THE BOOK OF THE SCIENTIST, LIVRE DU SCIENTIFIQUE
VINZAVOD ART CENTRE, MOSCOW
10 FEBRUARY - 8 MARCH 2015
This exhibition is a programmatic one in the new sphere that we call “social science art”. It examines and displays research practices of social sciences as both the subject and context of artistic reflection. ..Its goal is an experiment in the area that Bruno Latour named “flat ontology.” On the one hand, the exhibition includes ethnographic photographs from two regions along the Volga River; on the other, these photographs are accompanied by commentary by different social scientists. Latour’s notion of flat ontology implies non-hierarchical relationship of scientific knowledge and its subject as is explored in the anthropology of science. In the context of this art project, the same non-hierarchical relationship exists between the photographs and the commentary.
Groups of researchers were invited to participate in the exhibition. They were given a series of photographs to comment on. We also enclosed some leading questions: “Who is in front of you? What do you think about the person or group of people in the picture, their material wealth, the character of the landscape or the situation captured by the photo?” The aim of the commentator was to create a format for the display of their commentary that was compatible with “artists’ books" (livre d’artiste) and the well-known genre of artists’ manuscripts, in which an artist creates illustrations for verses or a poem, and also, in some cases, writes out the text by hand. Each comment by a researcher, no matter how short, is an artifact of this “scientists’ book" (livre du scientifique).
From the point of view of this symmetry, this project is close to conceptual art, which introduces textual commentary into the framework of an image, as the conceptual artist Terry Atkinson, in his introduction to the first issue of Art-Language (1969), a journal for conceptual art, rhetorically asked: “Can this editorial … [as] an attempt to evince some outlines as to what ‘conceptual art’ is … count as a work of conceptual art?” Furthermore, as the photographer’s view and the social scientist’s view, taken together, pose new questions about both the optics of knowledge and about the composition and structure of the audience of the exhibition, this project is close to “ethnographic conceptualism,” an artistic and anthropological movement that uses methods of conceptual art in ethnography on the one hand, and conceptual art as a method of ethnographic research on the other. If we add that this experiment is also conducted with new aesthetics, and subject-matter that does not place science outside the picture’s frame, and make it a part of aesthetic reflection and artistic creation, then this is exactly what we are trying to do, creating a community that we call “the Department of Research Art.” The aim of this community is to create a space for experimentation in a flat ontology of the work of artists and scientists, a non-hierarchical atmosphere of cooperation not restricted to their professional boundaries.