By Satinder Gill, Co-chair of the newly-instituted Cambridge (UK) LASER Branch
The Leonardo/ISAST ‘LASER’ events are a program of international gatherings that bring artists, scientists, humanists and technologists together for informal presentations, performances and conversations with the wider public. To learn more please visit our website.
See the full video of the first LASER event in Cambridge (Oct 1st 2020) here.
On October 1st 2020 a Cambridge branch of the international movement of artists and scientists known as LASER was launched with an online event at CRASSH. ‘Leonardo Art Science Evening Rendezvous’ are an international framework for locally-organised of gatherings of different kinds that bring artists and scientists together for informal presentations and conversations. The groups are locally-organised, yet also connected to each other across the world.
The LASER series originated from the coming together of Aldous Huxley and Frank Malina (who Huxley invited in 1947 to lead the UN’s Education, Science and Culture program, and who frustrated by the narrow approach to science in the United States became an artist in the early 1950s); and Charles Pierce Snow’s influential ‘Two Cultures’ lecture series at Cambridge in 1959 that questioned whether the humanities and sciences are in fact separate. Malina later founded the Leonardo Journal in Paris in 1968 as an international forum for artists using science, especially those who developed new technologies as part of their work. Continuing his father’s legacy in California’s Bay Area, Malina’s son Roger Malina created the non-profit ‘Leonardo International Society for Art Science and Technology’ (ISAST). This organisation, known as the Leonardo, is now an MIT Press Journal, and is supported by the American National Academy of Sciences department of Culture, as well as other ongoing grants and private donations. The LASER Talks, as a way of networking internationally and spreading these ideas to new audiences – especially in a digital era – were founded in 2008 by Bay Area local LASER Chair Piero Scaruffi. There are now LASER branches in over 30 cities around the world. The spirit of the Leonardo was always collaboration and interdisciplinarity, and the LASER Talks express that spirit too.
In their the collaborative question-raising about the limiting effects of their respective categories artists, scientists and technologists address the societal concerns of their times. Today, the focus of LASER talks is therefore on environment and climate change, future urban spaces, alternative economics, and shaping socially-sustainable technological futures. The Cambridge LASER (co-chaired by joins these discussions, asking how the conventional separation of art and science have worked to create distinct categories of knowing and being, and asking how we can understand and transcend the limiting influence of this separation.
With these questions in mind Caroline Nevejan shared insights from the Venice Biennale Exploratorium (whose Netherlands component she runs) and spoke under the heading ‘Orchestrating futures of engagement’; Ghislaine Boddington spoke about what she calls the ‘Internet of Bodies’ – the intersections of body-data-ethics and what she calls ‘The Future Human’; and Pam Burnard reflected on ‘Why Creativity Matters’. These themes were further brought out in planned responses from Sha Xin-Wei, Mary Simoni, and Karamjit Gill. The event opened with introductory talks by myself Satinder Gill, by Harriet Loffler,, my co-chair in the Cambridge LASER branch; and first of all by Professor Steven Connor, Director of the Centre for Research in the Arts, Social Sciences and Humanities (CRASSH). His talk, at the very beginning of the video here, was about the origins of the word ‘scient-ist’ out of the word art-ist in the mid-19th century, and the limits of yet need for disciplinary distinctions: a tension that the precisely ongoing LASER talks aim to explore.
This launch of the Cambridge branch of LASER also occurred in collaboration with an exciting art and science Festival in Bogota, Colombia, curated by the collective Suratomica, whose dynamic co-director Daniela Brill Estrada, explained their mission to create more equitable social structures to encourage greater openness and diversity of knowledges, and rethink alternative forms of organisation and ideas, especially in developing countries.
For me, the key thing that emerged from this first event was that as we discussed these general themes, we found more specific questions kept coming up, all of which are associated with repetition (i.e. who repeats what, how, where, and why):
-How are the products of creativity disseminated in the world – via publication, communicated via a singular unique exhibited object, or a live performance? And who is available when to recognise them?
-When and for whom does a work exist? For example, a choreographer may only consider a work to ‘exist’ when it has been (re)performed in front of an audience.
-How has the invisible been made visible at different times, and in different ways?
These were part of wider questions about how our instruments of measurement and philosophical understandings/definitions of the observable world affect the experience of visibility, and the visibility of experience.
For anyone wishing to be part of or find out more about further LASER events, contact Satinder Gill at firstname.lastname@example.org, or sign up to the ‘Re-‘ Network events information list at https://lists.cam.ac.uk/mailman/listinfo/ucam-re-interdisciplinarynetwork