STEAM Art Collaboration: Reuniting art and science

Image Credit: Laoise Tarrant

Art and science were once indistinguishable concepts but over the 19th century, a cultural divide has separated the two. Jade Norton discusses how the SFI STEAM Art Collaboration can bridge the gap between them and inspire a new generation

Art and science are often seen as two separate subjects in the modern age, but historically they were found to be inexplicably but irrevocably combined media, with art literally mirroring nature and thus science. The beauty of art is often unknowingly enhanced through patterns seen or created from math and science. Common concepts seen in art, such as the golden ratio and symmetry, are not usually obvious at first glance but are found in many pieces before these concepts were even formally defined.

Humans find a certain beauty in art that can be partially explained with math or science - regardless of whether the viewer understands the concept. The art can also be an expression of a scientific idea or even a direct visual translation of a complicated topic. Art is frequently used to express scientific topics as it creates a medium that is easily accessible.

Science Foundation Ireland (SFI) has recently launched the STEAM Art Collaboration, an initiative that aims to inspire and engage the public with commissions that “unite the disciplines of art and science”. Five artists were selected, and they worked in collaboration with researchers from five SFI Research Centres; APC Microbiome, CONNECT, iCRAG, Lero and FutureNeuro to create their artworks. The artworks interpret the complex scientific work of the researchers in a visual or physical artistic medium. The work is not purely explanatory in nature, rather, it aims to inspire and engage the viewer with the research.

Ed Devane created a musical gyroscope to represent the various quantum states of research being underdone in the CONNECT Research Centre; which includes modelling of the quantum properties such as teleportation and superposition of photons. The work is a representation of the research proposed by Jerry Horgan and Dr Deirdre Kilbane which looks at using the quantum property of superposition to enhance the communication networks of nanosatellites such as CubeSats.x

Lero is an SFI Research Centre for Software and contains the work of Dr Martin Mullins which focussed on artificial intelligence. The artist, Peter Nash, drew inspiration from this research to create a ‘Machine’s Eye View’, which uses recycled materials to build an immersive physical world from the viewpoint of a self-driving car. This provides an environment to explore the philosophical moralities that AI should be equipped with or allowed to develop.

‘Caibleadh’, is a VR 3D animated film created by 1iing, or Liing Heaney, that drew on influences from the exploratory marine research done by Eoghan Daly, Mark Coughlan and Andrew Trafford, part of iCRAG SFI Research Centre for Applied Geosciences. The film uses deep-sea images taken by the researchers and blends the images with sound to create a speculative environment of life in the deep-sea world.

The FutureNeuro SFI Research Centre for Chronic and Rare Neurological Diseases is a collaborative effort that works to study the brain and its functions. David Beattie used the specific influence of epilepsy and neural activity from the work of Dr Katherine Benson, Dr Cristina Ruedell Reschke, and Dr Susan Byrne to create a structural video installation series of photographs and an interactive web interface that shows the hyper-connectedness of the brain. The researchers hope his work will inspire questions about the connectivity of the brain and how that links to the world around it.

Shevaun Doherty worked with APC Microbiome Ireland and from the research of Dr Cormac Gahan, Principle Investigator at APC, to create a visual and artistic interpretation of the PCR (Polymerase Chain Reaction) process that has become a common phrase as it is used for Covid-19 tests. The artist provided a step-by-step creative process, with inspiration from the sea and the artwork of Ernst Haeckel, to transform the complexities of DNA replication in a visually appealing and digestible way.

The complex and in-depth research carried out in Ireland was used to create a diverse array of artworks using a variety of mediums. Traditionally art and science have been seen as two separate disciplines but there are myriad examples of the combinations of the two throughout history. Many of the first scientists used detailed visual descriptions of their work as records rather than solely relying on the written word with notable examples seen in the drawings Leonardo da Vinci and Santiago Ramón y Cajal.

The separation of art and science has fluctuated over the centuries, with the Renaissance being the Western peak of their combination and this has since declined during the 19th century - which incidentally coincides with the coining of the term ‘scientist'. The separation of art and science is a superficial one in the modern age and is perpetuated by an artificial divide in our society. Bridging the gap between the two intertwined concepts may revitalise some of the traditional sciences and make science more widely accessible by improving the communication of ideas and access to natural concepts.

The exhibition of the STEAM Art Collaboration will be shown virtually to the public and to primary schools. This is part of the STEAM initiative Ireland which launched in 2017 and aims to close the boundaries between art and science. The focus of primary schools also tries to bring the world of science and art together for young students to increase engagement and understanding of both topics. The stereotypical models of careers in science and in art have been perpetuated as separate and initiatives such as this hope to break these moulds by providing accessible visualisation of them combined to inspire and engage the further generation.