Across The Great Divide

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This thesis explores the relationship between art and science through the collaboration of artists and scientists. I worked with four artist/scientist pairs to create ten minute performances and presented them at the Light in Winter Festival, held in January, 2009 in Ithaca, New York. Each pair created their piece over the course of three two hour meetings, the first of which was a cultural probe. The probe was inspired by the work of Bill Gaver, who used playful and creative prompts to better understand communities for whom he designed. Though controversial, cultural probes are a unique way to work with participants to engage in creative thinking. The probe I created consisted of eight prompts that allowed the pairs to explore the boundaries of art and science and to begin to work together to create something for an audience. The prompts ranged from questions about the participants' careers and work environments, to their impressions of art and science, to their understanding of the roles of artists and scientists. They were asked to draw their workplace, to write their career history in newspaper headlines, to analyze ambiguous images, decide if they were art or science (or both) and write a sentence or title for each image. The final prompt asked the pairs to jointly write a mission statement for their performance. Each pair was interviewed together at the end of the creative process, and for logistical reasons, some pairs were interviewed again informally after the performance. I engaged in an interpretive, contextual description of the process, called "thick description" by Geertz. Each pair had a unique process. Jim and Lyrae, a physicist and poet respectively, engaged in a dialogue that allowed them to connect ideas and concepts that did not have an immediate apparent connection. They formalized their process of making connections for the final performance by creating a piece combining excerpts from their published texts. Maren, a dancer, and Itai, a physicist, became interested in the similarities between their processes and presented a piece that explored their processes using video of the wing motions of fruit flies. Trish and James, a paleontologist and a musician, created a narrative about the formation of rock in the Ithaca area and set it to music. Finally, Holly and Spencer, an entomologist and a musician, created an interactive piece in which the audience, armed with plastic slide whistles, took on the role of an invasive species. Though their projects were quite different, aspects of their process were common to all pairs. reifying boundaries. Each pair engaged in a process of establishing or This boundary work served not only to distinguish art from science, but also to distinguish professionals from non-professionals in each field. While boundaries in the sciences seemed to have more codified structure than those in the arts, boundaries in both fields differed within the subfields. After the establishment of boundaries, each pair engaged in a process of translation, most often characterized by the use of visualizations or metaphors. Visualizations were often understood by the pairs before they had words to express their meaning, and metaphors were often used to bridge two disciplines. Both visualizations and metaphors were used as tools to help the pairs create a common language for communicating their ideas. Often this language incorporated boundary objects, those objects that are understood differently by different stakeholders, but used in concert toward a specific end. The pairs created boundary objects, like visualizations of concepts, they used existing objects, like videos or images the scientists used in their work, and they appropriated objects by changing their meaning for the purpose of the performance.
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art and science
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