1 April 2019

Embedding science within the art world

Posted by Shane Hanlon

By Martin Archer

Art and science are often seen as complete opposites: art is subjective, while science aims to discover objective facts about nature. But more and more, we are realising that there are commonalities between the two and art-science collaborations have become more common. From the scientists’ perspective, such efforts can potentially reach audiences outside of the scientific echo chamber, however, it’s not always clear whether they always successfully do this in practice. An approach I and my colleagues have taken is, rather than trying to reinvent the wheel, embracing the processes and networks that already exist within the art world.

Over the past two years I have run a film project based around the sounds of space around our planet that I research, which I have made audible. By partnering with networks and organisations in the film industry, we put out a public call challenging independent filmmakers to produce short films which incorporated these sounds in creative ways. The brief was deliberately left very open to elicit a wide range of responses, not simply films trying to communicate science. Using the existing film festival model we were able to attract submissions from filmmakers around the world, with seven selected for screening at our festival. We have subsequently been submitting these works to established film festivals and exhibitors, infiltrating over 800 events across 8 countries. These attracted diverse audiences who typically wouldn’t attend science events. We therefore have been able to expose these audiences to space science research in a way which appealed to them.

Live screening of SSFX.

As a physicist, I am not an expert in the film industry and how it works. I have learnt a huge amount about it though by running this project and it has exposed me to genres of film and perspectives I never would have encountered otherwise. Therefore, if we truly want to engage new audiences with our science through art then we need to be willing to give up some of the control, fully embrace and embed ourselves within the art world, and be open to what might emerge.

– Martin Archer is a Space Plasma Physicist at Queen Mary University of London