long lunch: Neuroscience (+ social anthropoloy) + Performance

Alex (Chimera’s PI) meets Marko Zivkovic (Associate Professor in Anthropology at the University of Alberta, Canada). Marko is a remarkably multi-disciplinary gentleman whose expertise encompasses the anthropology of art, philosophy of science and the sociology of knowledge.  His current research explores ‘art and the brain’, particularly the response of artists to the current growth of neuroscience. He’s been following Marina Abramovic’s Magic of the Mutual Gaze, a neuroscience experiment exploring the neurological ‘synchronizing’ effect of mutual gaze (http://abramovic.garageccc.com/en/works/10). Marko has some fascinating insights into the project – and he’ll be writing on this for a book on Performance and the Medical Body, edited by Alex and Gianna Bouchard due for publication in 2015.

We also consider the synchronization of sociology, anthropology and performance. Marko’s anthropological/social perspective on rehearsal and performance as a ritual act (we’ve both been involved in performances based on traumatic personal experience: Marko mourning his late wife, the artist Gordana Zivkovic, me with Bloodlines, on my brother’s encounter with Leukaemia) and on the sociology of collaborations across disciplines (particularly the current ‘infactuation’ with scientists by artists) is fascinating.  More on Marko here: http://www.artdesign.ualberta.ca/en/Faculty_and_Staff/Adjunct_faculty/Marko_Zivkovic.aspx

Mutual Gize installation view - closeup

A long lunch with blurry borders

Our first Chimera ‘long lunch’ (a series of deliberately informal discussions with scholars on science-art collaborations). Today’s meeting, between Kirsten Shepherd-Barr, Emma Weitkamp, Shaun May and Alex Mermikides, mapped out some of the territory to be covered by the Chimera project as a whole, and various sub-projects within it.

Issues of scope and categorisation are particularly prominent in the field of science-art collaboration: it’s a vast terrain with blurry borders particularly if we define both science and art in the broadest terms.  The common interest around the table today was in contemporary theatre and performance, though we represent diverse strands and angles within this area. There’s more diversity in terms of the scientific domains with which we are each also engaged: evolutionary theory, climate science and various branches of medical science (Kirsten, Emma and Alex and Shaun respectively), as well as Emma’s expertise in science communication.   The value of triangulating our different perspectives on a common area of interest is immediately clear.

Discussions confirmed that what is of immediate and shared interest between us  is the relationship between interdisciplinary collaboration in the creative process (one of Emma’s many areas of expertise) and ‘alternative’ representations of science in the resulting performances (Kirsten’s recent work on the alternative science play provides the frame for this).  There was some useful framing of this in terms of UK practice and its relationship to funding schemes such as the Wellcome Trust’s Arts Award.  And we identified some interesting areas for further investigation. One of these is how the notion of scientific ‘accuracy’ might be articulated and deployed in the theatre-making process and performance.  Another is the desire to distinguish how particular scientific domains might inform performance practice.

We also touched on potential ‘outputs’ that might emerge from this and further discussions. I am adamant that such ‘outputs’ emerge quite organically and are properly conceived (we are all recovering from the demands of the REF), so it was very useful to get the group’s views on themes, formats and potential contributors to further meetings, the symposium I am in the process of planning and any potential publications.