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Labpunk: curiosity, intra-action and creativeness in a physics-art collaboration
journal contributionposted on 06.12.2017, 00:00 by A Milroy, M Wegener, Ashley HolmesAshley Holmes
In 2014, the professional society of physicists in Australia themed their national conference “The Art of Physics” (Canberra, 7-11 December, 2014). The aim was to “stimulate diverse and creative participation in the Congress” and delegates were encouraged to be “adventurous” (“Australian Institute of Physics”). Wegener, a physicist with a deep interest in the arts, invited Milroy, an artist with a deep interest in science, to collaborate to produce a body of artistic work addressing the Congress theme. Their shared experiences as metalsmiths led to the idea to transform physics relics into wearable art and small sculptural objects. Wegener’s respect for the artefacts of physics research had resulted in a collection of lab “junk.” Making use of this variety of oddments stretched the knowledge and skill of the metalsmiths, who were forced in some cases to handle unfamiliar materials and to try new processes. The term “Labpunk” was coined to describe the resulting works of art and science. In addition to an exhibition of approximately 50 works during the Congress, individual pieces were commissioned as gifts for each of the nine plenary speakers (Figure 1). Each gift was inspired by the research interests of the speaker. Throughout the collaboration the pair followed a fourfold aspiration: to create by making wearable works of art and small sculptural objects; to reflect on their practice with special attention to recording a dialogue between the science of physics and the art of metalsmithing and jewellery-making; to interact, by networking and engaging in discourse that spans cultural divides; and to address thefinite through repurposing materials (Wegener & Milroy).For this article, Wegener and Milroy invited creative practice researcher, Holmes, to extend the collaboration. Initially Holmes was actively engaged “in conversation” with photographs and several physical Labpunk works, without any prior explanation by the duo. Once Holmes had made his observations, the artists added more information about each work, in terms of inspiration, technique, process, materials, recipient’s reactions and so on. Holmes took on the role of provocateur, subsequently extending the discussion to incorporate an in-depth critique of someof the assumptions behind their aspirations, and to speculate on those works that aim to interpret and be inspired by physics as wearable art. The conversations were recorded and subsequently transcribed, edited and built on over multiple drafts, circulated by email and collaboratively negotiated. Specifically, the intent was to tease out issues of process, practice and knowledge making.