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Inside Out: Identity


I am extremely pleased to have been asked by Katherine Vetne and BR&S to contribute to Inside Out. Getting validation, as you'll see in a moment, is a wonderful and very helpful experience. Always. Thanks Katherine and BR&S.

I have chosen to be an artist scientist, and it's an experiment like all art and science. When I say artist scientist I literally mean that I make art and do science, I produce sculptures and perform research, I have two careers. I am neither unique nor novel (see footnote), especially not in this town, but I can at least share some of what this duality has meant to me and my practice over the next few posts.

What is a concise name for an artist scientist?

Doing both art and science has made it hard to figure out a pithy, elevator-pitch-friendly identity for myself that hasn't made me want to squirm with discomfort, like I'm about to get caught in a lie. I have felt like an imposter as a scientist (having stepped off the traditional track) and to have no claim to the title of artist, which is a situation common amongst friends and colleagues in both fields (and Ashton Kutcher apparently). This sensation of pretending and the expectation of being considered unqualified really got in the way of the work. So I made a piece about it. Just something to 'hang a lantern' about what I was attempting and a way to roll my eyes at my own awkwardness in trying to describe myself to others. The piece is interactive (thanks to Processing) - moving the pointer up and down will move the words 'artist' and 'scientist' together or apart, and a collision will produce other words. They are all portmanteau words, made up using parts of others stuck together. Among more positive words about creativity and curiosity, some words have a derogatory flavour having bases in 'pompous' and 'pretentious' etc. By making fun of my shame I allowed myself to just get on and do things. I gave myself permission and made the pigeonholing a little less distracting.


So that was a first step in an attempt to blend these two disciplines, which, as it turns out, are very similar in many respects anyway. I use biology as both subject and material for the art, I sometimes make creativity the subject of the science, and I definitely try to make the biology beautiful so I can get to its secrets more easily (a side-benefit of which is an ability to communicate my insights to others without sending them to sleep). In another early attempt to get it out of my system, I made a pun-tastic hill from a Hill equation. It gets smiles from fans of The Big Bang Theory. And because I'm a scientist, I made this twice. Just to be sure. Bazinga.

Cover art made from outlines of a chemotaxing Dictyostelium discoideum amoeba. The science is published inside this issue. (My 15 minutes...)

My identity nervousness was perhaps aggravated by having encountered prejudice on both sides. If I say to a scientist 'I'm an artist too.' they look at me askance because my science must therefore be less rigorous. (Though doing the cover-art for a journal is acceptable.) If I say to an artist 'I'm a scientist too.' I get a brief dismissive flicker since, obviously, scientists are too cold and mechanical to make real art.

This does not always happen, and I don't entirely disagree that the two are also different in many respects either. However, I think that this tension between the two, "are we the same or different?", is a rich hunting ground and I'll probably be hanging out here for a while yet.

Other people straddling the chasm: Oliver Hoeller Jessica Polka Julio Martino Ottino Mark J. Stock Jeff Lieberman Jonathan Bachrach Felice Frankel

Know anyone else? Let me know!

About Author

Natalie Andrew is Inside Out: Artist in Residence for September 2013.

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