This is the seventh of a series of interviews with extraordinary people who are using their skills and training as artists and humanists to improve their communities, challenge assumptions, and advance our understanding of the human condition. Originally published in the Huffpost.
CH: Thank you, Rebecca, for taking the time for this interview. Could you tell us how your journey into the worlds of art and science started?
It Started with Chemistry
I fell in love with chemistry when I was a little girl: I spent my childhood examining the world of elements with a simple chemistry set. I had a voracious appetite for learning that helped me build bridges between seemingly disparate disciplines such as astrophysics and neuroscience. I feel the awe and wonder, still, as I continue to explore.
In 2007, I created the installation Divining Nature: An Elemental Garden because I became re-energized by the periodic table. My memory of it took me back to 11th-grade science class. The room held tantalizing smells, test tubes, and Bunsen burners. Magic happened there. It was also the place where the periodic table cast a pall across the room, its rigid, gridded chart of letters and numbers glared down on us from the wall at the front of the classroom. I was taught science through the drill and kill method in the 50s. We were not taught to see how things interrelate. I memorized all the numbers on the periodic table, but never derived personal significance.
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CH: What would you say to students and young professionals who are interested in both the arts and the sciences? How do they fit together and what has been their influence on your career path?
By conducting extensive research, I have realized that before the advent of the camera, scientists were artists. They created beautiful paintings and drawings to represent what they examined. I verified my findings in conversation with a discussion with the late Nobel Laureate, and American physician and geneticist, Baruch Blumberg. According to Blumberg, science is an illusion—very much like magic. Scientists and artists have intuitions about certain things, which provides the basis for their research. Both disciplines conduct experiments and collect data in a manner that tries to support the illusion, creating a path for making the invisible, visible.
For me, these disciplines fit collectively. Students and young professionals will find that collaborating with other artists, dancers, musicians, and poets can enhance your art practice and provide greater meaning to those who view the work. These artists have insights that can complement your own and together they can provide new and exciting ways to interpret science. Our projects become multi-referential because they create bonds between various scientific fields and historical and cultural references.
CH: To conclude, people have called your work visionary. Do you agree?
My seeing seemingly disparate disciplines as interwoven perhaps appears visionary to some. For me, it is just how I perceive and understand the world. I seek out scientists who come from contrasting disciplines and have deep, meaningful conversations with them. I observe their research problems through a different lens, and I see possibilities as I view across the many disciplines I’ve encountered. I see how relevant it is by humanizing science and by making it accessible to everyone.
Humanizing Science: Rebecca Kamen Awakens Scientific Discovery Through the Arts and Humanities
September 30, 2017 | 0 Comments