Tuesday, August 3, 2010


What is noema? It is a word that comes from the Greek, meaning “thought,” but later became a more technical term in the phenomenology of philosopher Edmund Husserl. It is also the title for a new journal founded by 2008 iLAB resident, choreographer and experiential geographer Karl Cronin for his Somatic Natural History Archive project. He gives his own gloss on Husserl’s noema as “the perceived object as a perceived object,” seeing noemas as kinds of encounters.

This past Spring, I received the first volume of noema, wrapped in a beautiful cover of sparrow silhouettes cut from striking wallpaper patterns (by Ann Lopatin Cantrell), and was blown away by the contents, which present still photos from a growing collection of Cronin’s “embodied portraits that depict the life histories of10,000 plants and animals.”

What is attractive about the project is its unbelievable ambition, the wild execution of these attempts of “kinetic empathy” with other species, and the links to other media. As an example of the last point, in noema you can see a still of Karl’s response to Yucca glauca (Yucca) but then you must visit his website and link to the film of the response - the films capture the dynamism of these encounters, where the photos can only hint at them.

The journal and the overall project are wonderful, and if you are interested in the intersection of movement and natural history you should consider getting a subscription.* I am curious to see how the encounters will evolve over time, and more importantly if Karl will have the stamina to fulfill its five-figure ambition. I really hope so. I feel this work will be very generative for other artists. I know it has made me want to go meditate on a species and try to create some poetic empathy, although maybe just for 10 species.

*Annual subscriptions of noema are available for $20. To subscribe, contact Karl here.

Sunday, February 28, 2010

The Noncomputable

One of my favorite blogs to read is at the Resilience Alliance.

Recently it directed my attention to the abstract for a paper in Ecology and Society called Resilience: Accounting for the Uncomputable:

Plans to solve complex environmental problems should always consider the role of surprise. Nevertheless, there is a tendency to emphasize known computable aspects of a problem while neglecting aspects that are unknown and failing to ask questions about them. The tendency to ignore the noncomputable can be countered by considering a wide range of perspectives, encouraging transparency with regard to conflicting viewpoints, stimulating a diversity of models, and managing for the emergence of new syntheses that reorganize fragmentary knowledge.

(Here’s a link to the paper.)

It made me think that poets and artists and dancers could provide that counter since surprise and the noncomputable are often comfortable places for them to reside as it is integral to their discipline.

Again and again I hear that artists are the ones who can benefit from a collaboration with scientists, but I believe scientists can benefit too. This would be one concrete way.

Sunday, February 21, 2010

Sciart and the Benefits of Art/Science Collaboration

It is an important and useful document because there are not many studies on the value of art/science collaboration. Usually there is an intuition that they are positive, often more positive for the artist than the scientist. (Although you can see some of the anecdotal evidence I have been collecting to show the value to scientists here.)

Sciart was launched to fund “visual arts projects which involved an artist and a scientist in collaboration to research, develop, and produce work which explored contemporary biological and medical science.”

Some of the overall benefits of Sciart recognized in the report of the first decade are:
• Attracting media coverage
• Considerable educational benefit for the public
• The emergence of new processes of working
• Removing barriers to cross-disciplinary collaboration

Specific benefits artists provided scientists, included:
• Preparing some scientists to take more risks
• Improving scientist’s own communication
• Generating more reflexive awareness of the wider context of the scientist’s work
• Assisting scientists in rediscovering their personal creativity

There are other recommendations for organizations that would want to get involved in funding these kinds of collaboration. iLAND has already implemented many of these recommendations unintentionally and we could look at some of the others, especially on reporting. There is still time to apply for an iLAB residency from iLAND. If you are a dancer, movement artist, or scientist, please check out the iLAND website.