A hub where artists, scientists, philosophers, historians, inventors and scholars meet? The Leonardo Art Science Evening Rendezvous (LASER) series began in San Francisco in 2008, initially conceived by cultural historian Piero Scaruffi. After his proposition of the program to Leonardo’s executive editor Roger Malina, the forum brought together artists and scientists in real time. The short introductions of their projects inspired interdisciplinary networking where the participants share ideas and interact. The platform is free of charge, which creates a democratic spirit; open to the public for original discussions. The audiences vary according to the range of topics and each speaker attracts new audience members. LASERs monthly lectures and presentations now take place in San Francisco, Berkeley, Stanford, Santa Cruz, Davis, Austin, New York, and London. LASERs will be starting soon in Toronto and Montreal.
Patricia Bentson, Director, Leonardo/ISAST explains LEONARDO’s contributions in publishing about art/science for nearly 50 years and their international authorship and readership, with a significant portion in the U.S. , particularly North America. Even though they have actively participated in symposia, conferences and workshops, LASERs incorporated the increased number of practitioners and academic interest in interdisciplinary topics over those years. The discussions included the speakers’ presentations and the audience members were invited to give a 30-second description on their projects. The setting of those gatherings seems to change according to the chair.
Three former LEAF Chairs, Ellen Levy, Victoria Vesna and Patricia Olynyk lead the NY LASERS which adopt a more informal setting, without recording the talks. The limited number of the participants encourages sharing feedback and enables potential collaborations. In addition Ellen Levy mentions that more artists usually attend the meetings rather than scientists. Living in a hybrid world, and rejecting rigid categorisations such as the broader term ‘artist’; how does space and place affects the members? JD Talasek Director, Cultural Programs of the National Academy of Sciences in Washington, D.C. is the main driving force behind the DASER events held in Washington, D.C. He also introduced ATX LASER in Austin in March at the Umlauf Sculpture Garden & Museum, in a non-academic setting. As a scholar in residence at the UMLAUF, his drive is to build local communities, which will allow the participants to interact and equally introduce their interests, makes it even more stimulating on how culture is distributed geographically. Art and science remains a ‘tricky area’ when the collaboration between the scientist and the artist, is not always democratic in proportions, and in order to overcome this boundary they need to talk more. The pre-networking sessions have an interactive result, in Talasek’s case; as he explains that ‘human beings we have common interests which can only open through communication and dialogue’.
Even though the LASERS, produce a certain amount of light in the U.S, on the 18th February 2014 for the first time they took place in Europe. An initiative taken by Heather Barnett , lecturer at the MA Art & Science at Central Saint Martins and Adrienne Klein, chair of LEAF, Leonardo Education Arts Forum, based in New York at CUNY. As Heather said ‘it seemed like a perfect opportunity to join forces and make it an inter-institutional event’. In the evening University of Westminster opened its doors to two pioneers of London’s art/science scene Nicola Triscott, director of The Arts Catalyst and Daniel Glaser, director of the new Science Gallery due to open in late 2015 in Kings College London. Nicola shared some ‘stories of reconstruct’ on her drive behind art/science, following her training in physics and her immediate attraction to art & science projects. The organisation has commissioned a number of interesting artists and continues to have social impact through their unique productions, exciting statements and aesthetic judgements. Dr Daniel Glaser; neuroscientist, science communicator, cultural leader and former Head of Engaging Science at the Wellcome Trust, shared his vision on this ambitious project where art and science collide by connecting borders between communities and academia. From Dublin to London, Science Gallery international is also in discussions with New York, Bangalore and Melbourne about establishing hubs in those cities by 2020.
Thinking about the future, multidisciplinary interaction can happen through online networks and social media & common interest groups. The technological advancement can now facilitate critical communication between artists, scientists, cultural leaders, inventors, academics, philosophers and a range of individuals. While the LASER initiative builds strong local communities, spatial and physical limitations still remain continental. Mainly held in North America, slowly expanding in South America and after their first appearance in Europe, there is still a long way until they become universal and expand in other territories. International art and science networks such as ASCI based in the U.S., Synapse in Australia and MARCEL in Europe offer a global alternative to collaborations and sharing of resources. Even though they attract focused groups, technology offers a broader perspective, often lacking the same degree of physical interaction and experimentation. The internet acts as an enlightening catalyst through recorded and published talks online that are open to the public. Looking into a world to come, is virtual space going to replace physical space? Will virtual communities replace local communities? It might sound utopic but both art and science explore universal meanings, and such networks are crucial for the continuation of the dialogue and feedback in our local communities.