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Kent scientists help to explore the differences in how the public may interpret art

A collaborative research project between the University of Kent and the Turner Contemporary has examined ways in which art could be interpreted by members of the public.

Bringing together scientists from the University’s School of Physical Sciences and artists at the Turner Contemporary, Margate, the project explored whether someone’s individual understanding of physical materials has an effect on the way they understand and interpret a piece of art.

Using the gallery’s current exhibition of minimalist sculptures by Carl André as its focus, the project gathered artists and scientists in an experiment to discuss their own interpretation of the works using the method of Philosophical Inquiry. Philosophical Inquiry provides a structure for discussion where experts from different disciplines can share ideas, without establishing a hierarchy.

The results highlighted differences of opinion in how the exhibition was understood depending on a spectator’s own view of ‘objects’. For example, scientists saw the physical attributes of copper, such as the atoms it is made of, whereas artists were attracted to the form and colour differences.

One of the key outcomes from the project was a deeper appreciation of the spectrum of viewpoints and the commonality of intuition, creativity and passion within both the arts and the sciences.

Four minutes of the audio recording of the original conversation, which lasted for over an hour, has been used as the foundation for an animation of the project’s findings.

The animation can be viewed here.

Professor Bob Newport, from the Functional Materials Group of the University’s School of Physical Sciences, said: ‘Now and again it’s good for us all to step outside of our professional boundaries, where familiar jargon can engender ‘separateness’. This project has given me the chance, as a materials physicist, to take a very healthy step over those boundary lines. I look forward to the next steps.’

Karen Eslea, Head of learning at Turner Contemporary, said: ‘Turner Contemporary prides itself on developing new and innovative approaches to connect audiences to artist’s work. Collaborating with such engaging artists and scientists has been really rewarding, and Cognitive Media’s animation is already having an impact on our visitors.’

Supported by Prosper, a Canterbury Festival initiative, it is hoped the experiment will enable further collaboration over a longer time period to examine what happens when the arts, sciences and humanities are intertwined. Similarly, the participants from the experiment are keen to consider new ways in which ideas emerging from conversations between artists and scientists can be conveyed in their complexity and still being engaging.

The animation has been produced by Folkestone-based, Cognitive Media, with the Philosophical Enquiry led by London-based, The Conversation Agency. The André exhibition and the animation will move to Middlesbrough later this year.


Story published at 12:31pm 2 April 2013

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Last Updated: 09/05/2013