Positioning Practitioners: Art and Science at SDM

By Hannah Rogers

I did not have a website for a long time. It’s not that I did not know how to make one or that I did not understand how important it was, it was simply that I did not know how to tell people who I was. I was happy to write but not to fill in the "About" section or even to add a link to be co. Should I say I am a poet? A curator? A social scientist who studies science and art? A STEAM education advocate? Most people have lots of hats, but mine felt like they were fighting up there on my head and until one hat beat out another in a given setting, their fighting tended to crowd out other conversations. And yet they all seemed to get along so well when a project was at hand.

On the surface the whole thing is fungible -- just update your dang website and press REFRESH -- but once you let the c-a-t out of the bag, a narrative, an art, a work can be perceived / used as content , as 'information.' Identity is respected as value. The intention of the system is to make the  wrought-ness of writing, alive-ness of a poem, the movement in time of a photograph static -- for the purpose of a knowing evaluation. And  in being made so, it becomes vulnerable to being literally repurposed, put in self-different, internally foreign contexts, and made to mean any unmeant thing -- and trying to explain the hard heavy facts of what was and was not meant (problems and questions not asked in the internal 'low stakes' field of play) as the quicksand of changing context pours in around fresh trenches is not appealing to someone with something to say and thus something to lose. This blog post is not going to end with an answer for the sand.

I only want to point out that it is there-- effecting whatever I am trying to say-- inflecting not only my artificial online presence but also my every day actions. I chose a graduate school with an intentionally ambiguous bent because saying I was studying “Science and Technology Studies with a focus on art and science” allowed me to move back and forth between subjects I loved while also being part of different camps. At science meeting, I am a poet. In art contexts, I was perceived as a science expert. A website, I felt, would make this harder: it would glue me into a box even if it had to cut off parts to make me fit. And, I thought, once people knew who I was their ability to related to me and discuss this subjects would be altered. No stakes in the web seemed like a way to keep the stakes low in both camps: to keep up all my interests.

My dissertation research looked at the constructed boundary between art and science: how it is maintained, by who, and for what purposes. Bioart and tactical media practitioners made these categories slippery and were who they needed to be. Looking further back the Blaschkas, a father-son team of glassmakers who created Harvard’s glass flowers and Cornell’s glass marine models, made use of the categories of art and science to position themselves as interactional experts in natural history while declaring that their special skills with glasswork were the result of artisan bloodlines.

This did not add to my comfort in positioning myself or the way my work would be seen since it raised the importance of explaining what a mish-mash the practices of art and science are, though it did suggest that my problem was not a new one and that these categories can give a person power as well as a complicated identity. Djerassi is wonderful even if it can't solve the intractable problems of negotiating interpretation, meaning making, and  the relative social value of art and science. SDM is wonderful for allowing people, for however brief a time, to “count” in both categories. This issues of being relatively “more” a scientists or an artist are rubbed  a bit smoother here where the group is entirely composed of people who have both kinds of lives.

There is a relief in not needing to maintain credentials to stay on both sides of the fence. From here the constructed boundary is deconstructed in a way that my research had not revealed: though the individual lives of practitioners who have refused to falsely separation their projects and kept right on researching, drawing, observing, dancing, playing, and working whatever anyone else wanted to call it.