Gaps Between Art & Science

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One of the curatorial principles for this 12th edition of the Biennial of Havana is to explore the relationships between different kinds of knowledge. Gaps between art and science, which are two fields apparently so different, have been the center of some proposals of these mega-event.

The smell of a stranger, the exhibition by the Belgian artist Peter de Cupere is an installation that aims for a sense pleasure of human beings, in this case the ability to smell unusual scents. Through lab works, he succeeds to distill smells that later will be the essence of the piece. After the piece Smoke Cloud, presented by De Cupere in the Universal Art building, especially on the subject of the exhibition The importance of being… Belgian contemporary art in Latin America, the public finds another proposal that encourages the interchange of olfactory senses and suggestions and/or memories that every aroma can trigger. The Belgian artist explores the field of engineering of essences, and from there he states a peculiar manifesto about what we are and which way we go.

The installation, placed in the High Institute of Technology and Applied Sciences (INSTEC) in the University of Havana, gives the opportunity to enjoy the smell of plants; however, it has altered the fragrances and nothing is what it looks. Apparently, we get closer to the smell of Cuban plants, but we find aromas relating to the evolution of human being. We can feel the smell of sperm, vagina, corpse, and even the smell of money or hamburgers. In a different level of interpretation, the artist is interested in thinking about the future of Cuba. This island still has, mainly in its landscape, a virgin part that is certainly going to change when the opening of relationships between Cuba and United States would be put into practice. In that moment, will the smell of plants change? What will happen to our identity?

De Cupere carries out a series of questions that come from a scientific impulse, and it has its center in the connection between culture, society, nature and environment; in his case the olfactory universe is a tool, in the same way that painting is for other artists.

If Peter de Cupere relies on scientific advances to explore and develop the smelling sense, the Mexican artist Gilberto Esparza takes advantages of science to get into the sonority field. Another common point between these two visions is that both artists make emphasis on nature and environment. Because Esparza’s proposal starts from experiences in the research area that the artist has made about sewage in Mexican rivers. Esparza noticed the components of contamination from the Project Nomadic Plants that was developed a few years ago. These first approaches led his interests towards the sound shaping of everything that has been contaminated. His searches in this field put paid to a work that focuses in a tool as a resource to understand the level of contamination from the sonority field.

For this edition of the biennial, Esparza has brought the piece BioSonot 1.0, which shows his constants interests on the possible roots between the artistic and the scientific areas. The piece is placed in one of the exhibition rooms of the Wifredo Lam Contemporary Art Center, and it is made up by microbial cells of fuel, electronic circuits, poly-carbonate, silicone, stainless steel, carbon fiber, lab equipment, bacteria and sewage. BioSonot 1.0 draws humankind’s attention to the increasing contamination of natural spaces. In this case, the piece could be considered as process work. Although it is only a tool that turns into sound the contamination of rivers, it is necessary to go through a whole scientific process to be able to achieve an audible moment. A colony of bacteria from contaminated waters are grown in a set of microbial cells of fuel. After their metabolic processes, electrons are released and it is generated an electric power. These signals are amplified and processed in the audible spectrum. In this way, it can be interpreted the different levels of contamination in the rivers affected by the human activity.

The Eden experiment is the work that the Austrian artist Nikolaus Gansterer presents in this edition of the biennial. It is also placed in the Wifredo Lam Contemporary Art Center. Like Peter de Cupere and Gilberto Esparza, the Austrian uses the advances of applied sciences in the contemporary art universe to blow up ideas related to the couple nature-society. Gansterer is an artist whose working method focuses on the relations of sense that could be established between drawing as a resource, thought and action; that’s why we can found different fragments of artistic things in his works. He is also interested in exploring, through scientific methods, the gaps and connections between natural and original things and those things created by cultural mechanisms.

The Eden experiment is an inquiry about the connections established between animate and inanimate, between items, animals and plants. This time, he places two plants to grow before to different music styles: rock and classical music. It is about creating questions around hardly visible influences that generate between living matter and other components of the physical world, between natural and built things.

From Guadeloupe, the artist Henri Tauliaut presents an interactive project titled Jungle Sphere 3.0 in the Wifredo Lam Contemporary Art Center. With the shape of a parallelepiped, 6 meters deep and 3 meters high, the space becomes a segment of wild world. Once the spectator enters the spherical hollow space, it is activated some sound elements typical of a jungle such as whines and waving of plants; the sound is connected to aromatic senses from the place it symbolizes. It is about formalizing an experience, a feeling of being somewhere else, and the experience of going into a sphere where a display of synesthesia is waiting for the spectator.

Science has been the main resource to materialize another artistic Project in this Biennial; in this case biologists from the University of Havana worked together with the young Cuban artist Luis Enrique López Chávez on his project The symptoms of deceit, which was initially intended for the Johnson & Johnson drugstore. The exhibition of Luis Enrique was finally placed in the shop windows of Universal Art building and in the lobby of the Fine Arts Library of the Cuban Art building. His work is a sui generis product made in the lab: pure Cuban poison. From poisonous national plants, the “chinito” (the almond-eyed boy, as his friends call him) has created this compound whose addressee are alive contemporary artists who have a very special personal interest for Luis Enrique. As an unusual tribute, ten different kinds of poisons are exhibited bottling in small bottles with pharmacological specifications on the label, directions for use and the box.

The interdisciplinary nature, the boundaries increasingly permeable between art and other knowledge, and especially the artist’s condition as “agent” that organizes a work team made up by experts in different knowledge areas, are some of the ideas that the curators team has intended to show in this 12th edition of the Biennial.

A.L.D.

Images: Nikolaus-Gansterer_The-Eden-Experiment-II_Habana-Biennial

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