....Research Topics and Speculation about Art and Public Space by Scottish Citizen and artist Matt Baker

Wednesday, 12 May 2010

science and her bastard sister

‘The principles of association are excellent in themselves, and indeed, absolutely essential for the working of the human mind. Legitimately applied they yield science; illegimately applied they yield magic - the bastard sister of science.’
James Frazer ‘The Golden Bough’ 1890

I was reminded of Frazer’s influential and notorious anthropological treatise when I was recently accused by an art critic of making works that aspired to magic. I was puzzled by this as I had always (ratherly lazily) used the word magic to mean something fantastical and astonishing.

Looking through Frazer’s gaze I see that he understands the idea of magic as an alternative way of functioning in the world - a direct opposite (and threat) to the rational worldview of modernity that was in the ascendant in his era. Magic is viewed as a science of sympathetics -ie the idea of countering one influence with something analgous to it, or encouraging an outcome with the use of something ‘sympathetic’ to the desired result - but consciously (and probably of necessity), being without any empirical foundation.
I am fascinated by Science - I find the the outer frontiers of research utterly compelling, they inspire my creativity as I grapple with the implications and imagery of each new line of inquiry- speculating and associating about what it means to be human living in time and place as we experience it. 

I unashamedly make associations, I freely couple one idea with another unconfined by any legitimacy other than my own sense of what ‘has value’.
I am currently working on an environmental artwork for the area surrounding an isolated rural village in SW Scotland.The key feture of the village of New Luce is that two major rivers merge in the village. In this project I have illegimately associated ideas of archeology, geomorphology, biology and hydrology. To date this process has taken more than 6 months and involved most of the village - last week I was given the consent and budget to carry the work to completion. I am questioning what this work is for - in my mind the idea of re-linking the place to the forces that shape it, is ultimately to the benefit the ‘health’ of the village.

It is important to me that I DO NOT have a desired outcome in mind - rather that if the process is entered honestly and generously by all parties then the outcome will be surprising and valuable. 

Does this make me a would be magician or a would be scientist?

Ultimately, I feel this is the wrong question. There is a tradition of magic in art -ancient and modern (eg Beuys).....but I hope that our age will be seen as one of synthesis rather than opposition...an age in which science is given permission to loosen up a bit and admit that is a form of creativity too and one in which the rest of us are allowed the freedom to legitimately associate with scientific material as a means of furthering our own expedition into the human condition. The challenge is to exchange ‘polymath’ for ‘jack of all trades’ at every oportunity

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