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I was once asked: “what professional challenge did you come across that made you decide to
approach artists? What was the unanswered issue that made you say 'I cannot answer this question
without collaboration with an artist’?"
The question missed the point of the KLAS concept. The very first idea of KLAS stemmed from my
own work with the atomic force microscope. Disturbances coming from neighboring construction
works were affecting my AFM measurements and seriously started to drive me crazy - I needed data
to go on with my thesis! And there you have it. Suddenly! The idea
I mean.
An external cause was interacting, or interfering for that case, with my experiments and there was no
way I could see this in good light. Or could I? Suddenly the thought of actually turning this
background noise into resoluteness struck me. How would the AFM react to the vibrations
created/played by a professional musician? How would an artist have fun disturbing the AFM? Or
even exploit it in ways that are unimaginable for us scientists? The marvel and excitement about
turning my (by that time gloomy and repetitive) work into a game of poetic consequences and a
different kind of research appealed to me so much that I couldn’t let go of the idea. And I didn’t. I
brought together a group of friends - experts in a variety of fields - and the project started to take
KLAS has not been created to answer a specific question that was troubling me within my scientific
career and would be left unresolved without the help of artists. KLAS has been created to generate
playful interaction, it has been created with the belief that exchanging and cross-pollinating -passions
and knowledge and approaches and perceptions- can lead to a set of benefits. The first of which is
confrontation and a shared economy of value.
Science and art are grounded in the same human need of appropriation. Both are embedded in
curiosity, comprehension, a need to make, create, model. Artistic and scientific practice can
complement each other; the best scientists have always known this. Max Planck, a Nobel laureate as
well as an extraordinary pianist, wrote in his autobiography, "The creative scientist needs an artistic
imagination". And creativity is a cognitive skill that, like any other skill, requires development,
enhancement, and maintenance. What is needed is an approach that provokes the creative urge in
science students and scientists and also helps to induce self-reflection -at different levels- upon one’s
own work. In the words of the Science Gallery Venice's director, Ariane Koek: “different views
stimulate creativity, imagination and ways of working, plus [those different views] open your eyes to
new knowledge". If this is successful it will organically revert in societal interactions . We believe
that citizens should be motivated and empowered so to think exponentially and abundantly
, as Ray
Kurzweil suggests.
A number of aspects are brought up through interactions amongst artists and scientists: new ideas,
reflection on one's own values and approaches. Dynamism and plurality emerge when the boundaries
of art and science are removed. Frontiers are places where ambiguity and uncertainty flourish! If you
1 "How We Value Arts and Culture - Asia Pacific Journal of Arts and ...." Accessed 15 Jan. 2018.
2 "ON TOPIC Art As a Means to Scientific Discovery - SCIART MAGAZINE."
arning.html. Accessed 16 Jan. 2018.
carefully evaluate the role of improbabilities and uncertainty in cutting edge science you will realise
that it is critical and artistic practice is a good place to start dwelling Also, in the case of our
researchers from the MPIs, we also saw that a new collaboration between two unconnected research
groups – one from MPIMP the other from MPIKG. So we need to agree with prof. Zielinsky, as we
have little doubt there is a bright future for art and science interactions because there was an even
brighter past. We have been just very successful in dividing during the last century.
Throughout 2017, KLAS awarded two residencies for artists to join the labs and inquire into the work
carried out by four research groups in synthetic biology (cellular metabolism, cell organelles,
molecular dynamics simulations, molecular genetics). In addition, the manifold topics the project
touches upon (eg. science-in-society) are addressed through a series of events and talks. The first
KLAS workshop took place in November last year. It hosted conversations concerning the art-science
collaborations going on at KLAS, and touched on a variety of related issues ranging from the ethical
implications of biohacking to restructuring of education curricula. Overall, it was an eclectic and
pleasant gathering of specialists and non-specialists. The stringent time and myriad of topics brought
forth prove the need for more of these meetings: As discussions continue privately, (quite) a few
researchers, perturbed by the statements and work of one of the artists, argue against the art works and
art research. Slowly - we hope - perceiving (or even appreciating) what art can be and how powerful it
is. And, we dare to say, how needed it be.
The question here is not the direct -tangible- impact such interdisciplinary discussions may have,
though we indeed have observed that these instigate a change in the researchers involved in the
residency and thus their working approach. Of course, in addition to find a way to evaluate the
relevance of artist-scientist interactions, it would also be opportune to find a way to evaluate the social
relevance of science research and art research. KLAS will surely be intent on working along these
lines; looking at the juncture of artistic and scientific interaction is our bet for a start to solvency.
KLAS aims to push the boundaries of innovation and creativity. What would be a better place to do
so that Germany's most successful research organization?
Caterina Benincasa and Rodrigo Perez Garcia
Note: KLAS workshop was held at the Science Campus of Golm, with support provided by Max
Planck Society,Schering Foundation and the contribution of the Wissenschaftspark
Potsdam-Golm,ERES Stiftung,DAAD, and the cooperation of Max Planck Alumni Association
and Leonardo magazine.
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