When considering the myriad ways in which Art and science can influence or be reflected by one’s beliefs, one may turn to Installation art. With the increased refinement of technology, artists have been able to use more experimental media, and as a consequence the turn of the century has seen a trend of deeply interactive art; with installations using digital, video, film, sound and sculpture. Lux Scientia, a trans-European project recently focused in on the obvious presence of science and technology in Installation art. The project commissioned three artists Simeon Nelson, Dominik Lejman and Leonardo Meigas to create an artwork exploring or explaining a scientific principle, to be exhibited at Lumiere, the four day Light festival which took place in Durham from the 17th-20th of November.
There is an intrinsic tie between Art and belief: you only need to look at the captivating stained glass and stonework of York minster to acknowledge this as fact. Dominik Lejman’s installation ‘60 second Cathedral’ inverts the common perception of religious buildings; as the artist himself highlights: ‘we are used to thinking about the Cathedral as a permanent set of architecture and also a set of certain values’. His work instead plays on the idea of impermanence. In his installation we see the image of 32 sky divers who coalesce for 60 seconds at a starting height of 6000 kilometres to form the shape of the vault in Durham Cathedral. Lejman’s installation isolates the vault’s motifs from their original religious setting, yet still retains their fundamental connotations. He says this action allows us to reconsider the ‘many situations we tend to regard as the permanent as, in fact very ephemeral;’ an interpretation he is only able to convey through a prism of scientific understanding.
The elements come together in the unifying action of Creation which Simeon Nelson conveys in his installation entitled ‘Plenum’. The caption for his piece reads: ‘If you could witness the creation of the universe, what might it be like?’ Nelson explains that in his work he is attempting to amalgamate ‘lots of different strands, a mythic way of seeing the world, a metaphysical way of seeing the world and a scientific way of seeing the world’. ‘Plenum’ is a projection of sequence: it begins as a miniscule dot, intimating the beginning of the universe, and then proceeds to expand quite explosively into a grid. The perfect grid of points resemble stars, but then slowly burst into chaos. Nelson explained this as ‘greater and greater degrees of chaos but at the same time beauty and freedom’. His idea of forging a Creation myth founded on Science is achieved through his use of music and projection: when one image is represented visually, another is simultaneously constructed sonically. This beautiful interpretation of creation as a natural phenomenon, a scientific process and religious notion seamlessly embrace the collaboration of Art, Science and belief.
Leonardo Meigas, an Estonian artist explicitly links this triumvirate in his installation called ‘The Hartman Grid’. His piece was inspired by the German oncologist Dr Ernest Hartmann, who believed humans who spent a lot of time at the point where the Earth’s electromagnetic plates intersect may be more likely to develop certain diseases. Meigas’ grid is made up of a network of luminous flumes which symbolise these lines of natural radiation. As the colours within these pipes flow vertically and horizontally, they represent how these channels of energy intersect to form a grid in the first place. What is controversial about Meigas’ piece however is that many are not sure these grids of natural radiation even exist. But, it is clear that Meigas’ belief in their existence is resolute, as he told me of the recent loss of his brother in-law to cancer, making him determined to raise ‘awareness for this scientific theory through artistic means, [which] will save thousands of people’s lives’. Did he see himself as an artist or scientist. Not unsurprisingly, he gave me a rather proverbial response, saying that he was ‘trying to visualise this phenomenon as an artist. Simultaneously, the piece is also a declaration to science’.
His answer particularly resonated with me as it elucidated the multifaceted nature of the installations; and not just those at the Lumiere Festival, but also on a much grander scale. Following on from this, I began to consider the absolutist nature of my own question: why did I think Meigas had to be either a scientist or artist? The polarisation of Art and science is underpinned by many social structures. Our universities categorise courses as either Arts or Sciences, and most people make the distinction between an artistic or scientific mindset. This leaves us with the enduring question: will the increasing popularity of Installation Art begin to dissolve our black and white approach to Art and Science, or is this division too deeply routed in society to deconstruct?