Much of the work being produced under the ?SciArt? banner is experimental, conceptual, challenging... and rarely gets seen by audiences beyond a small constituency of artists and scientists, says Ruth Hecht.
However, it is possible to bring work by artists working in a scientific context to a much wider audience. As arts manager for At-Bristol - a brand new Science Centre in the heart of Bristol - my job is to integrate the arts into what is essentially a science-based visitor attraction which has had over 600,000 visitors since opening in July last year.
In addition to a £1/2m Public Art programme themed around reflection and exploration, At-Bristol?s arts programme has included a number of residencies, exhibitions and projects which provide opportunities for artists inspired by science, as well as for artists working with scientists.
A lot of the most accessible work is created when artists have been stimulated by scientific images or processes, rather than through rigorous scientific investigation. For example, an extremely popular exhibition of textiles by Rebecca Holland, inspired by images she found in biology textbooks of the digestive and endocrine systems, would not receive much support from many artists engaged in SciArt, but in the context of a popular Science Centre it is a great way to teach people about the shape of their testis and ovaries!
Compare this to our current exhibition where artist Luke Jerram spent two years working with scientists in several disciplines to create an acoustic sculpture controlled in real time by the movements of the earth, sun and moon. Exhibiting this work highlighted many problems of bringing a SciArt piece to the general public in the context of a hands-on Science Centre / Visitor Attraction (What language do you use to interpret it - scientific or artistic? How do you cope with staff and visitors who have strong reactions against it? How do you prevent visitors from touching it without compromising its artistic integrity?)
However all the problems are outweighed by the fact that the exhibition has had an audience of over 14,000 in 5 weeks - most of whom would never have entered the kind of gallery where this type of work would normally be displayed.
Ruth Hecht is Arts Manager for At-Bristol, which has been voted Family Attraction of the Year by The Good Britain Guide 2001.
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