In Schöneberg, one of the beautiful gallery neighbourhoods in Berlin, three established German artists discuss the question of a possible relationship between art and science. They are presenting their aesthetic results in an ongoing exhibition at the international gallery Kit Schulte Contemporary Art. I met Juliane Laitzsch, Katrin von Lehmann and Eva-Maria Schön to talk about their project.
It began when von Lehmann first started to have lunch in the cafeteria at the Max Planck Institute for Molecular Genetics. In these moments of rest at the cafeteria, questions popped into her head, such as: How are scientists working, how are artists working? What questions do they ask in comparison to us and what is their vantage point in searching for scientific answers? She wanted to get to know these scientists. It was not hard to arouse the curiosity of her colleagues and also that of the scientists themselves.
Schön, calling her work “Parallel Laboratory” is mostly interested in the microscopic experiments of the scientists and the figurative nature of their results. She does her own experiments, placing colour explosions under the microscopes of the Max Planck Institute instead of cell cultures. But during this project and during her years of experience along with her love for the microscope, she dissociates the aestheticism from the scientific language, whose highest goal is precise readability. Instead of exorbitant colourfulness and precision she goes back to black and white and her very own use of brushstrokes. “How wonderful are all these shades of grey… That’s my language!”
Von Lehmann exhibits under the headline “Segmentation”. She is less interested in the working process of the scientists than in the objects of investigation – the cells and their segmentation. Her concept is “to visualize without illustrating”. Her means are the same as those of the cell: to double, split up and grow as a result. In concrete terms, she takes two identical microscopic pictures of a cell segmentation (doubling), which she cuts into stripes (split) and weaves together again. After that, she captures the generated pictures with her camera and repeats the whole process, again and again. The final version doesn’t show the original subject anymore – it just grew to an unpredictable entity.
Laitzsch, the only one who never worked with science before, is deeply impressed by the whole world of science – by the conditions, processes, structures. During her work in the institute she experiences the importance of pictures within the science, but at the same time she is surprised by the naïve way of accepting them to represent the absolute truth. They are captured by humans and therefore influenced by an individual perspective and certain technical means. This is because more and more she gets the feeling “that scientific knowledge is constructed and culturally determined”. Thus, she sets her “Trees of Live” against the science pictures, as they are made from the ornaments of a stitching explanation, a cultural product.
The three artists agree that reduction is one of the main tasks of both scientists and artists. They have to reduce the complex world of phenomena without making it empty but by also making it meaningful. In the end there remains the question of freedom. “We are more free!” A freedom, which can be a bottomless one from time to time.