“Culture workers have a responsibility to engage with these scientific and technical domains; ethical discourse traditionally lags far behind the already active application of research findings, and art remains one of the most active spheres of public debate. Scientific research is so broad in its reach and so profound in its practical and philosophical impact that it should not be left to technicians and scientists alone. This is especially true for biological and medical research focused on the body, which is so intimately tied to our human existence.”—Corpus by Stephen Wilson (2006)
Artists need to enter into the heart of the matter, into the corpus of research. They need to get their hands dirty (with all the positive and negative connotations that phrase suggests). Artists need to undertake their own lab research, extending out from their pastels to the likes of microscopes, centrifuges, and gels. The culture could benefit from an independent zone of art-based biological research not so tightly policed by the paradigms of academic, corporate, or military science.
We tolerate the pathologies of quantification — a dry, abstract, mechanical type of knowledge — because the results are so powerful. Numbering things allows tests, comparisons, experiments. Numbers make problems less resonant emotionally but more tractable intellectually. In science, in business and in the more reasonable sectors of government, numbers have won fair and square.
In January 2009, the photographer Michael Najjar was part of a team that ascended and took photographs of Mount Aconcagua in Argentina, and he was struck by how much the silhouette of the mountain resembled a stock index chart.
When Michel Gondry was an Artist-in-Residence at MIT in 2005, a graduate student gave him copies of the readings from one of Robert Stickgold’s sleep and dreaming classes at Harvard. Gondry was intrigued by what he read and how it might inform his newest film project, The Science of Sleep. The two didn’t meet until spring of this year, when Stickgold was invited to a screening. They hit it off at the dinner that followed and continued their conversation — from Freud to Fellini — a few months ago at the Algonquin Hotel in New York.