“The Elaboratorium” by the Scale Free Network at the Counihan Gallery is an exhibition that attempts to unite art and science. To the puzzlement of many a science student, atheists and cultural commentators we don’t see enough art about science. (Except in the areas of scientific imaging – scientific imaging has become so much better and is producing amazing and beautiful images. There was a very brief time in the 19th century when painters were the best people to recreate ancient temples or prehistoric animals but now we don’t have to recreate the images, so where does this leave the artists?) The problem with art and science collaborations is that it often produces sterile mules; a fertile collaboration that will generate the next generation of artistic and scientific collaboration is difficult to produce.
The Scale Free Network (SFN) is a collaborative group of artists and scientists (a “scale free network” is a scientific way of say social network). “Combining the interdisciplinary skills of artist Briony Barr, microbiologist Dr Gregory Crocetti and art teacher Jacqueline Smith, SFN works with creative combinations of science and art to design participatory experiences for children and adults.” The strength and weakness of the exhibition is really aimed at all ages. I’d seen that kind of thing before as a child; as the son of a zoologist I went to see many science exhibitions and it did leave me with a strong impression about the quality of work in these exhibitions.
“The Elaboratorium” takes its name from a 17th century term to describe where chemical substances were made and ‘elaborated’ upon. The best parts of the exhibition are the digital projections they are impressive compared to the average art gallery video installation. Digital projections of water-life recorded at 100 -400x magnification along with the shadows cast by the lab equipment and the “suspended circles” of rotating drum skins. Accompanied with classical music looked like a theatrical version of science.
Some of the works like the “Particle Chamber”, a vitrine with polystyrene balls and a fan, failed to show anything exciting; you get that with science experiments – there is the real possibility of failure.
The viewing station parts of the exhibition are interactive but I can’t imagine that many people, except for children, who haven’t seen such images before. In keeping with the gallery setting there are samples of gallery dust and Ben Sheppard’s drawings from the exhibition in the next gallery space. There are other local elements to examine under the stereo-microscopes – I spent some time looking at the micro-cosmos of some local moss.