Saturday, March 31, 2018

Open Call: What If?

This article originally appeared in the December/January issue of the Brooklyn Rail 
in the Critic's Page edited by Taney Roniger

By Lorrie Fredette

Lorrie Fredette, The Great Silence, 2017. Beeswax, damar resin, muslin, brass, 
nylon line, suspended above floor

Many of us in the arts now feel we have to prove our worth and relevance by building partnerships with and serving other fields. I work with scientific ideas and imagery, and this has been my experience.  

As someone who has spent most of her career working in the sci-art genre, I am often called upon to identify ways to draw more science and technology professionals into our field—but art's function is not to translate science. Data visualization can produce remarkable schematic forms, but it is not art. An illustration paired with scientific text aids the language of science, but is not art. These are supporting actors. They will never be offered the leading role.

When we incorporate science into our work, we are making no claim to be scientists. We are not appropriating scientific research and calling it our own. We are not re-presenting scientific findings in a visual format, factually or abstractly. We are not remotely suggesting our work is their work manifested as a painting, a sculpture, a computer animation, or an installation.

While I can’t speak for all artists, my observation has been that artists are drawn to the wonder of science. As Robert Krulwich of RadioLab says, “The world is a rich, fantastic place, and all you have to do is scratch anywhere, and there it is, but it starts with a belief in wonder and curiosity.” This terrain is not exclusive to science: we share this common ground. We share a sense of purpose. We research. We share tools and materials. We both conduct field studies. We observe. We reflect. An openness to new ideas and information is a cornerstone of both our fields. We share interests in the not- knowing and the pursuit of answers that result in more questions.

Both scientists and artists simply wonder… What if?  We share this impulse with the farmer, the chef, the parent, the writer, and the auto mechanic, not just with scientists. For each of us What if? is the starting point for further investigation.

And if we’re honest, it’s fine to go our separate ways after sharing this common ground. In the studio, What if? leads to an active response, resulting in real-time, here-and-now movement. I am not looking for a scientist’s evidence-based language to support a hypothesis. The outcome for me is a work of art divested of facts and purpose but imbued in beauty and poetry. In the words of Ralph Waldo Emerson, “Do not go where the path may lead, go instead where there is no path and leave a trail.”

Lorrie Fredette is a Hudson Valley-based artist whose work is influenced by medical and environmental news stories. Read more about her here.

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