Inspiration and a Brand-New Perspective: Scientists and Artists Working Together

In the framework of an unconventional collaboration, seven students from the University of Fine Arts in Hamburg (HFBK) recently shared in the day-to-day research work at the University of Hamburg’s Cluster of Excellence “Integrated Climate System Analysis and Prediction” (CliSAP). This approach gave the artists and climate researchersthe opportunity to talk to one another – and to ask each other productive questions on the nature of their respective fields.

The artists with Friedrich v. Borries (HFBK, left) and Simone Rödder (CliSAP, right).

The idea for the project was born from talks between Friedrich von Borries, Professor of Design Theory at the HFBK, and the staff of the CliSAP project “Understanding Science in Interaction” (USI). The USI focuses on interdisciplinary working methods in climate research and questions such as: How can researchers from different fields solve problems together? Do such joint efforts really work, or do those involved just talk at cross purposes? Beyond scientific research the USI is intended to promote a more reflective perspective on daily research at the Cluster of Excellence: “One of our goals is to make staff aware of aspects of their work they take for granted and to move them to productively reexamine them. In this context, our guests from the HFBK – the Visiting Artist Researchers – are a major advantage,” says the USI’s project director, Simone Rödder.

“Not only should climate research challenge the artists; art should also challenge us climate researchers.”

Hidden meanings: The artist Katja Lell transplants scientific illustrations into unusual contexts.

Each of the Visiting Artist Researchers accompanied a respective CliSAP working group for several months, using this time to pursue their artistic work. In October 2014 the results were presented in the HFBK’s exhibition rooms. At the closing symposium “Science Meets Art,” which drew an audience of over 100, the main objectives were to reflect on the project and to critically reassess what art and science can mean to each other – prompting climate researchers, colleagues from the social and cultural sciences, a curator and an author to share their own views and experiences. Working together with the HFBK, a colloquium was also be created, which the artists and their respective working groups took part in. Here the focus was on the resulting art projects: “In this way, both sides are given the chance to try out a new perspective. Not only should climate research challenge the artists; art should also challenge us climate researchers,” explains Hans von Storch, an institute director at the Helmholtz-Zentrum Geesthacht and one of the project’s initiators.

“Artists conduct research of their own: not scientific, but artistic.”

Transforming atmospheric data into art – can it be done? Yes, according to the artist Hagen Schümann: with this image generator.

The artists had applied for their research stays at the Cluster of Excellence in advance. The winners were then selected by a jury composed of members from all participating bodies, which also include the Helmholtz-Zentrum Geesthacht and the Max Planck Institute for Meteorology – two of the six CliSAP working groups participating can be found at these research centers. HFBK Professor Friedrich von Borries is convinced that the climate researchers profit just as much as the art students: “Artists conduct research of their own: not scientific, but artistic. When different approaches are brought together, it can provide a spark for both sides – artists and scientists – to rethink and evolve their own methods and practices.”

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