A Conversation Between Science and Art – NYU Shanghai x Lu Yang
On July 24, 2016, NYU Shanghai Art Gallery and the Computational and Cognitive Neuroscience (CCN) Summer School co-organized A Conversation Between Science and Art. New media artist Lu Yang shared her work with students from around the world and world-class neuroscientists from institutions such as NYU, Stanford, Yale, MIT and Google DeepMind.
The presentation focused on Delusional Mandela, a video narrative rooted in the artist’s long time fascination with neuroscience, which she found herself reading about on a daily basis. According to Lu Yang, her work is simply the result of her own investigation of the human brain using the tool with which she’s most familiar: video art.
Thirty people, mostly graduate students, post-docs, and faculty members participated in the lively discussion, the scope of which quickly went beyond neuroscience and entered into the fields of religion and philosophy. The video presentation was paused a few times to address questions and comments from the audience.
During the discussion, in order to illustrate her point, Lu Yang decided to show footage of another work based on her observations of Parkinson’s disease. She was asked, “do you want your art to make people more aware of these diseases, or do you have a personal connection to them?” She replied, “I’m not sure if my work would raise awareness of the disease. There are people who think I’m showing the very dark side of our lives. I’m very interested in Parkinson’s disease, and therefore I’ve included this particular mental condition as the subject matter of my artistic investigation.”
Lu Yang posed many questions to the scientists, including asking them “Do you think a god needs a brain?” The scientists were more pragmatic, suggesting that “the brain is just a collection of neurons.” When Lu Yang asserted that “science is another way of religion,” a scientist quickly disagreed, saying, “Science is not like that. Religion is absolute and science is relative.”
The cross-disciplinary dialogue, hosted by the NYU Shanghai Art Gallery, was exciting but casual, with many questions left unanswered. The goal of A Conversation Between Art and Science was, not meant to reach any conclusion or find answers, but to share diverse perspectives, offering an opportunity for interactions between art and science.