgraduate cohort collaborated with astrophysicists from the Astrophysics Research Institute on communicating astrophysics concepts to public audiences, and stem cell biologists from the Stem Cells, Ageing, and Molecular Physiology Unit to create a 3D printed support structure to help grow muscle fibers for potential use in muscle repair. One student worked on creating a 3D database of teeth looking at tooth modification – by disease or design. Others worked on facial animation research projects with the Face Lab research group, collecting and interpreting data through biometric analysis, 3D printing, and animation. The MA students presented their collaborative practice work in a pop-up exhibition.
Students also study Research and Practice modules that explore themes relating to artistic research practice and allow students to propose and conduct research leading to the production of a dissertation closely aligned to their own art/science practice. Students are exposed to themes surrounding the ethics of display, data protection, working with humans in research, practice as research, and public engagement. Our current cohort have produced discursive and critically reflective dissertations investigating topics such as the “Ethics of Displaying Human Remains,” “Ethics and Robots: Human-Robot Relationships,” “Charting the Body: Tattooing as a Means of Self-Identification,” and “The Emotive Digital Face: A Survey and Analysis of the Field of Emotion and Expression Portrayed by Digital Faces.”
“Our aim is for students to understand what research is happening in collaborative areas in art and science, and to develop research skills, critical techniques and relevant approaches to their practice. An objective is to produce graduates who can apply critical and practical skills, research techniques and understanding in their chosen careers” - Mark Roughley, Module Leader MA Art in Science, Liverpool School of Art and Design
As we move into the final Major Project, students are preparing to investigate new areas of art/science practice-based research, bringing together the skills and knowledge that they have acquired throughout the program, and undertake and complete a sustained and novel art/science project. We are eager to see what exciting collaborative outputs emerge.
Mark Roughley, Module Leader MA Art in Science, Liverpool School of Art and Design Mark graduated with BA (Hons) Illustration with Animation from Manchester School of Art and went on to specialise as a Medical Artist, having gained his MSc in Medical Art from the University of Dundee. Mark has worked previously as a lecturer in Medical Art and a Medical Illustrator within medical and dental schools. Mark now teaches on the MA Art in Science programme at Liverpool School of Art and Design, and is module leader for the Studio Practice, Research and Practice and Major Project modules. Mark is also a member of the Face Lab research group at Liverpool School of Art and Design, and specialises in visualising anatomy. His 3D modelling, texturing and animation skills, alongside knowledge of CT/MRI data reconstruction practice, 3D scanning and 3D printing are used to aid in Craniofacial Reconstruction and for presentation to public audiences. Mark’s research interests focus on interdisciplinary Art/Science practice and collaboration.