The Role of Experimentation in Art and Science

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‘The task of experimental artists is to deliver questions rather than answers. Experimentation then becomes a process of questioning, testing of hypotheses, and questioning again, iteratively.’ [1]

Francois-Joseph Lapointe, Professor at the University of Montreal stated in a journal titled: ‘On the Role of Experimentation in Art (and science)’. Lapointe calls on the purpose and importance of experimentation on the developmental process of an artwork. Experimentation is key to uncovering new avenues for innovation and simultaneously distinguishing others as irrelevant. Through the physical production of making, it allows a constant push-pull of risk and failure, resulting in an innovative outcome.  

For an artist, the imperative nature of creative experimentation enables the testing of various materials, tools and techniques with room for ‘trial and error.’ During the process of tests, sooner or later, you will find a promising effect; and from that, it will lead you on a course of numerous other possibilities to explore. In partnership of material exploration, looking into other artist’s approaches of materials and concepts assist in pinpointing areas previously explored and gaps that are yet to be explored. This research and exploration is key for the potential of artistic innovation.

At the beginning of semester, I sourced very old marble that was passed down through generations of a family located on the outskirts of Oakley, Victoria. Having sourced countless varieties of marble, featuring all sorts of colours, shapes, sizes and patterns, I knew I felt compelled to work with this material, not withstanding a lack of skills and experience in working with such a difficult material. With no set vision of the outcome, I chose to explore through experimentation to help direct the work.

My process initially commenced by meeting with technicians from the Southbank workshop to the FabLab and the NExT Lab where I had countless inductions and discussions on the possibilities the facilities and available tools could provide in working with marble. Once I’d grasped some concept of the physical potential of these tools, I began to put to use all I had learnt.


 

My Process of Experimentation using Marble:

  1.       Source material
  2. Inductions to tools at the Workshop: angle grinder, Dremel, air drill

    1. Explore the potential of mark making on the marble
  3. Attempting carving with cold chisel and hammer
  4. Break up large pieces of marble

    1. Smashing
    2. Cutting
  5. Sanding

    1. Softening broken edges with sandpaper and Dremel
  6. Induction to machinery in the FabLab

    1. Etch into marble using Metal Laser Cutter
  7. Induction to 3D Scanning and Printing

    1. Scan piece of marble and attempt to enlarge the scale with textural effect.
  8. Attempt Embedding small pieces in flat pictorial surfaces
  9. Attempt Embedding small pieces in rounded surfaces
  10. Make Reliefs: to capture texture
  11. Make casts
  12. Make moulds from marble
  13. Question all the above

Over numerous weeks of testing materials, tools, techniques, I have expanded the work in directions that sparked interest and simultaneously eliminated paths that were no longer viable for my ideal direction – due to factors such as cost; requirement of high skill/expertise; too heavy, time consuming and/or waning interest. 

One of the most significant factors throughout this process, is constantly questioning what is being done? Why? What does that mean? How did the outcome differ from previous trials? What worked in this trial and not in previous trials? How can I improve this outcome in the next trial? What should I try next?

Constantly, challenging oneself and asking questions within the process and outcomes allows for crucial reflection of the objective. The push for reflection forces a creative thought pattern and prevents a closed minded rationalisation and perspective.

Artist, Lucio Fontana, is an outstanding pioneer for his experimental practice, producing some of the world’s most original artworks based on his interest to push dimensional boundaries and questioning categorical and traditional structures of art. In 1949, Fontana began punching holes in the canvas, slowly developing this concept throughout the years, ultimately creating his renowned Tagli (cuts) and Holes series. The works in the series feature one or more cuts that are not performed for destruction, but rather for creation, which the artist expressed in this statement: “…I made holes in order to discover, to find the cosmos of an unknown dimension.” [2]

The result of such a simple gesture transforms the canvas from the typically flat surface into a three-dimensional work; that stems from his fascination of the idea of space; offering the spectator an unusual opportunity to see preceding the canvas.

Fontana assisted in establishing the Spatialism movement; which stemmed from spatial qualities, aiming to bridge the gaps between architecture, sculpture and painting; in particular the flat element of conventional pictorial surfaces.

Following the introduction of the movement, Fontana’s manifesto, ‘Manifesto Blanco’, stated that art should embrace science and technology, fusing of artistic genres and rejection of traditional materials, which expanded the range to resources such as radio, television and neon lights. With these concepts on the forefront of his mind, these ideas were put forward and influenced the direction and conclusion of this works.

The artistic evolution of his practice, including cutting, puncturing, ultimately leaving slash markings and holes in canvases were a way of pushing the limits of traditional materials through investigative experimentation. Fontana even viewed his practice as a work in progress.

Through his investigation, Fontana developed a new methodology to form his slashes. He experimented with the wetness of paint while making his incisions with a Stanley knife and other non-traditional art tools. In addition to his renowned slashes, he also included stones, glass and crystals on top of canvases. This subtle element of presence and absence extended the surface outward in space. Fontana’s physical engagement allowed the development of his lacerations, bringing a new realm into art.

‘Experimentation’ is often confused with scientific experimentation. The limitations on this topic stems from the debate between artistic experimentation versus science. The two subjects are extremely different, sometimes considered polar opposites. However, they coexist, occasionally overlap, and sometimes cause resistance.

Science is used in an attempt to understand something through observation, hypotheses and experiments to generate a conclusion. There is a set methodological path for a scientist to take to form factual reasoning and rationality. On the contrary, art does not follow such a direct principle; it is spontaneous and subjective. Within artistic practice, there are no restraints on creativity. It is entirely up the artist to go as far as their imagination leads them/ their work.

The overall approach of experimentation is not so different from art to science, however it is the end result that is often questioned with scepticism. Unfortunately, artistic experimentation doesn’t hold the same level of consideration given to scientific experimentation.

Art is difficult to measure and quantify; leaving this tension of uneasiness clouded by a layer of obscurity. In direct contrast to the tangibility of science, which is consecutively heavily supported by facts. This opens up a dialogue that is easily accessible for the public to comprehend.

There is an embedded ill perspective of art surrounding the lack of productive capital for society; unlike the relatively direct benefits science brings to the people, for example, health and technological advances.

On the contrary, there are countless literary pieces, arguing the importance of artistic research stating that it is a valid means of investigation. The concept of art-based research focuses on making as being the principal instrument of analysis. Developing from the conservative divide, art based research is gaining an extraordinary amount of momentum, embedding itself into the discussion of experimentation, proving art does hold productive weight.

There are countless funding and grants to support artists in their ambitious endeavours. A quote stated on the website of the Australia Council for the Arts advocates for supporting conceptual artistic frameworks in the means of research, stating:

‘The Australia Council for the Arts supported artists to take creative risks and develop new types of artistic expression…Australian experimental arts explore challenging new concept in the creation and experience of arts and culture.’ [3]

 

In addition to this, Synapse, is part of the Australia Council for the arts and ANAT (Australian Network for Art and Technology), which sets out to support collaborative interventions between both, artists and scientists. The levelling of both subjects brings us back to the similarities of research through experimentation across science and art. It is clear that both science and art are productive fields that simultaneously benefit society, just in vastly diverse parameters.

The undertaking of experimentation through art making is a tool used to convey countless questions; from conceptual motive to materiality and to possible innovation. It is in this manner of artistic testing that I am heavily embracing in my development. I do not have a specific objective in mind, but through the process of trial and error, I am setting out to cultivate new formations.  This avenue of research and exploration yields promising direction towards a complete and successful artwork.

  • Lapointe, F. (1942). On the Role of Experimentation in Art (and Science). Journal of the New Media Caucus.
  • Tate. (n.d.). Spazialismo – Art Term | Tate. [online] Available at: https://www.tate.org.uk/art/art-terms/s/spazialismo [Accessed 23 May 2019].
  • MORRISON, GREG. 2019. “7 Things You Need To Know About Lucio Fontana”. https://www.sothebys.com/en/articles/7-things-you-need-to-know-about-lucio-fontana.
  • “Emerging And Experimental | Australia Council”. 2019. Australiacouncil.Gov.Au. Accessed May 23. https://www.australiacouncil.gov.au/artforms/emerging-and-experimental/.
  • “Emerging And Experimental Arts Frequently Asked Questions | Australia Council”. 2019. Australiacouncil.Gov.Au. Accessed May 23. https://www.australiacouncil.gov.au/artforms/emerging-and-experimental/emerging-and-experimental-arts-frequently-asked-questions/.

[1] Lapointe, F. (1942). On the Role of Experimentation in Art (and Science). Journal of the New Media Caucus.

[2] MORRISON, GREG. 2019. “7 Things You Need To Know About Lucio Fontana”. https://www.sothebys.com/en/articles/7-things-you-need-to-know-about-lucio-fontana.

[3] “Emerging And Experimental | Australia Council”. 2019. Australiacouncil.Gov.Au. Accessed May 23. https://www.australiacouncil.gov.au/artforms/emerging-and-experimental/.

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