As a science-based artist, current MFA Fine Arts student Julia Buntaine found a “kindred spirit” in Bio Art pioneer Suzanne Anker when she first came to SVA. Anker’s From the Laboratory to the Studio class “was a total blast,” recalls Buntaine, now in her second year. “I highly recommend it to any SVA student who has a scientific inkling.”
Now, Buntaine has taken her passion for science-based art to a critical new level. She recently launched SciArt in America, a free online magazine that she hopes will bring widespread attention to the movement. The premiere issue features a look inside the SVA Nature and Technology Bio Lab as well as interviews with several practitioners who work at the intersection of art and science. Buntaine discussed her new
venture with SVA Close Up.
Why did you start SciArt in America?
While the science-based art movement (SciArt) is quickly gaining a strong presence across the seas in cities such at London and Berlin, here in the United States the movement has remained small, scattered and largely unnoticed. I believe this is not because of a lack of SciArt, but simply because it is spread across the country and not necessarily centralized in New York City, making it more difficult for artists to form a cohesive presence.
I want to fix this. As a science-based artist myself, I see community as essential to our success, because the methods, challenges, materials and goals of science-based art are new and unique, lying in uncharted art historical territory. The format of an e-magazine allows for ease of access and distribution along with the charm of a serial publication. With SAiA I hope to create such a community and resource for science-based artists here.
Who is your target audience?
As with any art magazine, my target audience is pretty broad: anyone who would call him- or herself an art lover. That being said, however, since it is focused on science-based art, I hope that scientists, along with the broader public, will find enjoyment in reading about work that illuminates scientific discoveries in a visual manner, just like someone would read a pop science book or newspaper article in the science section.
Do you have a journalism background?
Yes, I do. It’s one of those cases where working on your college newspaper was actually an asset to my current life goals, five years later. I also briefly worked for an e-magazine based out of Philadelphia called Work & Lifestyle, as the arts editor. These experiences, combined with my current position at Art & Science Collaborations, Inc. as their online featured member editor, gave me my grounding in the launch of SAiA.
Science as a subject matter for art has not only been a long-standing interest of mine, but has also pretty much constituted the center of my personal universe for the past seven or so years. It was during my time at Hampshire College that I began to grapple with what SciArt really is. I double-majored in Neuroscience and Sculpture, and when senior thesis time came, I thought to combine rather than choose between the two in the best way I could think of: a show entitled “NeuroSculpture.” In my view, I got the best of both worlds—science as the endlessly deep subject matter I had been searching for, with the capacity for free expression and self-designed innovation of being an artist.
Of course, at the end of the day, I chose to be an artist over a scientist, but I keep up on current scientific research (my studio is full of printed out Science articles) and have maintained close ties in the scientific community.
What became evident to me during that last year at college, but especially more so recently, is that science as a subject for the arts is in fact a very important idea, and has implications for the art world, for science and our culture at large. I believe that science is becoming central to what art talks about. This is because science is a thing of the every day in our culture. (Think of how many times you hear someone say, “I just read a study about X that said Y.”) And what is more appropriate to make art about than what is prevalent in a culture?
In fact, one of the articles in the first issue of SAiA addresses this issue. I am mainly focusing on the visual arts for the magazine, but the same can be said for writing, music, dance and theater as well. The visual arts specifically can benefit science by being a visual-metaphor mediator of information between the scientist and the public. SciArt provides a platform of subjective interpretation, judgment and sensory-based understanding that pie charts and statistics, don’t necessarily lend themselves to.
Are you currently making science-based art?
I am. I just finished two pieces focused on the broader picture of neuroscience as a discipline. In the first project, I collected 100+ images that scientists have used to test the visual system in the brain in order to attempt to understand how we visually navigate the world. This information would be useful, for example, to help treat certain vision comprehension disorders. These images, or “stimuli,” are meant to approximate real-world settings in the laboratory. Where it becomes interesting for me is when you see the pictures that scientists use. Let me just say, most of them are pretty banal, often weird and sometimes very funny (strange warped human faces, lots of blobs, fuzzy objects and so on). I wanted to show people that scientists are using a very reduced version of our actual experience of the world to understand our visual system. The implications are interesting to think about.
The second project consists of all headlines for brain-related articles from The New York Times since its inception in 1851. Newspaper headlines are interesting because of the impact they have on society; they are designed to be eye-catching and are often more boastful/controversial/sexy than the article itself. They are often the only thing most people see, or remember. So in reading all neuroscience-related headlines from one the world’s most-read newspapers, one can get a picture of the headline-sized ideas that have been propagated in our culture about the brain. Blown up and arranged chronologically on the wall, this piece shows how headlines have changed over time, our sometimes years-long fixations on certain topics, and the patterns in language use. Not all examples are black and white, good or bad, but reside in a strange gray area for the viewer to reflect on.
What are your hopes and dreams for SciArt in America?
My hopes and dreams for SAiA are sky-high. The name is an obvious tribute to Art in America, one of the leading art magazines in this country, and that is what I would like to be for science-based art and discussion. Right now SAiA is essentially a one-woman operation, so at the top of my priority list is getting staff interested in art journalism, graphic design, online publications or marketing. (If this is you, apply now!) I also want to expand the length of the issue, include more topical discussion and feature more fruits of science and art collaborations. Speaking of which, SAiA has an open submission policy, so for anyone who is interested in contributing, email [email protected] with your ideas!