The art of science and the science of art

AiR - Art in Research
Jul 30, 2018 12:31PM

AiR exhibition at le Centquatre Paris, France

In order to step into the public’s shoes, we stand before one of AiR prints and try to feel, read into the artwork. Various people have come standing in this position. The artwork has been seen from different heights, felt through the prism of different life stories. Different people but quite similar reactions. This appears to contradict the widespread idea that tastes and perceptions differ from one person to another, as does our understanding of art. Which brings us to the following question: is there something essential, universal in the way we feel and interpret these particular photographs? We are intrigued, our researcher nature has been awakened. A difficult question to answer, a real challenge to take up. If art is about feeling and science about explaining, we need a combined approach to explain our feelings. But before going any further, let us emphasize that the ambition of the present communication is not to theorize one’s experience in front of AiR pieces, but rather try to understand the glimpse of universality in the way we feel them.

Studying the reactions of the public, and looking into our own experience, we came to the conclusion that the viewer usually goes through three stages. First, the aesthetics prevails. We live this moment, a pure emotional moment, when rationality hasn’t taken over yet. For an instant, we do not think, we just see and feel. Here, we’re struck by the oddly perfect shapes, the bright colors, the complex patterns. It is confusing, but not disturbing. We love not knowing what we are looking at. The object appears surreal and familiar at the same time.

Crack Patterns I, by V. Thievenaz & T. Séon

The second stage is more analytical, and understood as meditation. The viewer usually tries to decompose the image, observe every edge and corner, read into the artwork. “It makes me think of […]” is a common sentence to hear as if, maybe more than in front of other pieces, there was an absolute necessity to build a bridge to our own experience. It’s our way of making the unknown more bearable. Our state of mind is now rather driven by rationality. Our appreciation of the photograph becomes even more personal. The interpretation is tinged with our life story, our culture, what we have seen and experienced.  

Finally, the obsessional question – probably driven by the conscious (or unconscious) knowledge that the object is real: “What is it?” The answer is quite easy to reach as we read through the story of the photograph. The true nature of the object under investigation is finally revealed, and most often our first guess is proven to be wrong. Truth has been revealed but this reality is not ours. Is our world more extended than we thought? The artwork is a window to another universe. The components are familiar but the form they take does not resemble what we are used to. This contradiction between what we know and what we are offered to see allows our imagination to stay free and not be muffled by the truth. The essence of the object of study does not tarnish its radical beauty. The artwork is beautiful in itself but not for itself as it depicts a reality only a few people – scientists – are accustomed to.

In a nutshell, we stand before a marriage between conscious and unconscious. Between pure emotion and need for understanding, reality and imagination, personal interpretation and universal beauty. It is the art of science and the science of art.

AiR - Art in Research