Collaborations between artists and scientists seem to be on the rise. It is not only scientists doing amazing work in the fields of particle physics, space science, synthetic biology, information technology, agriculture, public health or neuroscience. In London alone, current exhibitions include Eloise Hawser’s exploration of health, mapping, infrastructure and the body at Somerset House; Mark Dion’s exuberant recreations of the world of the 19th-century explorer-collector-hunter at the Whitechapel Gallery; Rachal Bradley’s installation of negative ion generators (said to be good for your health) on the outside of Gasworks; and ‘Deconstructing Patterns’, an exhibition of three different collaborations involving artists, poets, scientists and young people at the Francis Crick Institute. Further afield, entomologist-turned-slide-maker, Carsten Höller, has been working with a plant neurobiologist on a major exhibition exploring plant intelligence this summer at Palazzo Strozzi, Florence, while roaming cultural producers TBA21-Academy have been working with artists and scientists aboard the Dardanella research vessel.
Why now? In part, such work reflects a recognition of the limitations of specialization. Professionalization opened up fields of enquiry to new demographics (the worlds that Dion evokes are largely those of privileged white men) but at the same time established new disciplinary boundaries. Artists are also responding to the increasing dominance of science and technology in daily life, and to the growing sense of urgency in the face of climate change and mass species loss. The so-called ‘ontological turn’ has seen the humanities increasingly expand their scope to include broader questions of being and nonhuman life.