Critical Dialogues on Arts+Science is an ISP course that, much like its title suggests, explored “the future of our culture shaped by the advancement of technologies”. The online course, building on an unexpected pandemic opportunity, brought an assortment of artists, researchers, and educators that work on ambitious and visionary projects presented in American and international institutions, museums, and galleries. Stass Shpanin, Assistant Teaching Professor at Rutgers University and course curator that has been teaching Skoltech ISP courses for eight years, told us why he thinks all scientists should study art.
Could you sum up your thinking behind offering this kind of course – I mean, Skoltech is a research university, it produces scientists, so why do scientists need to talk about art?
Number one, I think in many cases the word ‘art’ might be misinterpreted; when we talk about art in many cases, people think like, oh, paintings, right? But not all artists that I actually invited to meetings paint. For example, the first artist is Orkan Telhan, and he does bio-art. One of his recent projects that he was talking about was when he cultivated steak made out of human cells. Obviously, that brings a lot of ethical questions, really directly related to science. Or, let’s say, Mark Dion, he talks about the history of science and how at first, the way we dealt with nature in the past was exploration, then exploitation, and then right now we are forced to preserve it, and work more delicately.
So those artists – they are artists, but not in a traditional sense. That’s why I think specifically for the students, who are dealing with science and technology, having this new look at science, when it’s not just purely to be for economic or political reasons – it’s a way for them to explore it in a new way. Because science in a way is also a medium. And the medium is the message. I think that’s why it was very interesting for the students and I think that it was a good experience.
Did the students get a chance to view some of the works by the guest artists?
Yeah, absolutely. They first talked about their own work, their own research, what they do, and then after that, I prepared a few questions for the speakers and then the students were asking their own questions.
Were you happy with the students’ participation?
Absolutely, and they were very, very active, and that always surprises me, because I always think, okay, those are science students – and again, coming back to your first question, what does science have to do with art? I think the students that Skoltech is able to attract, those are students that are not just interested in science for the sake of science. In main cases they are entrepreneurs, they like to see how things could be applied in different ways. So I was amazed how active they were.
Since this was the first iteration of this particular course, are you planning to continue it during the ISP? Do you overall think this was a good experience?
I think so. I don’t know how things are going to be in the future, many speakers were a lot more enthusiastic about speaking over Zoom, because they know that this is the reality that we live in. If we are going back to normal, whatever that normal is going to be, – honestly, nobody likes teaching online. Nobody likes getting a lecture online. Maybe a few people do, but many people do not. You need to have this chemistry with the students; you need to see their faces. You need to have their response. You can do that with those little screens, but I’m afraid it’s not the same.
In terms of how successful it is – I think you should ask students. I hope so.
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