As ArtScience Evolves, Pasadena Seen as Intersection Point

Published : Monday, May 13, 2019 | 4:37 AM

Above, Force Field, 2016; performance art by Amsterdam-based artists Evelina Domnitch and Dmitry Gelfand, who will be in Pasadena on Monday, May 13, 2019 for a LASER Talks event ar ArtCenter.

Pasadena is at the center of an art trend where art and science are increasingly intertwined, said respected curator/artist Stephen Nowlin last week.

Nowlin is a Vice President of ArtCenter College of Design and founding director of the college’s Alyce de Roulet Williamson Gallery.

On Monday, he will join presenters sharing their art / science / technology / media explorations and adventures with curious participants in the art-science dialogue at an event at ArtCenter that has sold out.

Nowlin said that’s a sign of the times.

“There’s a lot of engagement at the intersection of science and art going on, and I think we’re going to see more of that,” Nowlin said. “Artists are experimenting with technology as a new palette and a new way of discovering forms, so there’s that formal aspect and there’s looking at science as a world view and how that competes with other kinds of world views in society and culture.”

Stephen Nowlin, a Vice President of ArtCenter College of Design and founding director of the college's Alyce de Roulet Williamson Gallery.

Nowlin preaches ArtScience, something he has supported since 1970. That’s when, armed with his undergrad degree from Cal Arts, he started interning at Caltech for motion graphics guru John Whitney making experimental films. There has been significant progress since then. Today, he says, not only is science an inspiration for artistic work, but tech and science components are also being used as materials that comprise artistic creations.

“It’s about truth because science filters down to all sorts of issues,” Nowlin said. “Scientific thinking is a way of discerning truth, so I think artists are engaged in that.”

Nowlin said while many are aware of the teaching initiative STEM, the latest incorporation into the four-pronged pedagogical mission of Science Technology Engineering and Math also includes art, to produce STEAM.

Monday’s LASER Talks program is part of an international series hosted by a Massachusetts Institute of Technology MIT press journal called Leonardo. Leonardo has been around for decades as a peer-reviewed journal that focuses on the arts, science and culture. LASER is an acronym for Leonardo Art Science Evening Rendezvous. There are 30 venues and organizations that host the talks.

“We have artists who are dealing with tech and science topics and we have scientists engaged in interesting, leading-edge environmental science,” Nowlin said. “The talks are 10 or 15 minutes in length and we have four to six speakers per evening. They run through saturated explanation of what they’re up to and we break have refreshments and people discuss what they’ve been exposed to.”

“For the upcoming talk the two artists from the Netherlands do fascinating installations based on computer science art and a piece they’ve done called ‘Force Field,’” Nowlin said. “I would just say that ‘Force Field’ is a means of levitating objects and using sound waves.”

“It’s their art practice so like any art practice it has symbolic meanings,” Nowlin said. “You can also approach it as being a piece of sculpture. It’s kinetic and it’s moving and maybe it’s temporary but it’s a sculpture. Their art practice is about exploring this world at the intersection of art and science and seeing where it goes.”

While technology has merged and assisted with some art forms, it has also been a challenge for traditional artists. The practice of more commonly found forms of art, like painting on canvas, is not going away, despite appearances that indicate otherwise.

“There’s a huge amount of art in Los Angeles and big cities,” Nowlin said. “It may be in the saturated media soup of constant immersion in media that we’re all in. The art gets drowned out and doesn’t get the attention it should.”

He said art continues to serve a purpose that enhances, educates, expresses and entertains.

“There are lots of artists who are engaging in the practice in a critique,” he said. “There are artists dealing with climate change, artists dealing with the disappearance of coral reefs. Artists are dealing with other social issues, equality. and the struggles of the Third World with immigration. All these political issues that saturate our lives, there are artists dealing with them right now.”

Artists have to compete with a culture of instant gratification.

“I think it’s important to bring a critique through the lens of artists and how they see things,” Nowlin said. “But it’s difficult for artists to compete with the kind of media technology that exists today, so their audience is not as broad.”

“The shuffling for media attention is different than it was 10 or 15 years ago. I hope [that] in this media saturation we get — it gets so numbing — that people will start to look for more authentic experiences and find that in what artists make.”

“There’s a huge maker movement afoot focused on children and how making things engages them in a different way than pushing buttons does,” he said. “The perception that the arts are marginalized may be a momentary effect of our media evolution that we’re going through at the moment.”

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