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19 Mar 2014; Howard Boland - 06 Jan 2015

"Interdisciplinarity is what we need, is often suggested. An approach that does not promote pigeonholing, but that takes the idea that innovation depends on bridging disciplines as its starting point. By itself, this ideal of interdisciplinarity in the context of innovation is not a new one. The emergence of mono-disciplines and hyper-specialization has been criticized extensively. But what makes more recent debates on the matter particularly interesting is this idea that art and artistic practice play an important role in innovation." 

Press release: Art and Innovation: The Future of Interdisciplinarity (2014)

Auditorium Het Nieuwe Instituut, Rotterdam, The NetherlandsHet Nieuwe Instituut, Rotterdam, The Netherlands

As an interdisciplinary artist, C-LAB's Howard Boland was an invited panelist in the Art and Innovation: The Future of Interdisciplinarity symposium organised by Het Nieuwe Instituut and The Netherlands Study Centre for Technology Trends (STT) that focuses on the relations between art, science and technology.

Art and innovation is a complex and fragmented topic increasingly seen as the emerging horizon for art involving science and technology. For instance, organisations such as the STT has put the topic on its agenda to better understand how technical and creative fields can form collaboration to generate innovation.

First, a brief overview of STT was given by its director and former president of Shell, Rein Willems along with the host Het Nieuwe Instituut (HNI) presented by Floor van Spaendonck. HNI resulted from a merger between the Netherlands Architecture Institute; Premsela, the Netherlands Institute for Design and Fashion; and Virtueel Platform, the e-culture knowledge institute.

Several projects and institutions were presented to provide context on how art and innovation is approached and challenged in teaching and practice. For instance, through in the production of unique electro musical instruments (Dick Rijken, The Hague University of Applied Sciences + STEIM), or the investigation into the future of the artwork Victory Boogie Woogie (Jacco van Uden, STT), or how artists develop novel visualisation techniques using artificial reality (Yolande Kolstee, Royal Academy of Art, The Hague), or metaskill and parameters need to implement this in teaching practices (Klaas Kuitenbrouwer, Het Nieuwe Instituut).

Innovation driven by interdisciplinary approaches is needed to successfully address tomorrow's challenges as they affect us on so many levels. Significant investment in the sciences has seen continuous innovation. How is this affecting other disciplines?

Auditorium Het Nieuwe Instituut, Rotterdam, The NetherlandsInnovation for Art: CSI Victory Boogie Woogie: exploring the role of emerging and future technologies in the life of Piet Mondrian’ masterpiece (Jacco van Uden, STT)  

Jacco van Uden from the STT gave his analysis of The Future of Art-Science Collaborations workshop (in which C-LAB also took part in), that joined stakeholders within art-science to evaluate how artists contribute to innovation and issues surrounding art-science practices. So far, he said, it had been difficult to locate a clear understanding of how artists go about engaging with, building relationship and contributing to innovation. With so many individual approaches, it was unclear if or how they had any impact on the sciences.  Effectively, there seemed to be no simple way of saying how art may - if at all - contribute to innovation.

Professor Robert Zwijnenberg suggested the most active area of innovation over the last 20 years had not been the sciences but the financial industry. Initially positive to the prospect of an art-science model (e.g. bio art) as a way of engaging in innovation, Zwijnenberg found that artists were less interested in practical engagement with the sciences which leaves them with limited understanding and rather turn them into public engagement or more troublesome marketing vehicles for the sciences with very little to offer in terms of innovation. He gave specific examples of artists who, he suggested, willingly offered themselves as marketing agents by scientists. Disappointed, he proposed that a more promising model for bringing about innovation may be found in DIY practices as they offer a different perspective and engage with technology and sciences on a practical level often requiring a great deal of inventiveness as they operate on low budgets.

Auditorium Het Nieuwe Instituut, Rotterdam, The NetherlandsHoward Boland's presentation detailing Living Mirror artwork. 

Howard argued that the concept of interdisciplinary needs clarification as it is both used and understood differently in various knowledge areas. For the most part, interdisciplinary approaches is seen as collaborations between already hyper specialised sub-branches. Ventures that actually cross disciplinary borders have seen limited adaptations possibly due to the investment and risks associated with these activities.  The emergence of arts-science practitioners is often held up as an example of individuals who cross disciplines and are able to delve deeper into specialised areas (e.g. an artist experimenting with genetics). However, it is becoming difficult to quantify and qualify such activities and they are often justified by sweeping statements that appear more impressive (e.g. "we now find countless artists working with genetics") than detailed analysis reveal. Even if we were to locate individuals capable of navigating both terrains, we still need to analyse how these artists are contributing to innovation. One suggestion is that they are providing new models for collaborating and methods for working in interdisciplinary contexts.

Auditorium Het Nieuwe Instituut, Rotterdam, The NetherlandsMetaskills: the artist as human in interdisciplinary projects of Het Nieuwe Instituut. (Klaas Kuitenbrouwer, Het Nieuwe Instituut) 

Why then, if the question of contribution is so uncertain, are we supposedly experiencing a surge in art-science activities? Are these activities indicators that artists are interested in pursuing innovation or using it as a mere scaffold to hunt for new funding opportunities by redressing existing art practices?

Other areas operating between domains, less adhesive to traditional disciplines, include biohackers. The constitution of these practitioners are fluid and may play an alternative and important role in innovation if not in innovative products. How innovation is harnessed and how funding opportunities is directed in these new areas has become a battlefield. One reason, is that those who laying down the groundwork for an art-science agenda are being preyed upon by traditionally based artists seeking new funding opportunities.

Other References: Final symposium Art & Innovation
Art and Innovation: The Future of Interdisciplinarity
Het Nieuwe Instituut - Symposium Overview
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