Words: Abi Goodman
Students from BA (Hons) Fine Art, Interactive Arts, Art History, Creative Practice, and Textiles in Practice are joining forces with biochemists, environmental scientists, biomedical students, engineers, forensics students and ecologists. Unit X’s Catalyst Option (since renamed ‘Spectrum’ after an introductory Unconference in week one) brings together students from Manchester School of Art with those from the faculty of Science and Engineering (via MMU Futures).
Spectrum is co-designed by the students and staff working together, and is organised by artists Annie Carpenter & Dave Griffiths (Manchester School of Art) with physicist and poet Sam Illingworth (Faculty of Science & Engineering), artist Ella McCartney (MSA) and curator Clare Gannaway (Manchester Art Gallery).
In the second week of Unit X, students were introduced to each other’s working environments. Part one of the session was delivered within the Interactive Arts studio whilst part two took part within a lab. The first engaged participants in an unconventional drawing workshop:
“We are now going to start orbiting around the centre of our galaxy at 220km/sec. Everyone start orbiting around the room while you draw…..”
The workshop asked students to consider the Universe, Dark Matter, Dark Energy, Our Galaxy, the ground beneath our feet, carbon, and then the Quantum world, whilst drawing with charcoal on paper (in the dark, in the light and walking around). Participants were then invited to tear up their drawings and make them into a large co-joined piece in the centre of the room.
Reflecting on the experience and resulting artwork participants were invited to consider what metaphors came to mind and what the resulting piece said about:
- the universe
“It represents disparate entities that are brought together by a co-joining force.”
“No-one owns it but all are involved in its creation – that is what the Universe is.”
“I think it looks scary and weird like the Universe – intimidating because it is so unknown and chaotic.”
- the art/science process.
“Once you put something out there you have no control over it.”
“Art/Science works best if everyone is allowed to fail.”
“As with the research process we are building on and tearing down what has gone before.”
“You have to go deep into the pile to find your work.”
The second half of the afternoon took place in a lab environment where students worked in groups to devise experiments with simple objects. The conclusion reached was that hitting on the right question is the hardest thing to do. Sam Illingworth expressed that when he started a masters in science he suddenly realised that he knew how to prepare for examinations but not how to do science i.e. to find the idea that generates the research. The next challenge for participants was to pair up with someone from a different discipline, devise an experiment and share it with the group at the next meeting.
At the end of the day we got chatting with a student of medicinal and biological chemistry who had the following to say:
“I am interested in art. I like to keep that creative part of myself. At the Unconference we were talking about how important it is not to dismiss either art or science. I can draw. The item I brought along to the Unconference was a drawing which had a revision note for my A-level Chemistry exam on the back. It’s always going to be relevant for art and science to be together, to keep them integrated.” (Chelsea Martinez – science student)