Art & Science experiments at This is an Art School at Tate Exchange

How Central St Martins took over the Tate for a week to engage with the public on art, science, education and politics

Jewellery evoking the most isolated inhabited place on the planet. A collectively constructed oversize data visualisation of climate change affecting the Indus Valley. A giant pinhole camera capturing the Shard. A wall comprised solely of doodles. Therapy. Experiments measuring the heartbeats and brainwaves of individuals engaging in various activities. Collages created by solar light.

Where can you see all of this under one roof? A science lab? A toyshop? The library of a medical research institution? NASA?!

”Liberate yourself from your dearest objects” – Çağlar Tahiroğlu 

Actually the usual answer is the studio of Central Saint Martin’s MA Art and Science programme. Here, on a given day, you will find students using embroidery thread to measure perceptions of identity, making solar prints, carving marble (and measuring their heartbeat as they do so), using cola cans to produce long exposures of the sun’s trajectory through winter. However, except for one day a year, the studio is the preserve of the students and tutors involved in the course, and not ordinarily open to the public.

But for the week of 9th January this all changed. Central Saint Martins brought the studio out of the university and into the public in the week long event ‘THIS IS AN ART SCHOOL’. And what more public setting than the fifth floor of the Tate’s new Switch House building, overlooking the Thames, St Paul’s Cathedral, a sizeable number of luxury new flats, and, well, half of London.

Gallery visitors collaborating to paint a projection of climate change

Gallery visitors collaborating to paint a projection of climate change

Indeed it seemed like half of London came out to join us. Perhaps persuaded by press coverage in the Guardian, Evening Standard and Channel 4 News, waves of visitors descended on the Tate Exchange, the Tate’s space ‘for everyone to collaborate, test ideas and discover new perspectives on life, through art’.

As a result, Olga Suchanova guided 448 people through her camera obscura, the same basic device used by Aristotle, da Vinci and Vermeer to observe the world (and nowadays used for such diverse purposes as astronomy, art, medicine and high-energy physics). Enthusiastic viewers included teachers who are inspired to build a camera obscura in their school playground, and visitors who now want to open their own version as an art gallery.

Light, through a pinhole, on black canvas; 5th floor of the Tate Exchange

Light, through a pinhole, on black canvas; 5th floor of the Tate Exchange

The camera obscura worked better on sunny days, and solar radiation also played a key role in Lisa Pettibone’s homemade photographic prints. ‘Students’ (curious members of the public) created collages on special photosensitive paper, using materials such as sand, glitter, foil, string and hair clips. Collages were then placed next to the Tate’s large windows to expose, and after 20 minutes would bear an elaborate series of negative shapes flattened onto a pictorial surface.

“It wasn’t the creativity or kind of zen order that surprised me most about the Tate art school. It was the crackling atmosphere that permeated the experimental thrust of it all” – Lisa Pettibone

Collages made by exposing light onto photosensitive paper

Collages made by exposing light onto photosensitive paper

Audience participation underpinned a number of the ‘lessons’ taking place in THIS IS AN ART SCHOOL. Tere Chadwick’s interactive events included a talk on books about Easter Island, an origami-packaging workshop, and a weeklong display of 21 goldsmith pieces based on Easter Island culture and archaeology. UNESCO has declared this Polynesian culture a World Heritage site for its uniqueness in being the most isolated inhabited place in the planet. Tere had political messages in her work. On the one hand, she considers whether globalisation is driving ethnic cultures to lose their identity. On the other, she uses her origami workshop to show how packaging could be made much more sustainable: a single sheet of recyclable paper is folded into a sturdy box.

Using a single sheet of recyclable paper to create sufficient packaging for an object

Using a single sheet of recyclable paper to create sufficient packaging for an object

Gary Scott’s interactive work also had an important political dimension. ‘Students’ were asked to produce a doodle without ‘thinking’. They were encouraged not to be considered in their approach but to ‘play’ to allow input direct from the unconscious and to express the creative impulse. The global concerns of our time (resolving conflict, climate change, immigration and a tough economic environment, etc) require creative solutions. Gary believes there is a danger that our education system is producing a generation who think within the ‘academic’ box. If creative subjects could be made compulsory at secondary school, he contends, we would be a richer, more contented and balanced society that would find better solutions to the big issues. Gary’s wall of doodles was designed to inspire and ignite creativity in individuals, but was also a call for change.

“This project might not seem like a big deal to the ‘art world’ but for people who feel marginalised or even afraid of art, the opportunity to contribute to an installation at the Tate presented a powerful message” – Gary Scott

Can you spot which was drawn by the two-year old, and which by the professional artist?

Can you spot which was drawn by the two-year old, and which by the professional artist?

Building walls is topical at the moment, and it is interesting that another was created by Stephen Bennett, one also containing a political message. However, instead of a message of divide, this wall could only be built through collaboration. Working with whoever wanted to sit down and paint, Stephen relied on gallery visitors to produce 64 single 15x15cm sheets of different colours. When put together, they formed a giant, homemade data visualisation of the climate change affecting the Indus Valley on the Pakistan-India border. Stephen’s work was an experiment to consider whether people become more invested in evidence when they actively participate in its creation, especially when it takes the identity of a piece of art.

A homemade data visualisation of climate change in the Indus Valley

A homemade data visualisation of climate change in the Indus Valley

Ellie Sher also created a participant-built data visualisation, innovatively using embroidery thread to capture information. Ellie is interested in the psychological and philosophical questions surrounding identity; how we communicate our identity and what strands of identity are most pivotal to our sense of self. Her piece at the Tate explored the top 3 strands of identity selected by people, who chose different colours of thread and matched it to different notches on a constructed frame. Some examples of the strands include cultural, social, memories, genetics, aura, and work. There was a lot of interaction with the piece. It raised a lot of questions and provoked discussion, as the topic of identity often does, but also resulted in a beautiful and fragile piece of art.

Pick your colour thread… and identify yourself!

Pick your colour thread… and identify yourself!

Data collection also underpinned Juan Perez’s work, which is centred on real-time sculpting of marble. This marble piece is only worked upon whilst exhibited. Data is collected from the performer’s oxygen levels and heart rate, whilst performing. An invitation is made for the viewer to be part of the piece, by adding his/her own oxygen and heart rates to the database, and, if desired, for their information to be used and uploaded to the web, as this project grows. The piece, titled ‘Work in Progress’ is an on-going project that constantly develops ways to question the relationships that our bodies have with the realms of art, physical labour, desire and globalisation.

Juan Perez, collecting his own oxygen and heart rate data whist sculpting

Juan Perez, collecting his own oxygen and heart rate data whist sculpting

Monika Dorniak’s interactive event also explored how important body processes responded to artistic performances. Her workshop provided information about body rhythms including heartbeats, breathing and brain waves, and the effect of various stimuli (stress, relaxation) on them. Monika then worked with participants to create short performances in partnerships or groups using rhythms such as clapping, whistling, breathing and others. She supported individuals and groups to develop exercises, and perform to the public. The partner work, in particular, aimed to strengthen group bonds by acknowledging similarities, instead of differences: a collective synchronisation.

Body rhythms explored through specially designed exercises and performances

Body rhythms explored through specially designed exercises and performances

Çağlar Tahiroğlu further developed the art-as-therapy theme in her drop-in performance/workshop entitled Liberate Yourself from your Dearest Objects. Participants were invited to reflect on what they want to liberate themselves from, engage reflective discussion with each other and create representative clay figurines (or depose a real object!). Finally, they put their work into a collective square, which then forms a group sculpture-in-progress. There was an enthusiastic response from participants. Some revealed intimate subjects; discussion were rich and interesting. Different groups of people led to different results. An important finding was how flexible the art-therapy theoretical framework is, and how it can blend into a fine art context without losing its depth. The experiment has provided Çağlar with a quantity of ideas about how to interact with the public in different contexts and different ways to go further in this research.

Çağlar Tahiroğlu, liberating gallery-visitors from their dearest objects

Çağlar Tahiroğlu, liberating gallery-visitors from their dearest objects

Bekk Wells worked with workshop participants to build an enclosure out of sheets and blankets, similar to the forts and dens built by children. For most of the afternoon the structure was full to capacity with people getting to know one another and sharing stories. Bekk commented, “It was a successful exercise in modifying the built environment in order to change in the social environment. It’s surprising how relatively minor interventions can create a new kind of space.”

Tate Fort by Bekk Wells

Tate Fort by Bekk Wells

Neus Torres Tamarit devised and ran two related activities under the banner of ‘Metagenomics in Art’. The first was recombining and sequencing printed strips of three original artworks displayed at Tate Britain and Tate Modern using human metagenome sequences as reference. The artworks are; Los Moscos by Mark Bradford, The Lady of Shalott by John William Waterhouse, Ophelia Sequenced I by Neus Torres Tamarit from the original Ophelia by Sir John Everett Millais, and mirrored strips that reflect the environment. The second activity consisted of creating artificial DNA sequences using red, blue, green and yellow plasticine, colours that are normally used to represent the four nucleotides of DNA.

Metagenomics In Art by Neus Torres Tamarit (picture by Ben Smith)

Metagenomics In Art by Neus Torres Tamarit (picture by Ben Smith)

If you are inspired by some of these art and science experiments, please follow us on Twitter or Instagram and share this blog. And come see our work in exhibition at the MA Interim Show, Somehow You and I Collide (16-19 March, Mangle, 2-18 Warburton Rd, London E8 3FN), the degree show (24-28 May, Central Saint Martins, 1 Granary Square, London N1C 4AA). 

Somehow You and I Collide – MA Interim Show, 16-19 March

Somehow You and I Collide showcases the work of over 70 postgraduate art students in the first year of their course, be it MA Art and Science, MA Fine Art or MA Photography at Central Saint Martins, University of the Arts London.

Somehow You and I Collide

Somehow You and I Collide

Housed in the underground post-industrial space of Mangle in London’s East End, the space provides a perfect backdrop for contemporary work that considers what it means to make in today’s economic and political landscape.

Sharing their postgraduate work publicly for the first time, the students span the full scope of media from painting, sculpture, video, performance, and experimental interactive works. Their approaches are diverse and address a range of themes including – but by no means limited to – identity, celebrity, reality, chaos, and excess.

What brings these works together is a shared sense of urgency, the art shown in Somehow You and I Collide is work that needs to be made and needs to be shown.

Please join us for an event that is sure to be exciting and thought-provoking.

Somehow You and I Collide

Mangle
2-18 Warburton Road, E8 3FN

Private View Thursday 16 March: 6 – 9pm

Exhibition continues 17-19 March: 12 – 6pm

Forced Connections and Rules of Random

How restrictions can make us more creative in art and teaching

Words by Stephen Bennett, with workshop observations from Lisa Pettibone and quotes from participants. Photos by Çağlar Tahiroğlu.

 

Rules of Random, demonstrating a lesson on 'Antarctic scuba diving to techno heads using a sleep mask'

Rules of Random, demonstrating a lesson on ‘Antarctic scuba diving to techno heads using a sleep mask’

 

It is October 2016. The leaves are falling, yet it is a time of fresh promise for first-year students on Central Saint Martins’ masters programme in Art and Science. The new students are naturally a bit anxious, keen to impress their course leaders and their fellow students. What will their first artwork be? How to ensure it really shines? Perhaps stick with tried and tested methods, the kind of thing which gained entry to the programme in the first place. That worked well after all. But what is the point of joining a MA just to do the same old thing?

Forced Connection artwork by MA Art and Science students, in Practices of Enquiry exhibition, Cookhouse Gallery, Chelsea College of Art, UAL

Forced Connection artwork by MA Art and Science students, in Practices of Enquiry exhibition, Cookhouse Gallery, Chelsea College of Art, UAL

 

Second week, and the course leaders, Nathan Cohen and Heather Barnett, lull the students into a entertaining exercise. Sitting in groups, the students are asked to brainstorm lists of subject matter for art – death, immigration, philosophy, alienation. ‘Black holes!’ someone shouts. This is getting quite fun. Next, different methods for producing art. Painting, sculpting, drawing. But what about data experiments or tasting – how can that be practical? Finally, a list of materials to use in the production of art. Students are warmed up now. Rubber, plastic, cement… bacteria! Sports equipment!!

 

Use the hammer to smash

the patriarchy walnut!

 

You may see what is about to happen – but the students didn’t. Heather delivers the coup de grace. Randomly assigning numbers, each student ends up with a unique combination of ‘matter-method-material’. This is the first project brief of the MA: to develop artwork based upon the ‘forced connections’ of a chance group of three words.

The initial result is… uproar amongst the students. But then, with a bit of coaching and support, the studio starts germinating some unusual pieces. Cola cans cling to the window. Folded paper sprouts from a wall. Knitted cushions appear and then start multiplying. A month later, and students are explaining works about immigration, developed through interviews, using bacteria as a material. A collaboration results in painted rocks, telling us about philosophy. Ink dripping down folded paper is a metaphor for alienation. Plastic, painted, reveals insights about communication networks. Just as the first crit is wrapping up, Heather delivers another bombshell. There is an opportunity to show these experimental pieces in a London gallery in a week’s time…

Forced Connection artwork by MA Art and Science student Stephen Bennett connecting 'Immigration | Interviews | Bacteria'

Forced Connection artwork by MA Art and Science student Stephen Bennett connecting ‘Immigration | Interviews | Bacteria’

 

The display is part of University of the Arts London’s recent Practices of Enquiry, an exhibition of experimental enquiry-based learning across UAL, featuring teaching methods from all colleges. Photos of the in-situ art are studded through this blog. The art is intended to inspire and provoke teaching staff across UAL. This is most evident in the Rules of Random workshop run by Heather. This event, for UAL teaching staff, uses the same techniques as the ‘forced connections’ project.

 

“How do you send an

orange into space?”

 

This time unsuspecting participants brainstorm a list of ‘unusual groups of students’, ‘difficult subject matter’, and select random objects. The MA students are interspersed in the groups, now playing the role of coach. They help groups design lesson plans to teach mathematical pattern recognition to traditional wine makers using a compass. Participants consider how to use dried orange slices to teach astrophysics to 16 year olds. Ever used a walnut to teach sex education to linguists? What about using a blindfold to teach technoheads about Antarctic scuba diving? You can see some of the results in this blog.

Rules of random, 'Devise a lesson on sex education to linguists using walnuts'

Rules of random, ‘Devise a lesson on sex education to linguists using walnuts’

 

The two sister exercises – Forced Connections in the studio, Rules of Random in the gallery – had a number of features in common. Perhaps most obviously they are conduits for unlocking creativity. Everyone can get stuck in a rut, whether producing art, teaching or working in an office. Restricting options can force lateral thinking and resourcefulness. Sometimes we are faced with two many choices or methods, and the possibilities can be paralysing. Sometimes – especially when doing something we are supposed to be good at – we live in fear of failure. But, when forced to use a sieve to teach tradesmen about crime, the failure becomes almost inevitable, and this permits a great willingness to take risk.

 

“What is the

essence of a feather?”

 

A number of the CSM students are now incorporating the initially ridiculed combinations of matter-method-material into their main practice. Bacteria and immigration becomes a starting point for examining the semiotics around human relations. Folding and alienation has resulted paper-based in sculptures which morph between two and three dimensions. Similarly, feedback from the Rules of Random workshop participants was that it has opened up new teaching approaches. Food can be an excellent way of teaching 16 year olds about abstract concepts. Participatory lessons, especially ones involving blindfolds or smashing nuts, become instantly memorable. Objects can help focus learning into specific issues in a much broader topic.

Rules of Random, handling given objects to generate ideas

Rules of Random, handling given objects to generate ideas

These techniques can be adapted into practically any environment, with any task in mind. Please try them out, see if it can unlock a problem or open up a new line of enquiry. And remember: you must use whichever random combination you get!

The Rules of Random workshop was developed as part of Practices of Enquiry, a two-year enhancement project at UAL exploring how we create the conditions for enquiry to flourish within our ‘creative, curious, critical curricula’.

The workshop was devised and delivered by MA Art and Science lecturer, Heather Barnett, working with students: Olivia Bargman, Stephen Bennett, Joshua Bourke, Lisa Pettibone, Çağlar Tahiroğlu, and Bekk Wells.

 

 

Bottle your own nebulae by Carla Mancillas Serna

Art and Science Creative Workshops – now booking

MA Art and Science staff and students are offering a range of creative workshops exploring observations and experimentations in art and science on Saturday 5 and 12 March, at Central Saint Martins.

Come along and get hands on with slime mould problem solving, microbial image making, nebula bottling, water mapping, microscopy inspired glass sculpting and chemigram making. Creative art and science workshops are designed for adults and young people. Young people must be 12+ and accompanied by an adult.

All proceeds go towards the MA Art and Science Degree Show (open to the public 25-29 May 2016).

Cost: £14 adult | £12 UAL staff/student | £9 child/senior/unemployed
(discounts available when you book two or more workshops, applied at checkout)

See details and booking links below…

Looking Glass by Jenny Walsh

Looking Glass by Jenny Walsh

MA ART AND SCIENCE WORKSHOP #1

Through the Looking Glass & Microbial Me

5 March 2016, 11:00 – 13:00

Through the Looking Glass (with Jenny Walsh)
Glass played a crucial role in enabling man to see beyond the visual eye. In this workshop discover how skilled craftsmen learned to grind glass and change its composition to revolutionise the way we investigate the microscopic world. Inspired by microscopic images each participant will be invited to create their own microscope slide using glass confetti and stringers.

and

Microbial Me (with Mellissa Fisher)
Learn about the invisible world on your skin, think about your own microbes and design your own microbial portrait using a painting technique and collage. Each person will have their own microbial face to take home along with knowledge about bacteria!

BOOK THIS WORKSHOP

Attentive Topologies and Water Mapping by Beckie Leach & Silvia Krupinska

Attentive Topologies and Water Mapping by Beckie Leach & Silvia Krupinska

MA ART AND SCIENCE WORKSHOP #2

Attentive Topologies & Water Mapping

5 March 2016, 14:00 – 16:00

Attentive Topologies and Water Mapping (with Beckie Leach & Silvia Krupinska)
Focusing on the canal area next to Granary Square in Kings Cross (in front of Central Saint Martins), this workshop will guide you through a series of attentiveness exercises exploring sound and water. You will find out about phenomenological approaches to artistic practice and water/sound quality, and create expressive maps capturing the movement of water and sound.

BOOK THIS WORKSHOP

Slime mould problem solving a maze by Heather Barnett

Slime mould problem solving a maze by Heather Barnett

MA ART AND SCIENCE WORKSHOP #3

Slime Mould Boot Camp

12 March 2016, 11:00 – 13:00

Slime Mould Boot Camp (with Heather Barnett)
The slime mould, Physarum polycephalum, is a small brainless protozoa with surprising intelligence. Used as a model organism in many areas of scientific research it also makes for a great creative collaborator. In this workshop you will discover the fascinating role this single celled organism has to play in the cultures of science and art, and design a practical experiment to test its capabilities and problem-solving skills. Each participant will take home a new microbial pet to observe and experiment with.

BOOK THIS WORKSHOP

Chemigram Magic by Don Li and Mira Varg

Chemigram Magic by Don Li and Mira Varg

MA ART AND SCIENCE WORKSHOP #4

The Chemigram Spell & Bottle Your Own Nebula

12 March 2016, 14:00 – 16:00

The Chemigram Spell (with Don Li & Mira Varg)
Offering some fresh air in the midst of a digital age, the workshop explores the potential of analogue photographic processes through a hands-on session, working with tools and materials that are unconventionally related to photographic processes – including paint brushes, syringes, honey and varnish. Come and experience the magic of an alternative image making process.

and

Bottle Your Own Nebula (with Carla Mancillas Serna)
Nebulas are massive clouds of interstellar dust in space, mainly composed of helium and hydrogen and other chemical elements. They are also known as “stellar nurseries”. These clouds of different shapes, sizes and colours coalesce in space, collapse and give birth to stars and planetary systems, like our own solar system. Learn about how nebulae form and create your own bottled cloud inspired by the colours and textures of cosmic dust.

BOOK THIS WORKSHOP