It’s curiosity that bridges the gaps between art and science (part 1)

Subtle Technologies’ Founder, artist and former engineer Jim Ruxton shares what artists and scientists have in common, how last-minute calamities can yield the best surprises, and what we have to look forward to at the festival this year. Interview by Megan DePutter.

Megan: The scope of the festival –  “blurring the boundaries between art and science” – sounds incredibly wide. How do you determine which presenters to have at a festival?

Jim: It’s true, it is a broad scope. In past years we have focused on specific themes. This year we are opening the doors to art and science in general. Our first few years also were programmed across the entire art science spectrum, so we are returning to our roots this year. As in past years, we put out a call for submissions. Based on the numerous submissions, myself and our jury choose those presentations that will give an interesting perspective of some of the latest ideas and trends in art and science. From our chosen submissions themes begin to emerge.

We also have a poster session so those presentations that don’t quit fit into our presentation program may fit into our poster session. Our goal is to try and include a wide range of topics to generate conversations across disciplines. We also have curators who independently put together various programs such as exhibitions, performances and screenings with my input.

Megan: The arts and sciences cultures are often alienated from each other, and each contains many subgroups within themselves. How do you attend to these differences; in other words, how do you bridge these very distant worlds?

Jim: I think Subtle Technologies bridges these distant worlds by celebrating what artists and scientists have in common. Both artists and scientists share the joy of discovery, wonder and exploration. They are both involved in the process of trying to describe nature and the world around them. Also I think scientists are often surprised at Subtle Technologies by the keen interest artists and the general public have in their work. Often it is this curiosity that helps to bridge gaps. Many of the artists that present at our festival are very technically savvy. Scientists are interested to see the level of engagement artists have with some of the tools and techniques often used by scientists.

Megan: What is the most challenging thing about pulling together a festival of this type? Were there skills you had to pick up that were foreign to you as an engineer / artist?

Jim: I think there are many challenges. Some of which are being overcome as we bring more team members on board. Financing the festival has been a challenge. Our festival sits between art and science so it is often difficult to find funders that understand that. Typically an organization is either art or science based. This makes communicating about Subtle Technologies difficult as well. It would be so much easier if we were just a dance or film festival. Over the years I have certainly picked up skills at writing grants. Now that we have our Managing Director, Jen Dodd, on board many of the things I previously had to do have been taken off my plate so I can focus on programming. Another major challenge I have faced in the past is convincing scientists that they should come and present their work at Subtle Technologies. That has been a tough sell as scientists typically talkeabout their work at specific scientific conferences. I’ve gotten better at this over the years.

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