Digital art and science: the ultimate alliance

For a long time and in the vast majority of educational institutions around the world, special attention was paid to the pedagogical approach called STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics), which encompassed science, technology, engineering, and mathematics. The idea was to awaken these vocations in young people at school and to have well-trained professionals to face the new challenges of a global society.

But the general loss of interest in science subjects among many students in the United States became inevitable. So the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) came up with the idea of incorporating art and design into the acronym, both disciplines designed to collaborate with the sciences in order to rekindle interest in them. This is how the concept of STEAM arises, through which artists and scientists not only share the same status but work in direct alliance in an increasingly technological and digital world, in which mathematics, plastic art, engineering, and literature are no longer conceived from watertight compartments but put in common and as allied concepts, building synergies to help both in learning processes and in other aspects of creation and life in general.

Within the Digital Ideas project, which seeks to analyze how the most independent cultural sector is being digitized, this meeting between art and science is essential. Among the proposals identified is Hyper Studio, a group made up of young people from different disciplines and whose location is purely digital. Their work focuses mainly on linking architecture with digital media in interdisciplinary interactive design projects. Their initiatives range from the urban everyday life of the city of Tokyo to the installation of interactive virtual reality devices at festivals, as well as the development of virtual platforms for different clients. And although their projects have a very diverse character, all of them are marked by this alliance between science and digital art.

Pablo Barquín and Anna Díaz Ortuño from Hamill Industries work in a similar way, although in their case they converge diverse technologies with visual arts and explorations around light and sound. In this way, they manage to create their own tools and invent digital and analog artifacts for various projects, always under the obsession of achieving unique designs, universes, and audiovisual experiences for video clips, commercials, art installations, and performances.

In an interview for Efeminista, the computer engineer and director of digital communication at the University of Deusto, Lorena Fernandez, says that “digital art is a beautiful window to bring STEAM to young women” and claims the role of women, never sufficiently recognized, in the beginnings of the creation of different programming languages. Together with Pablo Garaizar and Iñigo Maestro, Fernández has created the board game Nobel Run, which aims to bring women closer to scientific careers and through which they can manage research teams to win the Nobel Prize, with the challenge of obtaining funding, hiring staff and publishing articles in scientific journals. All this is under a playful experience that is located in the same line as Cienciaterapia, a project carried out by different scientific teams within hospitals where children with cancer are treated and through which interactive experiments are offered to do with the family. In this way, the necessary funding is obtained so that children undergoing treatment receive scientific workshops and can cope in the best possible way with the difficult situation in which they are immersed.

Science linked to culture can be very useful to bring us closer to the maximum possible empathy in the face of realities that are often difficult to feel if they are not experienced firsthand. To bridge this gap, the Be Another Lab project proposes a much more empathetic dimension of otherness, in relation to what the migrant and refugee population suffers on a daily basis. Through the recording of first-person stories in virtual reality, anyone who puts on the glasses will not only be able to see but also experience what the most vulnerable groups suffer on a daily basis. In a similar vein, but in this case linked to trauma and mental health, is Locus, an initiative that arose in the district of Vallecas and seeks to subvert the concept of a “place of safety” (always associated with police environments and health centers, according to the logic of psychiatry) and proposes other contemporary creative languages to vindicate coexistence with madness through the use of virtual reality.

Festivals and laboratories

The preeminence of more and more festivals and permanent labs linking digital art and science is very helpful to strengthen STEAM pedagogy strategies in their drive to generate interest in technology and science careers. And, at the same time, they are fundamental instances to help the general population to reflect on the fundamental role that science plays in the one-way path that culture is taking toward digitization.

Digital art projects made in collaboration with artificial intelligence and crypto-art with works born from NFTs were the predominant lines in the last edition of Sónar+D in Barcelona, the parallel meeting organized by the electronic music festival Sónar, which was born with the idea of generating a space for interaction and exchange between scientific and technological disciplines, art and digital culture.

The digital and audiovisual art exhibition Madatac has ten editions under its belt, always under the logic of unifying the most avant-garde manifestations in online and face-to-face formats. Each new edition of this festival brings together more than a hundred artists from around the world to exhibit their projects related to immersive experiences, virtual reality projections, or 360º equirectangular videos. The common denominator is the scientific and technological experimentation that is at the base of each of the works.

In its fourth edition, Me gustas pixelad_ was concerned with the investigation of the different edges that make up trauma and how digital art can respond to it. Through a hybrid format, face-to-face and online, this festival promoted by Casa Encendida presented ten pieces by 13 artists who proposed different ways of approaching, seeing, experimenting, and expanding the meanings of care, healing, and management of a traumatic event.

Also from Madrid, the Medialab laboratory at El Matadero offers a fruitful space for the confluence of artists, designers, and scientists, incubating multidisciplinary projects in which different branches of science, digital art, and what is known as new media converge, that is, the media and entertainment born from the digitalization of their contents.

With the idea of promoting the creation and pedagogy around sound art, both from research and from the link with other artistic and scientific disciplines, the Festival de Nova Creació Sonora de Barcelona Mixtur proposes each year a series of concerts, conferences, educational activities, round tables, and installations to be a decisive bridge between the new experimental music and the general public, besides being a focus of discovery of new trends in sound art and a pedagogical instance that stimulates the formation of new artists and researchers in the area.

The stimulation of creativity and playful experiences that encourage interaction are at the base of everything. And that is something that can only be offered by digital art and its different branches and specialties that, in this case, join scientific disciplines to expand creation to levels unsuspected until a few years ago and that contribute to awakening interest in young people for careers and vocations that historically were seen as unattainable, difficult and distant. But the mediation of art has made them closer and possible.

By: Laureano Debat