We are an international group of geographers studying art-science collaborations in the US, the UK, Switzerland, and Australia.

Please see the tabbed pages for information on publications, presentations and events related to our project.

For background on the project visit our website: artscience.arizona.edu.

For the 2013 Association of American Geographers annual conference, the ‘Art/Science: Collaborations on Bodies and Environments’ research team organized two paper sessions under the title ‘Curating the Cosmos’.  The title is in part a reference to the Geographer Alexander von Humbolt’s work ‘Kosmos’, in which he outlined a natural scientific philosophy that hinged around aesthetics.  Considered by many the father of scientific geography, Humboldt developed a series instruments that would enable him to make sense of earth process through the registration of sensation (heat, movement etc), and visualized these via a series of diagrams such as isobars, such that they imparted to an audience something of the unity he believed underlay the Earth’s diversity. In addition, our research into art and science collaborations focuses in large part on how creative responses to climate change, sustainability, environmental degradation have now become crucial to debates on ‘what next?’ The sessions are a means of bringing together physical and cultural geographers, humanities scholars, and others interested in exploring this issue further.   They include:

Harriet Hawkins – Royal Holloway, University of London Curating Earth-Encounters

Eric Magrane – University of Arizona Rhizoglyphics: Toward a Poetic Geography

Mrill Ingram – University of Arizona Curating Hybrid Publics: Artwork in Spaces of Urban Infrastructure

Deborah Dixon – University of Glasgow Hashima 3

Kathryn Yusoff – Lancaster University Cosmic derangement and Anthropogenesis in the Anthropocene

Nigel Clark – Lancaster University Planetary Cataclysm and the Return of Speculative Geophysics

Elizabeth Straughn – University of Glasgow & Sallie Marston – University of Arizona Geopolitics and Art/Science Curation

Daisy Sutcliffe – Creative Coast Project  Nature curation, culture, and community: Learning from the Jurassic Coast World Heritage Site’s ground breaking Creative Coast Project

Matt Coolidge – The Center for Land Use Interpretation An Overview of the American Land Museum

Linda Vigdor, University of Illinois Champagne-Urbana

Visualizing Imaginaries of Territory and Cosmos through a Techno-Artistic Imagination

This paper reports on how large-scale computational data of cosmological and hurricane events are transformed, through art and technoscience collaborations, into grand edutainments for immersive planetarium dome shows or IMAX films. Based on six months of organizational ethnography with the Advanced Visualization Laboratory at the University of Illinois’ National Center for Supercomputer Applications, I examine how collaborative ventures across art and science visualize and construct imaginaries of phenomena such as black holes, colliding galaxies, and Hurricane Katrina by appealing to an aesthetic of the sublime that depends on fidelity to scientific, computational data.Through visual, ethnographic analysis of the products of scientific and artistic methodologies in the 3D visualization of terrestrial and cosmic events, I examine how art-science collaborations contribute to artistically informed technoscientific imaginaries both earthbound and extraterrestrial. On the one hand, AVL’s approach foregrounds an adherence to data-rich models of contemporary computational science, yet this data fidelity is mediated by the affordances of 3D technologies; interdisciplinary collaborative quests for new, digitally-derived scientific knowledge; and public expectations of grand, immersive stories with views not previously seen. My paper will focus around representative animations and storyboards constructed from stills analyzed in relation to “real-time” photos and scientific simulations as well as the social discourses of art-technoscience collaborations. I argue that popular planetarium dome shows and science-based IMAX films not only bring science to the public, but also help to constitute contemporary technoartistic imaginaries of this scientific data and our terrestrial or cosmological “reality.”

AAG 2012

The artsci geog team organized several sessions for the annual Association of American Geographers meeting in New York, February 24-28, 2012.

Following are the description and abstracts for the micro session:

Inhabiting the Micro

 Organised by the Art/Sci Team, Universities of Aberystwyth, Arizona and Wisconsin-Madison

Hiding somewhere between one millionth and one billionth of a meter, the ‘micro’ has long been recognized as a key ‘zone’ of study in the physical sciences. More recently, social scientists and others have come to recognize it as offering powerful points from which to ‘see’ the world, evoking a series of spatial concepts: the detailed, the textured, the complex, and the close up. In contrast to the massive and the multitudal, it poses the miniscule and the pre-individual. For geographers, familiar concepts such as the local threaten to be thrown into confusion at the revelation of micro worlds existing – sometimes quite literally – underneath our noses. In the affairs of Others, the micro has been the site of intimacies (a freckle, a follicle, a pore) and has just as often harbored the traces of infidelities, in viral exchanges and creatures of indiscretion. The entanglements of governance and medicalized life – since Pasteur – have been blurred by the micro, and it is increasingly a focus of public attention in new micro-technologies, disease epidemics, and discoveries of the microbial world.

It is no small exaggeration, then, that the micro offers geographers a wide and fertile epistemic and ontological terrain. In this session we invite geographers from across the discipline to engage – methodologically and conceptually – with what it means to inhabit the micro and what it means for the micro to inhabit us, looking to bring to light how such senses of ‘inhabitation’ challenge and/or enable spaces.

Submitted Abstracts: 

Pathologies of the Micro in Soderbergh’s ‘Contagion’

John Paul Jones, University of Arizona jpjones@email.arizona.edu*
Deborah P. Dixon, University of Aberystwyth dxd@aber.ac.uk

Academic debates on and relating to ‘the micro’ have proliferated in recent years. Included in these diverse strands of philosophy are Latour’s Actor Network Theory, Harman’s object-oriented philosophy, and various Deleuzean flat ontologies. These strands of theory not only open spatial thought to the micro, they also open up new combinatorial conversations… with efforts to view neurological difference in relation to capitalism; with intensified forms of precautionary hygienics (annual flu shots, disinfectants); and with decidedly anti-romantic takes on touch and intimacy as we all learn to ‘think germs’. Together, these developments suggest new forms of subjectivity produced by a hyper-vigilance and fear over the microbiological. This micro-consciousness of the pathological has a history in popular culture (e.g., “The Andromeda Strain”). Most recently, its practical and affective effects have been the object of representation in Steven Soderbergh’s wildly popular film, “Contagion”. The movie feeds once again a contemporary public’s imagination over the monstrous irruption of an uncontrolled virus. In this paper, we examine a handful of the many themes brought forth in “Contagion”, including: the technological mediation of fear; the materiality of the unseen; new corporeal vulnerabilities; and a heightened awareness of the liveliness, and harmful capacity of, all manner of everyday objects. How, we also ask, does the film speak to our romantic flirtations with touch and intimacy?

Doing-cooking : The Performance of Flour

Emma Roe, Geography and Environment, University of Southampton.

This paper builds on existing studies of transformation and mobility in agro-food geographies (Atchison et al 2010), and Cochran’s (2011) ‘object-orientated cookery’ to study the ‘affective outline’ (Phelan 1997) of matter’s micro process of transformation. The substance at the centre of this project is ‘flour’. Flour’s performative geographies enact ‘intra-active[ly] and intra-ontical [ly]’  (Haraway 2007) with human practices and non-human matters. Through the study of video footage of people cooking with flour, this paper examines the practices of ‘doing-cooking’ (de Certeau 1999) to ask what we can understand about flours relations to others? The incorporation of flour with other substances and gesture in the mixing bowl, carries an intent to generate a new object – liver’s gravy, or a raspberry muffin. Where Atchison et al’s (2010) study superbly shows that throughout cereal’s transformative processes a capacity to be harmful to human ceoliac sufferers is retained, here the focus is more on what we might understand about micro nonhuman-nonhuman relations and where they take us in ongoing work to articulate the politics and ethics of matters and materialities (Coole and Frost 2010; Braun and Whatmore 2010). 


Nick Rush-Cooper

Making the incomprehensible sensible in the radioactive playground.

Radiation disrupts distinctions between the animate and inanimate, body and environment, material and immaterial. Extra-sensory and yet capable of genetic-level alteration, these disruptive, uncanny qualities are experienced as material effects, psychic tensions and sensory confusion (Masco 2006). Whilst touring the Chernobyl Zone of Alienation visitors encounter this uncanny existence of radioisotopes. Visitors engage in processes of making sense(sible) this encounter, whereby disrupted boundaries are questioned, bolstered and re-made through networks of radiometric technologies, scientists, guides, cartographic representations, stories and myths. Drawing on the cartographic practices that represent the variable abundance of radioisotopes in the Zone this paper will take the form of a dynamic map of the amusement park in the ruins of Pripyat which combines radiometric technologies with ethnographic data and visitor accounts collected during fieldwork with tourists and guides in the Zone. Through this I will explore the disruptions of scale, across spaces and between bodies and place. An examination of visitors’ responses to these disruptive molecular, (im)material worlds of radiation illuminates a range of embodied and discursive practices which – confronting the possibility of inhabitation by radioisotopes – attempt to bolster the body. At the same time, attempting to inhabit, however tentatively, the world of radiation, which bears little concern for the skin, individual selves or easily comprehensible models of agency may prove fruitful in producing new understandings of bodies, worlds and materiality.


Micro-Structures, or, the finite vanishing point of scale

Ulf Strohmayer, School of Geography & Archaeology, NUI Galway, Ireland

Following a decade of fruitful debates centred around the (im-)possibility of using scale as a stable feature organising empirical research in Geography it now appears to be time to approach at least one of its apparently logical endpoints.  Faced with the daunting task of thinking, let alone approaching, infinity, its opposite other, ‘the micro’ appears to offer a more intuitive invitation for fruitful engagement.  In contrast to ‘infinity,’ ‘the micro’ seems to offer a shape and a life — in short: a materiality that scholars can engage with.  ‘The micro’, in other words, seemingly offers a condition of possibility for both ‘identity’ and ‘difference’ — or ‘intimacy’ and ‘infidelity’ — to materialise, to be and to matter.  In this paper, I argue that such a conceptualisation of the ‘micro’ unnecessarily burdens a newly emerging scale of inquiry with expectations of order and sequence.  In its stead, the paper explores a parataxic conceptualisation of ‘the micro’ and its uses for a progressive form of geographical inquiry.  Drawing on the aesthetic work of Jacques Rancière, it explores egalitarian aspects potentially conjoined with the notion of ‘the micro’ to differentiate more productively between the related concepts of ‘the micro’ and ‘the event,’ both of which have made appearances in recent geographical debates.  The paper closes with a short reflection on the kind of community created by and around ‘the micro’ as a kind of, in the words of Jean-Luc Nancy, “non-equivalent affirmation”.

Politics of Art and Alchemy at an Abandoned Gas Station, Chicago

Mrill Ingram, University of Arizona

Phytoremediation, broadly conceived, pertains to a wide variety of stabilizing, transformative, and rejuvenating interactions, typically occurring at a micro-scale between plants, roots, and the soil around them.  These interactions might be represented as physics, as alchemy, as microbiology, and perhaps less typically, as biogeographical politics.  In this paper I consider the work of sculptor Frances Whitehead and her project with the City of Chicago, Slow Cleanup, which investigates phytoremediation as part of a sustainable approach to remediating abandoned gas stations.  Involving a soil scientist, a brownfield specialist, a horticulturalist, environmental studies students, back-to-work program participants, and a diversity of nonhumans, Whitehead’s project has created a new assemblage of at times unruly actors, whose inter- and re-actions offer opportunities to consider “the matter of politics” (Braun & Whatmore 2010). In this paper I investigate Whitehead’s work as another kind of alchemy, what Stengers (2005, 1001) has described as an emergent mode that “gives the issue around which they are all gathered the power to activate thinking, a thinking that belongs to no one, in which no one is right.”

The Art-Sci Geog team organized two paper sessions and a panel at the Association of Pacific Geographers Conference, San Francisco, CA (28th September and 1st October, 2011)

(Re) Mediated Environments (Sessions I and II)

Session Organizer and Chair: Sallie A. MarstonUniversity of Arizona

In the proliferation of the intersections between art, science and technology we find a number of understandings, occupations, and problematizations of  ‘the environment’. A strong impulse here comes from the creation of digital media environments, through a range of aesthetic-cum-technological practices where the successive refashioning of media forms — through, for example, immersive interactive technologies — is understood to extend and transform senses and subjectivities. These mediated intersections of skin, sound and screen rewire minds, and retool brain-body-matter relations, extending our imaginations and our metaphysics.

We also find a rather different set of practices which, gathered together under the category of ‘eco-art’ harness, in the name of environmental improvement, scientific discourse, ecological practice, and an avowed commitment to participatory politics. Mobilizing aesthetic practices, these remediated environments: offer up challenges to teleological narratives of ecological science; take aim at the technological distance taken by earlier forms of land art; and, evoking a spirit of education, creativity and experiment, prompt us towards more ethical relations with myriad and microscopic forms of earth-life.

In these session we seek to bring geographical sensibilities to bear on the broader examinations of a range of different forms of (re)mediated environments, and the intersections of art-science-technology that create them. We also aim to examine the irruptive capacity of these aesthetic-cum-scientific practices in the context of our geographical understandings and imaginaries.

Session I

Jill M. Scott jillian.scott@zhdk.chZurich University of the Arts. The Invisible Present: Art and Science Projects for Interactive Media Platforms.

This paper outlines some new approaches to climate literacy based on the following three questions. First, on aneducational level, how can the anthropogenic effects of climate change and the more invisible shifts in basic scientific local and global atmospheric conditions be translated into viable chunks of more digestible knowledge? Second, onprocess of production level: How can trans-disciplinary art and science teams collaborate to discuss issues like public denial and social responsibility? For example, do the scientific members of such a team need to understand narrative, semiotics and poetic metaphors in order to make any difference to the communication and dissemination of climate science? Third, on a performative level: How can immersive visual experiences, interactive potentials and surround sound applications (in planetariums, virtual theatres and interactive media) help the viewer to shift the roles that they might play in the future? Through the presentation of my own case-study entitled: Atmosphere One, (A Planetarium Dome Project) and comparison with other artists examples, I offer a set of media proposals that might help to educate the public about the scale of the problem by using the visible affects on molecular level climate science cycles. I also suggest a radical shift in production rules and the roles of team members to open up both off-line and on-line discussions. Although some examples in documentary film have already addressed this issue, it is high time for interactive media platforms to offer audiences themselves a more mediated and performative set of sustainable roles that they might be able to play in the future!

Chris Lukinbealchris.lukinbeal@arizona.eduUniversity of ArizonaSensing Cinematic Scale.

In narrative cinema scale allows for spatial organization within a single image and across image-events.  Scale relates to the optics of focal length (long, medium, close) in a single shot and to shot scales in the diegesis.  I will examine these two uses of scale in narrative cinema but to do so necessitate an inspection of the concept of scale and its schizophrenia.  Scale is a (non)representational practice that precedes and structures the architecture of the image.  Scale is an analogy based on an agreed set of societal conventions that compares things based on similarity while concealing its alterity, its schizophrenia.  The schizophrenia of scale manifests through the coexistence of incongruent and antagonistic elements: unity/fragmentation, coherence/infinite, difference as separation/difference as multiplicity, binding representation to coherence/blinding representation of coherence.  Scale’s schizophrenia is essential to understanding how it is used in practice and how its meanings oscillate in given contexts.

Harriet Hawkinshah7@aber.ac.ukUniversity of AberystwythVirtual Panoramas: Digital Media Art and the Remaking of the Spectator.

This paper reports on an ongoing study of the work of the Canadian-Swiss media artist Marie-France Bojanowski, and her experiments with the Native Systems Computer Lab (Zurich Switzerland).  Bojanowski is one of a growing number of digital media artists who use contemporary technologies to extend the twentieth century artistic tradition of orchestrating audience reflection on their experience of space.  In her ongoing project ‘The Hidden Room’ Bojanowski is working with programmers and engineers to create an immersive virtual panorama, which is rendered interactive by being combined with the lab’s wearable computing devices that monitor brain waves, heart-beat and even the hormonal levels of their wearers.  This paper situates Bojanowski’s virtual rendering of the historically immersive experiences of the panorama in an historical trajectory that intersects technology, aesthetics and changing understandings of the spectator-subject and their experiences of space (Crary 2001; Della Dora 2007; Doel 2005).  In doing so, it questions how these understandings can be reworked when considered in the light of geography’s recent engagement with neuro-plasticities, and the subjects and spatialities proffered by such enfoldings of mind, body and matter ( Ash 2010; Dewsbury 2011; Bissell forthcoming).

John Paul Jones III, jpjones@email.arizona.edu, University of Arizona, Linda Vigdor, lvigdor@paraspace.comUniversity of Illinoisand Keith Woodward, kwoodward@wisc.eduUniversity of Wisconsin. Artists and Scientists in 3-D

This paper reports on a component of an ongoing UK-US research project into artist-scientist collaborations.  Based on months of organizational ethnography in the Advanced Visualization Laboratory at the University of Illinois’ National Center for Supercomputer Applications, we examine the integration of scientific and artistic research methodologies in the 3D visualization of numerous terrestrial and cosmic phenomena, from tornadoes and ocean currents to planets and galaxies in formation. The AVL’s work is organized around Renaissance Teams (Cox 1985), clusters of collaborating scientists, artists, and programmers whose work spans and integrates the historic and contemporary boundaries of scientific research and immersive experiences readable by the public. The AVL’s approaches illustrate the complexities required in visualizing the data-rich models of contemporary computational science with the historic bifurcations in art and science practice.

Session II

Allison Carruth, acarruth@stanford.eduStanford University & University of Oregon. “Bioart: The Practice and Politics of Art-Science Collaboration.

This research project examines the role of art-science collaboration within the avant-garde cultural movement known as bioart. The aim is to investigate the legal, political, and ethical stakes of several recent bioart projects, all of which articulate a radical environmental politics through experiments with genetic engineering. The research questions are two-fold: First, as bioart installations re-contextualize biotechnologies such as transgenic seeds and DNA sequencing tools, how do they affect the social discourse surrounding those technologies? Second, how does bioart intervene in both the environmental ethics and ecological impacts of contemporary life science research in the United States? Based on preliminary findings, I hypothesize that bioart signals a paradigm shift within Western environmentalism from historical emphases on natural environments, endangered species, and resource conversation toward new investments in built environments, engineered bodies, and resource generation. This shift, in turn, invites collaboration between the interdisciplinary fields of environmental studies and science and technology studies.

Mrill Ingrammrilli@email.arizona.eduUniversities of Arizona & WisconsinThe Diplomacy of Art: How Ecological Artists Negotiate Science and Politics.

Ecological art expands the way humans perceive the natural world, providing possibilities for more diverse interactions between humans and nonhumans and opportunities to develop new awareness about the interdependence of humans and environment.  Characterized by collaborations with scientists, engineers, planners, and community members, the work of ecological artists aims to remediate and restore degraded places, and often to remedy associated social injustices.  Targeting urban riverfronts as well as secluded island marshes, encompassing entire watersheds and coastlines as well as pocket parks, these artist-initiated environmental efforts offer a new model for ecological restoration.  In this presentation I share some examples of this practically-oriented art, and suggest that the work of these artists may be understood as what Isabele Stengers has conceived of as “diplomacy.” Negotiating across geographical, institutional, personal, species, and disciplinary contexts and boundaries, ecological artists do not seek to singularly represent the natural world so much as to provide for attachments to the nonhuman that “have the power to make practitioners think, feel and hesitate,”  (Stengers 2010, 15).  It is this power, she suggests, that provokes human thought, and consequently opens up possibilities for new notions of how we might expand our political processes to include the nonhumans with which we share the world.

Susan Schwartzenburg, sschwartzenberg@exploratorium.eduExploratorium: the Museum of Science, Art and Human Perception.  Toward a pedagogy of observation.

In 2013 the Exploratorium will move to piers 15 and 17 on the San Francisco waterfront. At this urban edge of SF Bay the museum is designing an experimental/multidisciplinary space from which to explore the local landscape.The Observatory is an optically transparent, second-story room with indoor/outdoor areas strategically sited for explorations of urban San Francisco and the Bay. Though this region appears as a continuous panorama, it is a landscape of change and imagination that is both natural and engineered. Inviting observation and interpretation through an array of multi-disciplinary experiences, the Observatory will be home to exhibits, instruments, artworks, media, tours and artifacts designed to uncover the many stories embedded in the natural and built worlds. This talk presents the conceptual and pedagogical underpinnings of a space designed to foster “inquiries” of observation. 

Discussant:  Kevin McHugh, KMcHugh@asu.edu, Arizona State University

APCG Panel Session

Art/Science Collaborations and the Challenge of Public Impact  

Session Organizer: Sallie Marston, marston@email.arizona.edu, University of Arizona

Session Chair & Discussant: John Paul Jones, III, jpjones@email.arizona.edu, University of Arizona

Contemporary art/science collaborations have a history, now sufficiently extensive that we can begin to probe how successful such collaborations are in increasing public art and scientific literacy and fostering public engagement with the pressing issues and questions they represent. Most art/sci collaborators have explicit goals with respect to the publics with whom they share their work. These include, for example, promoting art about climate change in order to foster a cultural shift toward more environmentally benign living; or increasing public understanding of scientific knowledge in order to encourage informed public critique of the ethical and cultural issues that surround it. Of course, ‘impact’ as well as ‘public’ is defined and conceptualized differently across the wide range of art/science collaborations that are emerging from both the sciences and humanities.  In this session we are especially interested to address both the broader ways that public impact is being defined and used, as well as specific questions about what this means for the roles of art and science in society.  What are the underpinning assumptions of what art/science enables in terms of implications, interactions, and impacts? As a range of institutions, enterprises and funding councils instrumentalize art as a set of practices aesthetically assembled in the context of science communication, this panel explores what form this ‘use’ of art takes, and what if anything is exceptional about art practices in this context. How should we measure impact? And what value, if any, are geographical tool-kits and sensibilities in our investigations of the ‘public’ impacts of these art/science collaborations?

 Harriet Hawkinshah7@aber.ac.ukUniversity of Aberystwyth

Joshua Gutwilljoshuag@exploratorium.eduExploratorium: the Museum of Science, Art and Human Perception

Jeffrey Babcockjbabcock@leonardo.infoInterim Director, Leonardo/ISAST

Marina McDougallmmcdougall@exploratorium.eduExploratorium: the Museum of Science, Art and Human Perception

Irène Hedigerirene.hediger@zhdk.chZurich University of the Arts

The ArtSciGeog team organised a series of sessions at the annual conference of the Royal Geographical Society (with Institute of British Geographers) at the end of August, 2011.

One all-day session block was titled ‘Art-Science and Geographical Imaginaries’, and brought together a series of geographers, artists, curators and art theorists to explore the intersections of art-science and geography.  Presented papers included one by Carina Fearnley on ‘The other volcano’, Mrill Ingram on the ‘Diplomacy of Art’ and Harriet Hawkins on ‘Experimental gentleman – art-science on board ship’.  Elizabeth Straughan also presented a paper from the AHRC project on ‘Expeditionary art: rhythm and mobility in producing a cultural politics of climate change’ in a session on ‘Mobile Geographies of Art’.

For more information please download the call for papers and session details here: Artscigeogsessions

You can also find this information and more at the RGS website:


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