The audience has a crucial role to play

What I have learned from working with scientists over the past three years is that almost everything you can say about an artist can be said about a scientist. Both are driven by ideas they seek to surface. The rigorous practice of a scientist is the same rigorous practice that is integral to creating art. There are technicians in both fields who stay on the safe edges of their work, hiding behind technique; but what stands out is that people with courage and imagination in both fields are the ones rewarded with discoveries about human experience and natural phenomena.

A famous nineteenth-century thinker, Claude Bernard, captured the connection between science and art beautifully when he said: “Those who do not know the torment of the unknown cannot have the joy of discovery.” This shared passion of scientists and artists to reveal ideas and insights from deep within ourselves, forms a crucial connection between our disciplines.

So passion unites us, but so does our curiosity. It is not just our tendency to ask questions that marks the resemblance. It is the nature of our questioning that brings our work closer together than we might suspect. Intuition! It is a powerful tool in both science and art. And it is what allows our minds to suspect connections between seemingly unrelated variables. Our minds form connections between observations of distinct phenomena through intuition, and in so doing, we take knowledge in new directions.

An Example: One day, I was struck intuitively by the realization that dance audiences, choreographers, and behavioural ecologists share a similar attribute. Each faces the task of observing non-verbal language and applying meaning to it. We each put a fair amount of mental energy into viewing this non-verbal language composed of movements and actions, and then attempt to construct a sort of logic that allows these movements to suggest meaning and to resonate.

The starting point for EXPERIMENTS was this moment of intuition (the moment each of our scientists refers to as the AHA moment). My goal in this project, since that moment has been to investigate how the eyes of dancers and ecologists, and soon audiences, witness non-verbal language and how our minds attach meaning to it. Each discovery feeds back into the creation of this work.

There is nothing more true about science and art, than that both are about the study of nature (the nature of molecules, animals, societies, bodies, people) and that only with an open mind can we detect anything new that enriches our collective understanding. This same open-mindedness is the key to being a satisfied viewer of dance. You must bring yourself to the act of interpreting non-verbal language, like a child, without judgement, and dive in.

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