The Artist in the Laboratory
Julie Freeman, an inspiring artist whose focus is on translating nature, uses technology to explore and discover rhythms and patterns in predictable and unpredictable systems, transforming complex processes into sound compositions, objects and animations. She’s currently artist in residence at the Microsystems and Nanotechnology Centre, Cranfield University, and was able to give us a bit of insight into this experience!
Q What’s a typical day like when ‘on duty’ as an artist in residence? // There is no typical day as such, it varies hugely depending on who I’m working with and where. Whilst at the centre for Microsystems and Nanotechnology at Cranfield University I spent about a quarter of my time in the labs – often shadowing others as well as doing some experiments myself. As an artist I’m not qualified to use some lab equipment, or know about certain safety issues, so there is quite a learning curve before you can practice in there on your own – much of the equipment comes with a technician as it is too complex to run without training.
Q How do scientists react to your work? How does this differ from the way in which a visitor reacts to it in a gallery environment? // Scientists can be very literal in their translation of the work – especially when the work alludes to ‘their’ content. My nanotechnology work includes images that could be representations of nanoparticles but they aren’t – this ambiguity is missing from science and is something that is great to play with in an artistic context.
Q How ‘visible’ is the science behind your interactive pieces – ie, do people go away having learned something about the body or brain? Is there a tension between science communication and the artistic integrity of the work? // Some of my work has a very visible science strand but some of it is more abstract. The nanotechnology work has a strong science communication element, something I am very interested in, but my works with fish or dogs ears are more lateral – they have scientific basis but can be appreciated on many levels. Science communication should be creative – there is no reason artistic integrity has to be compromised for scientific accuracy. If your artist<->scientist collaboration is strong the integrity of the work will shine through from both ends of the spectrum.
Q Do you have any advice for the Dreamlab curating teams as they start to develop their projects? // Be brave. Don’t patronise your audience. Be critical about the artwork and the science within it – just because a science is well practiced doesn’t mean it is ethically sound, or even right. Likewise art I guess!
Explore more of Julie’s work at translatingnature.org
Julie has also produced a series of 16 graphic artworks inspired by nanotechnology. See these beautiful works and enjoy an accompanying ‘stereo text’ pairing scientific fact with metaphor at in-particular.net