John Isaacs, Say it isn't so, 1994, Arts Council Collection, Hayward Gallery, South Bank Centre, London
Exhibition | 12.05.2007 EXTENDED UNTIL 16.09.2007

Say it isn’t so

Art trains its sights on the natural sciences
The sciences have always been a theme and a source of inspiration for artists. William Turner was interested in geology, Georges Seurat was animated by the research conducted by the physicists James Clerk Maxwell and Ogden Rood, Wassily Kandinsky was fascinated by the new discoveries in the area of nuclear physics, and Robert Smithson examined the phenomenon of entropy and the laws of thermodynamics—to cite only a few of many examples. The natural sciences have influenced the artistic language of form, supplied the know-how for the execution of certain works of art, have been declared art, have been synthesized with and criticized by art.

Since the end of the last millennium, a remarkably large number of artists have been fired with enthusiasm for the natural sciences. They botanize plants, typify the patches of color on cows, construct observation posts for insects, attempt to communicate with frogs in open laboratory situations or to arouse feelings of happiness among participants in experimental settings. They use scientific jargon, scientific forms of illustration, or they create unconventional models.


The Weserburg has prepared an exhibition that investigates this current phenomenon from a perspective consciously unlike previous projects and symposia on “art and science.” While the latter often aimed at discovering similarities between art and science or forcing a dialogue between the “two cultures” (Charles Percy Snow), the planned exhibition will demonstrate that contemporary art in no way aligning itself or becoming taken up with science, but rather is positioning itself beside science with a scrutinizing eye.

In this respect, the exhibition does not deal with “re-conceiving the alliance between art and science,” as was the case with Science + Fiction (Hannover et al. 2003), or with forcing the collaboration of artists and scientists, as did Formule 2 (Amsterdam 1998). Neither does it focus on a particular problem such as genetic research (Put on your blue genes, Berlin 2005). Rather, in line with the current discourse, the exhibition shows how contemporary artists reflect on and transform the natural sciences from their own, at times critical standpoint. In this way they contribute to an increased understanding of the sciences and the role they play in our culture, at the same time challenging their claim to universal validity and objectivity.

 

The artists receive support and inspiration for their work by authors such as Bruno Latour, Donna Haraway or Stephen Jay Gould, with whom they share an analytical and cultural-anthropological view of Western science. The artistic strategies used are those of affirmation, fact, and irony. In the process, the artists never set themselves up in judgment of the sciences, the enigmatic fascination of which even they can hardly resist.


Natural scientists are also beginning to understand their disciplines within a cultural context and to critically examine the underlying conditions of their research. They are making possible, so to speak, a kind of “aesthetic distance” to their own thoughts and actions. The molecular biologist, scientific historian, and Derrida student Hans-Jörg Rheinberger has already made reference to a—if still very hesitant—process of self-reflection by the natural sciences similar to that of the arts. This is where the connection between art and science begins to become interesting in a way previously undreamed of. More and more scientists are slipping into the role of the artistic experimenter who investigates a scientific field, or the scientist who, like the artist or the philosopher, reevaluates his previous practice. This now virulent interrelation will also leave its mark on the exhibition and the accompanying catalogue.

SAY IT ISN’T SO sees itself as a multimedia exhibition. It will present laboratory-like installations, test settings, archives, photographs, and video works in which the focus is on art as an experimental system, as a transformation of scientific issues, but also as a sensorial, aesthetic event. By familiarizing themselves with scientific thought patterns, experimental procedures, and methods of communication and representation, the participating artists are capable of placing these on a new level of reflection. By enabling scientific models of thought to be experienced from what art considers a crucial aesthetic distance, they subject these models, which are bound to trust in science, to a necessary revision.


In the exhibition, artistic positions from the 1990s, such as those represented by Mark Dion (USA), Damien Hirst (GB), Olaf Nicolai (D) or Nana Petzet (D), will be compared with current artistic works and attitudes which not only make reference to the explosive character of the issue in question for the current generation of young artists, but also show the direction in which the future discourse on art and science may develop, which will not only be of great interest to the art world.


The concept for SAY IT ISN’T SO will be prepared within the scope of a seminar on aesthetics to be held over three semesters and conducted by Peter Friese and Guido Boulboullé at the University of Bremen. Furthermore, it will be developed in close collaboration with Susanne Witzgall, an acknowledged expert on the subject, from the Akademie der bildenden Künste in Munich. Thus SAY IT ISN’T SO will not be just a museal event limited to the art world, but rather a research project resting on many shoulders. Its center of attention may be the exhibition; however, it will be accompanied by a range of communication forums, which will also include lectures and conversations with artists.

Participating artists:
Brian Collier (USA), Mark Dion (USA), Galerie für Landschaftskunst (D), Henrik Håkansson (S), Frank Hesse (D), Carsten Höller (D), John Isaacs (GB), Christoph Keller (D), Szabolcs KissPál (H), Gerhard Lang (D), M+M (D), Carsten Nicolai (D), Olaf Nicolai (D), Nana Petzet (D), Theda Radtke (D), Tyyne Claudia Pollmann (D), Hannes Rickli (CH), Hinrich Sachs (D), Conrad Shawcross (GB), Herwig Turk/Günter Stöger (A), Judith Walgenbach (D)

Special guests:
Marcel Duchamp (F), Nikolaus Lang (D), Bruce Nauman (USA)

In cooperation with the University of Bremen
Curators: Peter Friese, Guido Boulboullé, Susanne Witzgall
Curatorial assistant: Ingo Clauß


The exhibition is being generously funded by the Bremer Landesbank and the Waldemar Koch Stiftung. We also extend our thanks to the Friends of the Weserburg.


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