Bernd Huppauf: 'Images of the Sciences and Scientists in visual Media',
in: NY Arts Magazine, November/December issue 2003
The visual media are both a reflection of popular images and, at the same time, have the power of constructing influential images of the sciences. Film and other mass media have been highly successful in constructing stereotypes of the scientist and ways of perceiving the sciences. Blurring the dividing line between the human and, on the one side, the animal and, on the other, artificial creations such as robots has in recent years led to growing insecurities and a mixture of great expectations and fear. If it is justified to refer to the popular perception of the sciences as "a mixture of great expectations, fears, utilitarian interests, curiosities, ancient practices, and superstition" (Gerbner), film, TV and comic strips can be interpreted as a major source for these ambivalent attitudes represented in public images. Very little is known about the formation of popular images of science in general and even less in relation to the impact that visual media have on the perception of the sciences.
The relationship between the arts and the sciences has never been a one-way traffic and the arts have never been 'disinterested' observers. They acted as a reflection of the sciences and the scientists and at the same time contributed to the construction of their image. In modernity, the sciences have served as a paradigm for artistic creativity. Visual and literary works of art were often constructed as experiments and experimental art played an innovative role in the history of modernism. Artists have adapted the scientific mind to their work and incorporated scientific methods of dealing with nature into the artistic production process. Artists and writers of naturalism made the attempt to develop artistic practices based on experiments and the extraterritorial space of the laboratory. Photography became one way of bridging the gap between the factuality of the sciences and the fictionality of arts and literature.
Among the prominent contemporary artists who are developing ways for the intercourse between the arts and the sciences is Gabriele Leidloff. For years, she made use of conventional camera work; yet, at the same time, she created images with a virtual surface satirizing the image industry of the new media. Her X-ray images of death masks give a "cold foretaste" (Hajo Schiff) of the other side of the sciences and of cyberspace. By using radiographic imaging, e.g. sonography and CAT scanning, she is now developing a method of producing a creative paradox in which scientific images do not expose the inside of the human body but, on the contrary, create pseudo customary representations of a view from outside.
Her project called l o g - i n / l o c k e d o u t, http://www.locked-in.com, is an experiment with innovative forms of interaction designed to pull down barriers of communication and bring in contact specialists from the neuro sciences, image theory and artists who usually work in isolation from each other.
Locked-in is the medical term for the rare syndrome. Such a defect of the neural system makes it possible not only to gather information about this specific psycho-physiological phenomenon but also offers insight in the construction of the regular processes of active and passive perception and communication. Scientific observation uses the syndrome in analogy to a scientific experimentat without interfering with a natural process. Through the locked-in syndrome nature itself creates an interference with natural processes. l o g - i n / l o c k e d o u t, in turn, creates conditions that make visible the elements of the mental state resulting from interrupted communication. Gabriele Leidloff's installations, built with the most recent medical apparatus, are a unique attempt to integrate scientific technology and artistic ways of image construction. The project develops means for transforming a medical condition in aesthetic experiments, which will be shown in a series of installations later in New York.