Art of Science – Challenge for some, a workshop for everyone!

That sunny Saturday, on October 2nd, Figure 1.A. hosted an Art of Science workshop at its exhibition space held this year at Perrier Hall, Pont12, in Chavannes-près-Renens. Thanks to the financial support of Figure 1.A. and the provision of easels by the School of Visual Arts in Flon – Ceruleum, Irina Terekhova and Andrea Vucicevic managed to turn Figure 1.A. exhibition space into a real art studio. Here is how the idea for organizing such a workshop came out and what its goal is.

Art of Science is a workshop that primarily aims to make artists and scientists working together, but each in their way to produce art inspired by the natural sciences. It can be any form of art, visual arts like painting, or performing arts like music, theater, and dance.

Where science meets art

Participants of this year’s Art of Science workshop were challenged in painting and divided into teams, each composed of one artist and one scientist. The artist dictated the painting technique, and the scientist’s research field determined the theme. Olivier Vouilloz (as known as Kol) and Sofya Mikhaleva made up the team that used acrylic paints, while Anna Bolotova and Stefania Bertella were in the team that used oil paints.

In the first team, Kol is a freelance, self-taught artist from Lausanne, with an enchantingly unusual, modern style of painting. The spectrum of his creation is vast and reaches as far as music and video arts. He worked that day with Sofya Mikhaleva, an EPFL biophysicist who studies how physical forces shape bacterial communities in the intestinal system. She is a fan of museums and finds peace and inspiration in the artwork. In the other team, Anna Bolotova is an academic artist and art teacher who graduated from Roerich Art College in St. Petersburg, Russia. She is, above all, a talented artist who creates stunningly realistic portraits and beautiful landscapes made of oil. She competed with Stefania Bertella, a Ph.D. student in Chemistry and Chemical Engineering at EPFL who, in her research work, tries to isolate plant molecules that can be used to produce sustainable materials. Stefania plays several musical instruments, but she wanted to try her hand at a challenge that steps into yet unexplored fields of her talents. As artists are skilled in painting but their knowledge of natural phenomena and details of scientific research is restricted, the aim was to compare the raw, intuitive representation of a given scientific topic with the one influenced by a profession that scientists bravely dared to visualize. An additional challenge for both was not knowing the exact theme title until they stood in front of the empty canvas.

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Attending creation

The most exciting moment of the workshop for the visitors and the organizers was when the ideas and imagination of the participants began to overflow the void of the white canvas. Although described in everyday language, the scientific topic was demanding enough to throw our scientists and artists into the maze yet leaving vast space for brainstorming and creativity. Interestingly, although the participants of the same team were not allowed to exchange ideas with each other, nor were they able to see each other’s work, the same colors dominated both paintings in the same team. For the “acrylic team”, it was blue, and for the “oil team”, it was merely yellow green.

Our participants noticed how strong the environment impacted their paintings. Since the workshop took place in the exhibition space, Olivier Vouilloz and Sofya Mikhaleva from the “acrylic team” were positioned in the part of the hall where blueish pictures were dominant, while darker and yellowish-green shaded pictures mainly surrounded the “oil team.” What particularly drew attention to how connected the participants were within one team, although independent in creating the artwork, is an example of a group that worked with oil paints. Namely, the topic’s title spoke about the building blocks of plants that hide “fibers”, the subject of Stefanija Bertella’s research. But at no point could the artist Anna Bolotova know that these fibers were hiding in wood cells, which slowly began to branch on her canvas during the workshop. The existence of “invisible threads” to which people are connected may prove that they are an intuitive whole, even by doing their works separately. Artists and scientists have shown that they are part of the same team, no matter how different the expressions of their ideas are. Scientists visiting the exhibition discovered that Stefania’s artistic expression revealed the outlines of complex organic polymers such as lignin, which she tries to isolate in its pure form in her laboratory. Sofya wove on her canvas a double helix secretly entangled in gene interactions, which Kol sensed and portrayed in his original way.

A challenge for some, a workshop for everyone

To participate in this challenge, the only thing artists and scientists need is to be inspired by the natural sciences and be ready to intuitively present their ideas, like children who do it with great ease, especially while playing. Therefore, in addition to the challenged participants, it was the children who, with great excitement and curiosity, approached the painting material available to the public and instantly filled with imagination all the white papers. When choosing scientists for this artistic challenge, Art of Science organizers are not selective based on their talents and affinities. If making music is a challenge, musical scientists would enjoy composing a tune with a professional musician even more. But what would then be analyzed? What tonalities and frequencies the scientist used compared to the musician? Was his rhythm more dynamic or slower?

In the case of painting, the focus is on colors and shapes that would reveal the impact of the acquired knowledge on the scientist’s creative expression and thus provoke an interesting discussion. One of the goals of this workshop is to provide a different kind of experience to artists, as well as reminding scientists what doing science is all about: exploring, discovering, diving into the unknown, and most importantly, not minding the ego along this adventure. The organizers are extremely grateful to the participants for accepting the Art of Science challenge and being open-minded and brave enough to step out of their comfort zone and launch beyond the familiar. The desire to organize this unique workshop came from thinking about different ways of communicating science. To bring science closer to the public and present it in all its beauty. To point out the importance of interdisciplinary communication, its deeper meaning in the interpretation of scientific phenomena, and above all, have fun learning something new!

Do you want to create it or be present and admire it? Write to Art of Science team is waiting for new adventurers onboard!

Watch a video of the exhibition made by NUL – Nouvelles Universitaires Lausannoises here!

Andrea Vucicevic
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Figure 1.A. for co-organizing and financially supporting the Art of Science workshop in their exhibition space Perrier Hall of Pont12, which hosts all kinds of cultural and public and festive events.

Ceruleum, school of visual arts in Lausanne Flon, for providing easels for the workshop.

Veneta Gerganova for recognizing potential of this workshop, Anna Anchimiuk, Laura Merlini, Thais Reichler, Sevasti Gaspari and Janis for amazing help with setting up the workshop tools and all the administration work done.

Irina Terekhova, co-organizer and one of the main leaders of the Art of Science workshop. Being both artist and scientist, Irina herself contributed greatly to finding artists for this challenge, buying painting material and discretely documenting art creation behind the camera.

Author of this article is an author and co-organizer of the Art of Science workshop.