Art and science are not mutually exclusive

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I have always thought that there is more crossover than we might assume between art and science, and that interesting things happen when the two fields collaborate on a project. A couple of recent arts events have led me to revisit the idea that art and science aren’t mutually exclusive. I think that we all understand this in some way, but it’s not until you listen to a scientist and a cellist give you a genetics lesson that it becomes very apparent.

At TEDxVancouver, Jennifer Gardy and Peter Gregson discussed the origins of culture and why we are genetically disposed to creativity, through the study of other species, such as the zebra finch. One would think that a finch raised in isolation, never hearing birdsong, would not be able to produce its own song. In fact, the finch is able to sing, but it doesn’t sound as good as his parents. However, as Gardy explained, after about five generations of raising offspring in isolation, the finch’s song sounds just like the that of finches raised in the wild. The birdsong evolves all on it’s own and it seems to be an innate ability in their DNA. 

The DNA responsible for this phenomenon used to be called junk DNA, but has since been renamed regulatory DNA, and it seems that this is what gives  humans the ability to evolve complex creativity. It’s fascinating to think that this extra DNA, which performs no obvious function, is responsible for the most beautiful works of art.

Gregson takes genetic data and transforms it into a beautiful piece of music.

Gregson — an accomplished cellist and composer — is interested in data sonification, the process of turning data into sound or music. He has taken genetic data, translated it into musical notation, and has transformed it into a beautiful piece of music.

This may all sound a bit bizarre, but he’s not the only artist working with science. Swiss choreographer Gilles Jobin recently brought his new work Quantum to The Dance Centre. This work was inspired by Jobin’s residency at the European Organization for Nuclear Research (CERN), the largest particle physics laboratory in the world. The choreography explores forces such as gravity, time, and space, and American composer Carla Scaletti’s electronic score incorporates data from the Large Hadron Collider, the world’s largest and most powerful particle accelerator.

Jobin was part of the Collide@CERN artist residency program, where he spent several months immersed in the world of scientists at CERN and their study of the origins of the universe through the Large Hadron Collider. Inspired by particle physics, his work ultimately explores the idea that we are held together by quantum forces.

Art and science are fascinating fields of study in their own rights, but when they come together, we can push our knowledge even further and make all kinds of amazing discoveries.