As an artist and a teacher, I feel extremely fortunate. I get to have the cake and eat it – most of the time. I get to make art about science and teach science with art – most of the time. When I am making dance I am acutely aware that at the heart of what I want to do is create awareness about scientific concepts, however, when I am standing in front of thirty pupils in a secondary school classroom, I am aware of just how difficult it is to engage pupils in science. I am aware that this is just not the case with young people but is a wider societal problem. It so often feels as though the problem is the word Science.
Science = Difficult. This is what I find is often the case with a lot of young people. So, as an artist, I feel like I have an alternative I can use…my dance. In a very simplistic way I see the dance as a way in.
To people who don’t have an interest or love for either, the arts and sciences can seem like polar opposites. One is often seen as a data driven practice by introverted people, in white coats in labs and the other by weird and wonderful eccentrics, driven by emotion. Some of us who work in both, know very well that the similarities in the process of working between artists and scientists outweighs the differences. The stereotypical differences between an artist’s and scientist’s process is a misconception. We often ask the same type of question. “What matters?”, “How do we engage society?” Both disciplines, research, search and explore deeply these questions albeit in a slightly different way with slightly different tools. We have a lot to learn from each other. In Da Vinci’s time, the arts and science seemed to co exist quite naturally even if both practices were still maturing.
I have been lucky enough to work with scientists who see the two worlds as not so separate. Professor Morten Kringelbach often speaks so eloquently about how much he got from the process of making The Shiver, my first work for Sadhana. He talks about the way he looks at the creativity that exists in his own process and how it has altered since the Shiver. It was almost as though he was seeing what he has been doing for so many years through a slightly different lense.
Professor Roger Kneebone – an absolute hero of mine – helped me see surgery through in many different ways for Under My Skin. Through the lens of a jazz musician, a puppeteer, a milliner, a surgeon, a surgical nurse, an anesthetist, a Saville Row suit maker. It was such a wonderful process to see just how similar surgery procedure could be to so many of these practices. I remember having an incredible conversation with Roger about improvisation and surgery. Scary to know that improvisation goes on during surgery but I am sure the asking of questions does not stop during complicated surgical procedures. I will never forget the email I received from a surgical nurse who after watching Under My Skin said, she had never had anyone look at what she did in so much detail and interpret it through another set of eyes.
She said “I really enjoyed watching what I do through dance” This is why I feel lucky. Lucky to be researching, collaborating, thinking deeply, engaging, data crunching, exploring, moving, watching movement and most importantly constantly asking. I take a long time to make work. I spend a long time digesting and allowing thoughts, ideas and fruits of my research, which is often ongoing beyond the work itself, to, by osmosis diffuse through to the psyche, imagination and anatomy.
I often still think about the humbling experience of sitting in on family and one to one therapy sessions at the Maudsley Hospital as part of my research around young people and mental health for Unkindest Cut, my installation in two shipping containers. That research will always remain ongoing for as long as I continue to work with young people. As a teacher, it has fed into my day to day dealings with pupils and as an artist, I continue to want to make work and work in community settings to raise more awareness about some of the most important and poignant issue that face young people today.
Artists can play a huge role in the navigation of the scientific unknown. Artists involved in scientific research at an early stage can bring a huge deal to the process. Artists can be great collaborators in the communication of scientific concepts and ideas. Having done scientific research myself (albeit at undergraduate level), I am so much more aware now of just how much creativity plays a role in the process. However I rarely hear it spoken of in that way.
I often threaten my family that I am going to do a Masters in Microbiology, as I really want to engage in the creativity of the scientific process again but knowingly this time. I want to research wearing both the science and arts hat. I am curious as to what kind of a science student I might be now.
DaVinci said, “Art is the queen of all sciences communicating knowledge to all the generations of the world.” Artists and scientists see the world with a similar curiosity and are equally inquisitive. The open mindedness and need to express and share by both artists and scientists collaborating together can only be a good thing for the world and all that face us today.
However, back to Sadhana and dance, I continue to be excited and continue to feel fortunate to have science as the driver for my creative process. I also feel incredibly fortunate to collaborate with both artists and scientists for whom this process is just as exciting. As clichéd as it may sound, I am on a journey that in theory can go on for as long as I choose to engage with it. I love dance and I love science. I teach science and I make dance. I live in hope that one day there will be more dance in my classroom and that more young people will engage in science through dance…but till then I continue to be inspired by so much around me and its beauty and how it all works.