Productive Misunderstandings? On Contemporary Art and Science Collaborations
Department of Sociology University of Berne Berne, Switzerland
A striking feature of contemporary society is its differentiation into a variety of cultural fields, with each field - such as science and art - characterized by a particular logic of its own, without being completely independent from the others. Such differentiation involves processes of specification, globalization and increasing complexity, which is sometimes conceived as an omen of a world falling apart. Yet differentiation does not solely imply increased dissimilarity. It also involves an enhancement of possible interdependences and cross-references amongst cultural fields.
In recent years, the relations between art and science have provoked a remarkable "disquiet" and have been negotiated in books, lectures and exhibitions. These developments are fed by the fact that the respective fields at one and the same time are both different and share some common features, especially an orientation towards innovation. Artists and scientists are often seen as society´s creative core. Therefore, these rapports are typically combined with the hope of shifting boundaries of situated knowledge and of a significant "enlargement of the universe of human discourse" (Clifford Geertz).
This paper investigates collaborations between artists and scientists in the context of artists-in-labs programs that became a central element of arts support in recent years. Encounters between artists and scientists may effect a "broadening of horizons". A crucial question thereby is: Does it affect central problems and aspects of the respective practices? May such collaborations extend artistic and scientific practices from the inside out? Or do they rather have the character of general extensions of merely personal experiences? Because the artistic as well as the scientific fields are in themselves highly differentiated, the discussion is based upon the assumption that it is (at least temporarily) necessary to bracket the collective subjects "art" and "science" and to take the specific constellations into account instead.