Do art and science mix? PART TWO: PUTTING THE MUSE IN MUSEUM

“The difference between science and the arts is not that they are different sides of the same coin… or even different parts of the same continuum, but rather, they are manifestations of the same thing. The arts and sciences are avatars of human creativity”

–  Mae Jemison, the first African American woman in space

We’re all familiar with traditional science museums – buildings filled dusty taxidermied birds and dinosaur bones. The idea of a museum generally makes us think of history and old things. But that was not the original intention.

Some slightly creepy taxidermied animals. By Ashish Sehgal (Own work) [CC BY-SA 4.0 (https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/4.0)], via Wikimedia Commons
The word “museum” has its roots in the Ancient Greek, Μουσεῖον, which was a place or shrine dedicated to the Muses – Greek goddesses that inspire art, literature and science. Today our museums hold artefacts that are the products of the Muses inspiration. But arguably they are also spaces meant to encourage inspiration.

Science museums today are becoming bolder in their efforts to inspire people to learn and discover. Following from the first interactive science exhibits in Munich’s Deutsches Museum in the early 20th century, science museums or “discovery centres” are becoming increasingly interactive, topical and even a little bit arty.

To name a few: Tokyo’s Miraikan, the National Museum of Emerging Science and Innovation, has a cute robot puppy that visitors get to hold and is home to the famous robot Asimo; New York’s Climate Museum engages citizens in real climate solutions; and Rio de Janeiro’s Museum of Tomorrow has interactive exhibits that simulate different futures (and the building itself is energy efficient and modelled on a bromeliad).

Science museums are places where politics and science can meet – literally. Here we see Malcolm Turnbull shaking hands with Asimo at Miraikan Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade website – www.dfat.gov.au [CC BY 3.0 au (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/3.0/au/deed.en)], via Wikimedia Commons
This new breed of science museum goes beyond presenting of the facts; they look towards the innovations of the future and are arenas for social and political commentary.  Science Galleries (see PART ONE of “Do art and science mix?”) are an extra step in the evolution of science museums and are part of the larger “Sci Art” movement. The Science Galleries are shifting the boundaries of what “museum” can be, with exhibits that are not just educational but transformative.

Sometimes science is basically already art, as this microscopy image of a male hazelnut flower proves. By ZEISS Microscopy from Germany [CC BY 2.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0)], via Wikimedia Commons
Even more spaces are fusing fact and fiction in similar ways. Plus, many galleries and universities are having exhibitions laced with scientific themes. The SciArt Centre in New York hosts intimate pop-up exhibitions and events at the intersection of art and science with themes like quantum mechanics or the human body. A little closer to home, The University of Melbourne hosts an annual scientific photography competition called Under The Coverslip which features dazzling images of life at the microscopic level. The ArtScience museum in Singapore is a more commercial space which hosts international exhibitions on art and science, and has a permanent exhibition that displays the wonder and beauty of science.

Many people still see science as something “other” to daily life, as something that is only understandable to academics. This innovation we are seeing in more interactive, inspiring and artistic science exhibits is a much-needed step in connecting science and society.