The history of Western epistemology and knowledge formation, in short Western thought, has been shaped by schism, fragmentation and particularity.  Something implicit, perhaps,  within the binarism at the root of all Western thought, a world of subject and object, good and bad, black and white, ethics and aesthetics, either/or, right or wrong. Yet the word schism has its roots in theology, the schism of 1054 that split the Western and Eastern Church, the medieval Great Schism of the Papacy, the sixteenth century Catholic Protestant Schism at the reformation, etc.  But alongside this in the last three hundred years came the schism of art and science, silently processed, but marking a separation nonetheless.


Leonardo when he fled Florence in 1481/2, did so ostensively with a skill he claimed in Equestrian Bronze sculpture, or that at least was the pitch he made to Ludovico ‘il moro’ Sforza, the Duke of Milan, his would be employer.  However, this not really what the Duke had mostly in mind, though he was never loath to pursue self-glorification.  Hence when Leonardo offered his full services it was to be as a scientist, or ‘scientia’, as a technical and/or military engineer. His letter of 25 April, 1483, makes this clear:



I have plans of bridges, very light and strong and suitable for carrying very easily, and with them you may pursue, and at times flee from, the enemy; and others secure and indestructible fire and battle, easy and convenient to lift and to place in position; and plans for burning and destroying those of the enemy.


When a place is besieged, I know how to remove the water from the trenches, and how to construct an infinite number of bridges, covered ways and ladders and other instruments to do with such expeditions


Also if a place cannot be reduced by the method of bombardment either owing to the height of its banks or to its strength of position, I have plans for destroying every fortress of other stronghold even if it were founded on rock.


I also have plans for mortars most convenient and easy to carry with which to hurl small stones in the manner almost of a storm: and with the smoke of this cause great terror to the enemy and great loss and confusion.


And if it should happen that the fight was at sea I have planes for many engines most efficient for both attack and defence, and vessels which will resist the fire of the largest cannon, and powder and smoke.


Also I have means of arriving at a fixed spot by caves and secret winding passages, made without any noise even though it may be necessary to pass underneath trenches or a river.


Also I will make covered cars (today, I suppose what we would call tanks), safe and unassailable, which with enter among the enemy with their artillery, and there is no company of men at arms so great that they will break it.  And behind these the infantry will be able to follow quite unharmed and without any hindrance.   SOUNDS LIKE MODERN WARFARE – OR BLITZKREIG.


Also if need shall arise, I can make cannon, mortars and light ordnance of very useful and beautiful shapes, different from those in common use




Leonardo then goes on to describe the catapults, war machines, magonels ‘trabocchi’ and other engines of wonderful efficacy – as he so calls them.


The point I am making is that in the mind of the artist Leonardo there was no difference between his mental make up as ‘scientia’ and ‘pittore’.  They are but different compartments of his mind.




Indeed, it is almost as an afterthought, in the last but one paragraph of the letter, before the usual ‘I will bring you immortal glory and eternal honour’, and ‘I commend myself with all possible humility’, that he says:


“Also I can carry out sculpture in marble, bronze or clay, and I can also do in painting whatever can be done, as well as any other, but he who may”




If this suggests an indistinguishable boundary between the scientific and the artistic impulse, I can hear you thinking, well that is all very well in the Renaissance age when the corpus of knowledge was reasonably containable to the well-informed human mind.  The same might be argued for Vesalius and his drawings of dissected anatomy, or Cesare Ripa’ ‘Iconologia’ of 1611, Le Brun’s investigations of human expression and countless other examples to be found through the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries.  With the eighteenth century Enlightenment (Aüfklarung), however, the argument runs that the encompassing of knowledge in a single mind, no longer became tenable, and with the advance of the ‘encyclopedie’, or encyclopaedic knowledge, the gradual separation or fragmentation into the particularism of the modern age began.  At the end of Natural Philosophy, in which many German intellectual thinkers took part (one might think of Lessing, Schelling, through to Hegel and many others), the supremacy of fact and positivism emerged.  It was a gradual process, for example Lavater’s Studies in physiognomy in the 1770s, Gall’s development of brain localisation (however, it was subsequently used by phrenologists), and the emerging life sciences in general kept in close contact in terms of application and use with the visual arts.  Indeed, when Armand Duchenne de Bologne, executed his photographic myological studies, namely when he place live electric wires to the facial muscles of the insane of indigent poor at the Salpetriere in Paris, the scientific textbook was dedicated for the use of artists, so that they might be better informed as to how to articulate in paintings the conditions of facial expression.  It had long been the case also with anatomy studies and cadavers, Fragonard kept them in studio, later Gericault acquired body parts fresh from the guillotine, and so on.


Hence what I am saying is that the technologies of emerging science retained, partially at least, related applications in the visual arts, even though the emerging professional expertise of the nineteenth century, the inevitable monopoly of discourse over the object of study (vital to existence and justification of a ‘profession’) was taking place.  The positivist scientist argued that through hypothesis, observations and experiment it present a world distinct from visual art and artistic practice, which science consigned to the subjective interpretive realm.


A hybrid reality in the humanities interface with science also emerged in the nineteenth century to make the schism more concrete, namely what I am wont to call, the ‘ologies’.  The emergence of the social sciences, anthropology (later fragmenting in social anthropology) ethnology, ethnography, sociology, philology, etymology, biology, created an even further rift between what was considered purely scientific, and what was artistic.


I am reminded of a very funny television advertisement for the newly privatised British Telecom in the 1980s, where a Jewish grandmother called ‘Beattie’, and pun on BT (British Telecom), is consoling her grandson on the telephone who has just failed his ‘O’ level exams at sixteen years, save for a ‘C’ in sociology, she says ‘but you got an ‘ology’ everyone wants and ‘ology’.  To people of my generation there is more than a mere ironic truth in this comment.


Some disciplines even evolved into a unique no man’s land, say mathematics, which today is never determinable as either a science or a humanity.  Pure mathematics might be either aesthetic, after all they work with immaterial realities of number, there are no numbers written anywhere in the universe, or read as pure science through equations with their obvious application in the world of science and technology. 


However, in the modern universities of the post-war period the separation between art and science was made concrete, since many of the new universities are architecturally configured to separate the two.  I can think of many British Universities built in the 1960s, where the major path or walkway through the campus reflects this perfectly, science to left, humanities to the right, or vice-versa, etc.


Thus in looking at the work of Gabriele Leidloff, and other artists today, we begin to see, perhaps, the beginnings of an interactive and shared engagement between the technologies of science and art once again.  The use of the term interdisciplinary in the last twenty or so years, has begun in both the physical and life sciences to reveal, that the microscopic segmentation of the object of study does not always resolve things to the satisfaction of the human mind.  It has been long known the a reassembly of the parts of knowledge do not always add up to an understanding of the whole, a fact and truth are not synonymous – truth requires a meaning content.  Facts are just informational data, the fact is a particular bus service may stop outside your house, but it has little or no meaning for you if you never travel by that bus. The former conditions of fragmentation and specialism are now seriously being questioned.  I am reminded of Friedrich Schlegel’s useful insight:


“No matter how good a lecture delivered from the height of podium might be, the best of it is dissipated because one can’t interrupt the speaker.” (Athenaeum Fragments. Aph. 204)


Gabriele Leidloff, then, uses the technologies of science, and in this instance the life sciences, to create a developmental aesthetic engagement, and many more artists are beginning to disrupt the speakers in their given area of expertise. While some specialists dislike it, it is ostensively a good thing for doesn’t demean either science or art.  It does not claim that the insights of scientists are less useful, or that an artistic engagement in their field will displace and invalidate any of science’s enquiries, but it does reveal that what was once a monopoly of scientific ‘empiricism’, is now tenable and of value to artists as well.  It should not be forgotten that artists also work with the materials of the world, and the object of their investigations while it may not often validate the building of new technologies it nonetheless remains free to use them.  In all art areas today there is an interface with art, technology and science (film, video, digitalisation, etc.), and in the case of Leidloff this extends in those medical machines in the sphere of physiology and neuroscience.


And, as with the invention of photography in 1839, even after the innovations of sequential photography by Muybridge and Marey, the medium struggled for a hundred years to be recognised as an art form.  The directly mechanical reproductive nature of its technology was seen by many as antithetical to art.  I doubt there are few here who would say, after seeing the recent Henri Cartier-Bresson show at Martin Gropius Bau that they were not in the presence of an artistic practice. His recent death being a personal sadness to me, since for several summers in the 1980s, I frequently had Sunday lunch with him and his wife Martine Franck, at their Provencal house near Cereste.  Indeed, his adopted daughter Melanie was briefly a student of mine.


It is within this frame that the work of Gabriele Leidloff must be understood, and, indeed, is cast.  Hence Ugly Casting is an appropriate title in a doubled sense, it casts light upon, and it is large part derived from the tradition of the cast.


As Roentgen’s X-rays in 1895, developed from the tradition of mechanical reproduction, sharing the same date at the development of film by the Fréres Lumiere in Paris, it reveals the ongoing mutuality of art and science through its handmaiden technology.  The X-ray, that which makes the invisible visible, is by metaphor completely commensurate and a suitable epithet of artistic intentions.  To make the hidden visible has been axiomatic to all modern artistic practice, what Baudelaire once called ‘extracting the essence from the envelope of life’.  (The Painter of Modern Life)


As you enter the exhibition you will you confront therefore the X-ray and radiography as the means of access to the cast, be in the death or life casts of the artifice of the sculpture ‘Tegea’ or the radiographic image of a life cast of Goethe, appropriate to the context of the present location.  The radiography of the manikins shown in their medical light boxes furthers the remit of technology and artifice.  What both the scientist and the artist share is an interpretive means, pointing merely to differential applications, the one using it as a diagnostic tool for remedial health purposes, and the other artistic use for the revealing of the inner mystery of objects that carry, if not embody, the metaphors of life.    Both are part of the remedies of mind and body in their different ways.  And, Leidloff’s use of radiography similarly reveals the nature of being, the ontology of humanness, if not the medical physiology of a pliant application.  Both of course contribute in very different ways to the understandings of what constitutes the human in the world, be it as human processes in its scientific usage, or a human self-reflexive, self-comprehending notion of human consciousness on the other.


And, if we turn to the ‘eye-tracking’ video/film of the artist’s eye as it scans the immediacy of its technical engagement, we come again to realise the close relations of art and science. For both the scientist and the artists share a singular compulsion, a fascination with the nature of the ‘gaze’, be it the microscope’s act of looking, or the looking at the advanced technologies of brain scanning, cat-scan, the computer screen, and much else; or, the artist’s shared obsession with looking at the world – pointing to different ends they nonetheless share the same means.


What I am trying to say above all is that the schism between art and science as it relates to technology, does not have to exist, they are not to world in competition, the same world seen from and applied to different perspective aims.  This reminds me in many ways of an observation once made by the late American Poet Laureate Howard Nemerov, who died in 1991.  In commenting on the scientific realities of space travel, indeed, he wrote several poems dealing quite specifically with the NASA space program and 1980s Shuttle disaster;




As light must ineluctably carry with it its shadow, in a mutuality that is both necessary and informing, so too must art and science.  They are not separate world of intellectual experience that must uncomfortably co-exist, they are complementary worlds wherein one may inform the other.  Hence the means of science turned in application to the purposes of art does not diminish one and enrich the other, quite the reverse, they possess a shared self-enrichment.


This Goethe exhibition is, perhaps, at the beginning of a long and necessary process of reconciliation.  The world ‘inter’ as in interdisciplinary, means “between, among, in the midst of: mutual, reciprocal, together.”  That is the discovery of post-modernity, which as Lyotard observed, was the condition of modernity in its incipient state, before the extrapolation, fragmentation and separation of specialism(s) began to pull the world of art and science apart.  It calls for us to be open to a new and fruitful interchange between the two, two strands of enquiry, but one world of knowledge to be formed.




Mark Gisbourne

Art Historian and Critic.


***Howard Nemerov (1920-1991) was the third Poet Laureate of the United States. He is the author of three novels, two collections of short stories, fourteen volumes of poetry, and has received every top award including the Pulitzer Prize in 1978. At the time of his death he was the Distinguished University Professor of English at Washington University in St. Louis.