Thinking Outside the Box: Other Paradigms for Artists

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:: Scroll down to view the Co-Director, Swiss Artists-in-Labs Program at the Institute for Cultural Studies in the Arts (ICS), Zurich University of the Arts Iréne Hediger's presentation below ::

Iréne Hediger, Co-Director, Swiss Artists-in-Labs Program at the Institute for Cultural Studies in the Arts (ICS), Zurich University of the Arts

Thank you very much Jen. This is my second time at a TransCultural Exchange conference, and I would like to thank Mary for making this conference possible and for her dedication in bringing people together from all over the world and from different practices. For me, this conference is an opportunity to think outside of the box by sharing experiences and exchanging ideas about what we are doing and why we are doing it.

Title of talk - View of Zurich

Bringing artists and scientists together

I am looking forward to our exchange and the following panel discussion. Hopefully my brief introduction of what the artists-in-labs program is doing will provoke many questions.

The artists-in-labs program is situated at the Zurich University of the Arts in Switzerland, and for over 10 years we have been facilitating residencies for artists in science labs in Switzerland and internationally.

Programs since 2003: residencies, exhibitions, and research

We bring artists and scientists together to allow them time and space for the possibility to think outside of their boxes and foster a mutual dialogue. This well prepared and curated setting is very often the basis for long-lasting collaborations – well beyond the residency time of nine months.

Fields of activity

- Collaboration and process

Based on the residencies and close exchange with the artists and scientists during that time, we also extend our activities into public spaces by bringing the processes and results of these exchanges out of the laboratory and studio into art spaces and museums as well as the wider public space. Also, an important aspect of our work is to look into and explore what the impacts of such residencies and exchanges are and how art-science projects challenge the institutional, artistic and scientific contexts within which they were produced.

Collaboration and process

The artists-in-labs collaborations aim at:
       ·(see slide)
From our experience from many years of facilitating and mentoring art-science collaborations, we realise that there are 3 phases that are common for most of the collaborations:
        ·(see slide)
Also, for almost all of the artists-in-labs collaborations we can see that: the process for both artists and scientists does not stop with the time of the residency.

Exemplary projects: Nicole Ottiger

Let me introduce you to two very different projects: the artist-in-lab Nicole Ottiger, a Swiss/UK artist, and Christina Della Giustina, a Swiss artist, living and working in Amsterdam.

A kind of madness in sight: painting of 2 female figures

Installation and artist in performance

Installation shot

Nicole paints and draws. She has long history and interest in self-portraiture. Since around 1994, she has done various works, having to do with the self. As an artist-in-lab resident at the Institute of Cognitive Neuroscience she was dealing with questions like: what is the self? What am I? What is the body? How does the body disassociate? What is a body in space?

She learnt that the bodily self - the brain’s processing of a person’s body - is actually the foundation of a self. The neuropsychologists in the lab produce various experimental designs to allow the subjects to perceive themselves. Nicole was using one specific experiment called: Video Ergo Sum. This experiment is also called “manipulating bodily self-consciousness.” We normally experience our conscious self as localised within our body. However in certain neurological conditions and disorders, such as out-of-body experiences, this spacial unity may break down leading to a very striking disturbance of self-consciousness. Let me try to explain the experiment setting: In this test situation, a mounted centered conflict: while the subjects are being touched from behind, they see this touch in front of them on an avatar – on a virtual body, but in a different time shift. It is not at the same time that they feel and see the touch. So, during this mounted centered conflict, participants felt as if their virtual body seen in front of them was part of their own body. That means they mis-localize themselves towards a virtual body – outside their own body borders. The feeling of being in your body and possessing it is a fundamental human experience and very closely related to our subjective first person perspective of the world. But how it functions is still very much researched in neuroscience.

Now, Nicole explores different aspects of the self and she explores different media to focus on perception – on what she perceives. She believes that technology affects how we think and how we see.  Robotics, neuroaesthetics, genetic engineering, biotechnology and artificial intelligence as well as the arts raise fundamental questions about selfhood, identity, community and what it means to be a human. Nicole’s way of working is to attempt to constantly reflect on the experience of her own art practice, because she believes that this reflection is necessary for unexpected discovery. She uses words as a tool – she writes, she thinks – which is a way for her to explore how perception can have consequences on the artwork that is produced.

Facing herself in a laboratory situation is for her valuable for many reasons, including the ability to gain objective insight on what is her subjective approach.  To create a hybrid discourse between art and science and to experience herself how she reacts in a specific neuro-experimental set-up designed to disrupt bodily self consciousness and how this affects her art-making.  Or as she puts it: “As an artist she senses her surrounding and senses herself in searching for sense. “

A risk of these kinds of immersive approaches is that the art that is produced might be regarded as an artistic self-recording of one’s own powerlessness. Because art - unlike laboratory experiments - cannot be verified as such. She cannot go back and check what she did and produce the same thing twice.

Nicole’s conclusion of her working in the laboratory and during her further pursuit of this subject within her PhD was that:  “The artworks are representations that she saw through a device or - in other words - through an extension of the self.  The drawings are also inevitably interpretations and not just pure studies portraying the outer appearance. The artistic realisation and translation of what one sees into a visual entity on paper goes through the body. The body consciousness forms and molds what we see into something more. The drawings also include clues about the initial state at the time of [the] experiencing, the curiosity for what she was aware of and perceived [as] the self /body within the virtual space at that moment.”