Spectra: where art meets science

Spectra, an intriguing new festival and symposium that explores the increasing convergence of art and science, will debut this spring festival season.

Presented by the Adelaide-based Australian Network for Art and Technology (ANAT), Spectra is a showcase of art, science and interdisciplinary research that has been two and-a-half years in the making. The symposium stream of Spectra will present more than 30 cutting edge papers with talks at the University of South Australia while the public program will include an exhibition curated by Melbourne’s Experimenta alongside films, talks and a choral performance of the stars called A Galaxy of Suns. Fittingly, Spectra will be held in various venues of the district where art and science collide: the western side of North Terrace, which houses academic institutions, the Lions Arts precinct as well as the medical research precinct.

ANAT’s director Vicki Sowry wants Spectra to be a biennial event. Aside from some funds from Arts South Australia and the City of Adelaide, the festival and symposium was largely funded by the national non-profit organisation, which this year celebrates 30 years of integrating science, art and technology into creative practice through research, development and enterprise.

“We want to start it how we intend it to continue,” Sowry says of Spectra, which will run from Wednesday, October 10 to Friday, October 12. Partnering with the University of South Australia and its Museum of Discovery (MOD), the symposium is aimed at arts and science professionals while the public program is designed for the general public.

“The symposium is not a traditional academic conference, we see it as a platform for presenting research imagined, in train or complete,” Sowry says.

“This is about profiling Australian and New Zealand artists and researchers, as there are big art and technology events in the northern hemisphere.” These include the annual International Symposium on Electronic Art, which brings together the globe’s art, science and technology communities through exhibitions, performances, workshops and academic conferences.

Martin Walch, Artists Image

The theme of Spectra is simply research collaborations between artists and scientists.

“We just see Spectra as a way of presenting these, often what happens is you have an intense research period, our residencies go for four months full-time, and 80 per cent of those partnerships continue well after a residency finishes. We weren’t capturing any of that and these are some of the most incredible thinkers in Australia, really. We felt it was really important to provide a platform for that to be communicated.

“Our focus is on research, it’s not science communication, there are other people who do that much better than us. For us, it’s about bringing these two knowledge systems together around a particular question or idea or problem. They are equally valid and very different but there are real commonalities as you can imagine with the way they approach research. With this type of practice; it’s speculative, it’s not applied. Einstein’s got this great quote: ‘If we knew what it was we were doing, it would not be called research, would it?’ This is front and centre of my mind at all times.”

The public stream includes the exhibition The Art and Consequence of Collaboration, which runs from Thursday, October 4 until Friday, October 26 at UniSA’s SASA Gallery and a performance of A Galaxy of Suns, which started as an app and is now a fully-realised performance of the stars.

“Michaela Gleave originally developed it as an app, and because you’re GPS enabled  on your phone, it will show you at any point in time, your location and what stars are overhead, and it ascribes a sound to each star. It creates a soundscape to where you are in a point of time. Someone, somewhere along the way, twigged this would be really awesome if you had a choir performing it.”

A Galaxy of Suns premiered at Dark MOFO before going to the Bristol Biennial in the UK and will be performed in Adelaide at the Freemason’s Hall on Friday, October 12.

The film stream of Spectra includes the Australian favourite The Dish, Grayson Cooke’s Open Air, which features music by The Necks, and a short film program Up There curated by Chris Kennedy of the National Film and Sound Archive. Also included in the public program is a series of talks: At the Heart of Glass featuring Dr Jane Cook from the Corning Museum of Glass with JamFactory’s Brian Parkes and Karen Cunningham; Bodies in Space with artists Sue Austin and Sarah Jane Pell; and Art in the Extreme with Sachie Yasuda, Philip Samartzis and Martin Walch.

According to Sowry, science communication and technology advancements have played a role in popularising the awareness of the convergence of art and science but she believes the separation of the two disciplines was a fairly recent phenomenon.

“That’s only happened for the last century-and-a-half, before then – the obvious example is Leonardo da Vinci – knowledge wasn’t separated in that way. If you look at indigenous cultures, it’s the same thing. You don’t have art and you don’t have science, you have life … They’re not separate. People are starting to see complex problems aren’t solved by simple solutions, you often have to put lots of heads together, so that sense of interdisciplinary problem solving is getting more prevalent, we’re understanding that.”

Spectra
Wednesday, October 10
to Friday, October 12
spectra.org.au

Feature image: A Galaxy of Suns, 2016. Photo: Lucy Parakhina, courtesy of Michaela Gleave

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