Monday, October 8, 2012

Curating for Scientists

 Image Credit: Malaghan Institute of Medical Research, Wellington, New Zealand

The picture is from Facebook: "The wonderful team at the Malaghan took some time out today to show Ruba and Rose (who generously donated their pocket money to the institute) around. Here Ruba looks at white blood cells through a very impressive microscope as sister Rose looks on."

My current role at a university art gallery should imply some kind of practical art and science cross over. After all, the scientists at the Malaghan - literally down the road from the gallery - are researchers with as much stake in the cultural life of the campus as the musicians, artists, film historians, and poets I talk to daily. Theoretically we understand this at the gallery. But we have to take a different approach to collaboration if we really want a more dynamic back and forth between the research we frame in the white cube and the research that is framed in the lab.

What is that approach? Did you visit the art gallery associated with the university you trained at, or work at now? Why not? What would it take to create that relationship?


  1. Do all university's have associated art galleries? I didn't even know there would be one. Is it (usually) attached to the university's school of fine arts?

    I once visited Auckland Uni's school of fine arts out of curiosity, but I didn't interact with anyone (I was too much of a shy undergrad at the time). I often considered visiting Oxford's one, but never did. In Helsinki the natural science campus is out of the centre of town so I wouldn't even know where the fine art school here is. I feel no connection to the rest of the university at all, unfortunately.

    I think some subset of scientists would be quite keen to talk with the artists of their university, but would just never have considered it. Another subset wouldn't be at all interested, so if the art world tried to engage and got the cold shoulder, they should just try again with a different person.

    I think also time is a big factor. We're too busy doing our own teaching/research. Having a chat would be something many would be willing to do, but to actively engage in any way would be seen as counter-productive. Anything that grew out of such an engagement might help the career of the art side of the engagement, but would not help the scientist at all. Every active engagement would be seen as a paper not written.

    However, if any interaction was more passive for the scientist I think many would be interested. They would never initiate it though. As I wrote above, every active engagement would be seen as a paper not written.

    1. not every university has an art gallery, but it is a genre that exists, and it has a place in that university galleries are usually more oriented to a critical framing of art (the exhibition as a form of research) than other public institutions.

      when you say that "every active engagement would be seen as a paper not written" I think that this fact is true in any field. so it doesn't concern me excessively - I think we're almost always dealing with a subset of scholars who will make time out of nothing for some sort of extra-curricular intellectual relationship.

      what I do wonder about is how to nurture a sense of investment in a research-oriented art institution as, well, a cultural institution intrinsically connected to a university's mandate. for instance, Berliners feel a sense of ownership over the Pergamon Museum. if all the non-humanists or social scientists on a campus are barely aware that art exists there we're pretty far from that utopia.

      it could be as simple as feeling comfortable enough to go to an exhibition opening. I'm intrigued by the idea that you visited Elam, for example. It's quite an act of courage/determination to walk down that hill.

    2. The "not going to exhibitions" thing will have more to do with not being at all aware of them than not being comfortable.

      I am a little worried that I had a Hillary Clinton being shot at in Bosnia moment when I claimed that I went to Elam. I just looked it up on a map and it isn't where I thought it was. In any case I wouldn't use the word courage to describe whatever visit I had to whatever place I went. When you're anonymous you can go wherever you want, there is no fear if you're just looking.

      But, honestly, I think an easy first step in forming a relationship would be contacting some scientists. Everybody wants to talk about their research, get a secretary to email a mailing list asking if anyone is interested in talking to you or attending an exhibition.

      We're just not aware that exhibitions are opening. And, if we are vaguely aware that there will be exhibitions and that they therefore must open at some point, we definitely aren't aware that our presence (as contributors to the university) would be at all desired, or that museum curators are at all interested in what we're doing.


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