The Cultural Negotiation of Science (CNoS) brings together artists, academics and research students whose practices engage with expert cultures across a broad spectrum of science and technology. Based at Northumbria University, Newcastle, CNoS seeks to reach across publics and research communities to develop a performative approach to the production of knowledge that actively challenges the use of art as an instrumental or illustrative device to interpret science. We are committed to supporting the development of innovative, practice-based methods which re-vision the relationships between scientific and artistic research, leading to artistic outcomes which can enable community engagement as well as generate wider socio-political impact.
CNoS was founded in 2013 through the production of Extraordinary Renditions: The Cultural Negotiation of Science, an exhibition and symposium for the British Science Festival that showed how artists work with renditions of science outside its bio-medical, fundamental or technical parameters. The project took place at BALTIC Centre for Contemporary Art, Gateshead, UK allowing a large public audience access to the compelling questions thrown up when artists negotiate scientific practices – questions that often require artists to perform ‘extraordinary renditions’ across the ethical and political spaces in which personal vulnerability and risk-taking is impossible to avoid.
The unique structure of CNoS allows us to occupy a distinct position in the field of Art-Science research; our members are a mixture of current and former staff of Northumbria University as well as doctoral researchers and alumni who, collectively, bring extensive networks of collaborative working. Recent partnerships include the Anatomy Department, Kings College London (Daksha Patel) Gurukula Botanical Sanctuary, Kerala, India (Sian Bowen), Royal Botanical Gardens Edinburgh (Christine Borland) and The Laboratori Nazionali del Gran Sasso (Fiona Crisp).
We have strong links with external organisations in the contemporary art sector regionally, nationally and internationally, and are core contributors to the BxNU Institute of Contemporary Art. Artist members work from their studios, engaging with CNoS as a forum for sharing insights gained through the exchange of disciplinary practices. This form of research through practice is exemplified by Ways of Working, an event recently hosted by CNoS in collaboration with the Biochemical Society and Newcastle University’s Institute for Creative Arts Practice (NICAP) that addressed questions common to the arts, sciences and humanities – around ways of seeing, methods of working, and approaches towards developing interdisciplinary practice which may generate innovative outcomes, but where innovation is not intrinsically linked to progress.
History of cross-disciplinary research at Northumbria University
CNoS has developed out of a pioneering history for cross-disciplinary, practice-based research at Northumbria University, including a long-term partnership the Department of Arts had with Northumbria Healthcare NHS Foundation Trust. In 2011 The Royal Photographic Society Awards presented the partnership with the Combined Royal Colleges Medal for the outstanding contribution to the application of photography in the service of medicine and surgery – an award sponsored by the Royal College of Physicians of London, the Royal College of Surgeons of England and the Royal College of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists.
Prior to this, the partnership’s activities ranged from commissioning the Japanese Ryu Artists Group to create a garden at Wansbeck Hospital (2003), hosting the sculptor Ashley Hipkin’s Leverhulme Trust residency in the newly built Hexham Hospital (2006-7), and supervising Christina Kolaiti’s AHRC funded PhD, an exploration of photographic self-portraiture as a means of helping trainee doctors engage with the personal narratives of their patients (2007-9). Much of the partnership’s work was facilitated by the University’s postgraduate researchers including the 29 hospital exhibitions curated by Poyan Yee for her PhD Healing Through Curatorial Dialogue (2009) and Iku Tsuchiya’s Jo Spence Fellowship Images of Trust, which won the prestigious Nikon Salon ‘Miki Jun Award’ (2005) and The Observer ‘Seeds of Change’ competition (2006).
By the time the partnership won the medal at the Royal Photographic Society Awards, Northumbria University had become a recipient of an AHRC Block Grant. With funded practice-based PhDs such as Marianne Wilde’s exploration of the visual metaphors employed by researchers at the Institute of Genetic Medicine, Daksha Patel’s investigation into drawing and medical imaging technologies and Jacqueline Donachie’s study of sisters with myotonic dystrophy Hazel (prize winner at the AHRC’s 10th Anniversary ‘Research in Film’ Awards), the critical context for CNoS took shape.