Synapse: Where Art and Science Meet



Artist John McCormick Steph Hutchison dancing with haptic robot. © Deakin Motion.lab

Combining the ying and yang of scientific practice and artistic practice might seem an unusual thing to do, but a Copyright Agency Cultural Fund-supported project, called Synapse, is doing just that, with surprising results.

Synapse was established by the Australian Network for Art and Technology (ANAT) in 2004. It has enabled collaborations between more than a hundred artists and scientific researchers and can continue to innovate because of a recent three-year grant of $120,000 from the Copyright Agency’s Cultural Fund.

ANAT Director, Vicki Sowry, says, “Receiving support through the Copyright Agency’s Cultural Fund means we can continue to deliver the residency program as well as offer the opportunity for previous participants to meet, network and seed new collaborations at our first-ever Synapse Alumni meeting in May in Adelaide.”

Synapse brings artists and scientists together to pursue collaborative research and to contribute to the development of new knowledge, ideas and processes beneficial to both fields. It provides artists with unique in-situ access to leading edge researchers, technology and professional networks required to bring their creations to life.

For the scientists, the Synapse collaborations introduce new thinking and different approaches to the research. This can be as concrete as developing a new tool, or as ephemeral as bringing questions of empathy to be applied to medical research projects.

“Synapse’s focus is on speculative research,” explains Ms Sowry. “This sets the program apart from other programs as its ensures a deep, meaningful collaboration between the parties, one centred on applying different knowledge systems and ways of thinking to current research questions.”

Synapse selects four collaborative partnerships between artists and scientists from a national call for applicants. Those selected for residencies include both mid-career and early-career artists to support their artistic and research objectives.

A recent project made possible by Synapse was Bright Hearts, a research collaboration between artist Dr George Khut and paediatrician Dr Angie Morrow at The Children’s Hospital at Westmead. It looked into ways to calm and help manage the pain and anxiety of children undergoing medical procedures. Using biofeedback-based artworks they developed a method of improving patient care, specifically for children, through active distraction and self-calming techniques.

Thomas with BrightHearts App, 2014. George Poonkhin Khut and Jason McDermott (Sensorium Health). Photograph by Lucy Parakhina.
Thomas with BrightHearts App, 2014. George Poonkhin Khut and Jason McDermott (Sensorium Health). Photograph by Lucy Parakhina.

 

A significant number of research collaborations such as Bright Hearts continue well past the term of the formal residency period, which speaks to the revolutionary alliances created by these interdisciplinary partnerships and distinguishes ANAT in the Australian and international arts landscape.

“As the early adopter of the Australian arts sector, ANAT does the trial and error R&D, as we scan the horizon and identify opportunities for artists, often in non-traditional settings. In doing so, we contribute to Australia’s growing reputation for creativity and innovation,” says Ms Sowry.

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