Eminent art historian Leo Steinberg, in an essay written in 1986, asks whether art and science necessarily need to be yoked.1 He spotlights the gifts of DaVinci’s cultural offerings as a case in point. For Steinberg, “unlike his surpassed scientific work, Leonardo’s artistic creation is unrepeatable, like the life of the man.” For Steinberg, the yoking of art and science remains a skeptical pairing. However, in an age of accelerating pixels and bits and bytes, images are both computational output and aesthetic barometers. This combination of laboratory life and imagery allows the visual artist to forge ahead into the conceptual intersections of liminality, ambiguity, and new representational spaces, which in turn form the epistemological underpinnings of the new hybrid “poly-disciplines” combining visual culture and the bio-sciences. Innovative, if not radical, perspectives become available.2
As an example, my sculptural series Remote Sensing refers to new digital technologies that can picture places that are either too toxic or inaccessible to visit. Using state-of-the-art satellite data, remote sensing apparatuses are employed to computationally create images of such spaces. As an extension of digital photography, these images garner information electronically in order to bypass onsite investigations. The fabrication of my Remote Sensing (2015-2017) series begins with two-dimensional digital photographs, which are converted into three-dimensional virtual models using a technique called displacement mapping. The resulting files are employed to fabricate physical objects using a 3-D printer. The software program determines the deposition of variegated color applied to the structure as it is being printed, one layer at a time. Dark areas are extruded less than bright colors, keeping in tune with the ways in which pictorial spaces are perceived.
These micro-landscapes offer the viewer a top-down topographic experience assembled by zeros and ones. In these rapid prototyped sculptures, forms become numbers, and numbers become form. Such computational methods of image-making are not merely technical exercises. They forge alternative ways in which opticality can be expanded. The software program is an alternative eye. Akin to early forays into the instrumentalized techniques of the microscope, 3-D scanning devices register topography. In my work, I transfer such a technique to object-making. The data generated in these objects come from still life sources that I set up in my studio. The components range from flowers to vegetables to geological specimens, creating a mix and match between organic and inorganic aspects of the world around us in its variegated hues and unique natural formations. Each configuration of these works takes the geometry of a circle, inspired by Jules Petri’s glassware dish, and crosses the divide between the disciplines of art and science.
- Leo Steinberg, “Art and Science: Do They Need to be Yoked?” Daedalus: Proceeding of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences 115, no.5 (Summer, 1986): 1-16.
- Suzanne Anker, “Biofictions and Biofacts: Staking a Claim in the Biocultural Bank” in Anker and Talasek, eds. Visual Culture and Bioscience, Issues in Cultural Theory 12, 2008
Suzanne Anker is a visual artist and theorist working in New York City.