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NEW-MEDIA-CURATING] Art-Science and Science-Art Curricula: Call for Contributions
From Simon Biggs
Paul, wow, that link brings back memories (mostly positive). That was an interesting time in Australia for new media arts, with the Australia Council taking enough of an interest to fund the CSIRO fellowships and also support (initially behind the scenes, from 1983, then financially from 1986) the establishing of the Australian Network for Art and Technology. I left Australia in 86 so wasn’t party to developments after that time, but we all know Australia has, for a country of its size, been a leader in this area over the past 20 or so years. In large part that was down to this strategic support, which in turn was down to the vision of very specific individuals (like Andrea Hull) in the Policy and Planning office of the Council. It’s a pity that more recently the Australia Council’s commitment in this area has seemed less clear.
The model that was employed for the CSIRO residency was very similar to an earlier one developed for the LACMA programme for artists in industry (full details at http://www.fondation-langlois.org/html/e/page.php?NumPage=706 ) which involved Robert Irwin, James Turrell and James Lee Byars, all key figures from early on in this field. My impression was that the Australia Council took a lot of its pointers from this earlier exercise and learned from it, the main innovation being to focus on a research rather than industry oriented platform. It also did not pressure the artists to produce anything. It was about the process and creating new working relationships, taking the longer view. The success of the programme was also down to the Director of the CSIRO’s National Measurement Laboratory at the time (I have forgotten his name, which is unforgivable). He was very sympathetic and had an inclusive understanding of science, exemplified by his being the Australian member at the time for UNESCO. He had a socially oriented view of the value of science and was not a purist. We probably need more scientists like that.
We also need more politicians who can learn to be modest in the face of the facts. The current argument between the scientific community in the UK and the government, over drugs policy, only makes the politicians looks like pig-ignorant populists.
The CSIRO programme in turn possibly influenced the UK’s Arts Council/Arts and Humanities Research Council artist’s fellowships in scientific institutions programme between 2001-2007. As a beneficiary of that programme I can attest to how lessons were learned progressively and information was not lost. The UK programme added a number of excellent innovations, such as each artist having a mentor who worked within and knew well the workings of the institution and a project observer working with them, allowing for the most effective engagement with the scientists and a reflexive approach to the whole process. The data generated from that programme could be useful in informing future pedagogical and research practices.