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How Can Art And Science Support Each Other?

Collaboration between art and science regularly leads to surprising innovations. How biology and architecture, psychology, and the visual arts can reinforce each other. If everything goes as planned, a huge massive block of art will be constructed near Rotterdam within two years. Eight by eight meters in area, twelve meters high. What makes it special is that while art tools like house paintbrushes are easily accessible you can search and read more about house paint brushes, the material the artists want to use is not because it has never been produced on such a large scale.


“Art and science have more in common than you might initially think,” says visual artist Barbara Visser. This month, after three years, she stepped down as president of the Academy of Arts. “Science seems very precise and systematic, but there too it is all about creativity, daring, and patience.” According to her, it was one of the reasons for the KNAW to give artists a place within the Academy again. ‘Weather’, because when the KNAW was founded in 1808, it was still called the Royal Institute of Sciences, Literature, and Fine Arts. Artists and scientists were on an equal footing. It was Thorbecke who expelled the artist class because in a liberal state the government was not allowed to influence the liberal arts.


The RAAAF sandstone project – a collaboration with Atelier de Lyon – is a good example of this. Biotechnician Leon van Paassen, who obtained his Ph.D. on environmentally friendly sandstone, came into contact with RAAAF ten years ago. Architects and artists such as Rietveld and De Lyon are valuable to him because they show how his lab work can be applied in practice. “They encourage me to think out of the box. At the moment, our technology has not been applied much in practice and is quite expensive. Contractors are therefore often still skeptical.” Erik and Ronald Rietveld are speeding up the development process with the design for the giant sand block in the port of Rotterdam. Until now, the largest block made in Delft was 40 cubic meters. The design for the port of Rotterdam requires almost twenty times more sandstone. “The researchers feel challenged to grow such a large amount of bacteria,” says Ronald Rietveld enthusiastically. And driving this process is also important to him. “Who knows, we may be able to build dune houses in fifteen years’ time.”


The collaboration has even more to offer. Van Paassen: “It is the task of science to show the world what we do. Architects help us with that.” People will soon be able to see and touch the sand block. “Making scientific research tangible and experienceable”, the Studio RAAAF duo calls this. “We can show the potential of the research. But it also appeals visually. That is important because you have to touch people first. Only then do they delve deeper into the subject.” “In addition”, Erik adds, “we often achieve much more international impact through media attention with our art than I ever could with a philosophical article.”

Office of the future

When art and science become intertwined, the boundaries sometimes seem to blur. In ‘The End of Sitting’ Erik and Ronald Rietveld, together with Barbara Visser, explored what the office of the future could look like. They were inspired by scientific research by Hidde van der Ploeg about the dangers of sitting a lot for health. His work, combined with the philosophical idea that the environment shapes our behavior, led to the creation of an office landscape without desks or chairs. After experimenting with people’s lying, supporting, and learning positions, the artists created an office landscape that should encourage people to work in new positions and to change positions more often. Once the installation was completed, scientists at the University of Groningen decided to investigate the effects of the End of the Sitting landscape. The results were positive. So in this case it was the artists who, inspired by science, did research and created something new.

Lebensreform movement

The role of the artist as a researcher is taken to a higher level at Leiden University. Visual artists can follow a special Ph.D. trajectory there at the Humanities. The final project consists of both a work of art and research that places the work in an academic context. Ruchama Noorda, for example, obtained her doctorate in 2015 for the Lebensreform movement, which emerged at the end of the nineteenth century. In her own work, from a critical point of view, she takes a lot of inspiration from the movement that revolves around an alternative lifestyle, back to nature. For her dissertation, she studied various media outputs surrounding the movement to analyze its influence on European and American art and culture. Her dissertation consisted not only of the written research but also of an exhibition. At the center of the space was a cave, built of wire mesh and natural materials. People could sit here on a cushion to watch a video, in which Noorda herself can be seen eating a medicinal plant, interspersed with a visualization of the trip she subsequently experienced.