Action at the Wild Margins

Art, Science, Participation, and Passion: a presentation about the Wild Margins from Janaki Ranpura on Vimeo.

PASSWORD: amsterdam

This talk speculates about how to use the dialogue between art and science to lead to action. The terms “art,” “science,” and “action” — have a great latitude of meanings. I will try to address some of these meanings via images and words.

Art and science are similar in these ways:

– ways of knowing the world that seek to open up human experience

– test reality

– help define our place in the universe

There are also important ways in which art and science are not similar:

– science proves the world exists like this; art disproves the feeling that we are alone in the world

– science observes the world we all live in; art observes the world within each of us

– science seeks to dispel opposite simultaneous conclusions; art seeks to hold a dynamism of divergent simultaneous conclusions


So, what are we talking about when we talk about art and science?

– painting, chemistry and physics, public engagement, systems engineering and machines, lab work, stone carving, distillation, writing — and many of these overlap.

How to combine the dissimilarities between art and science for a shared goal?

– As an ASIDE: – Problematizations of things effecting the effectiveness of both, such as the blurriness even of the categories. They both have theoretical and applied sides, too — all this makes it difficult to communicate with people outside the field.

What is the shared goal?

– Dialogue. Then, testing the discoveries of dialogue through objects / physical things / writing

– What does that lead to? What do you do once you’ve got the attention through those product / objects?

– Pass it on to the politicians.

– Utilize it as the non-specialists in democracy that we are (citizens, or amateur politicians).

– Influence frameworks. This can look like MARKETING, or even like propaganda (which maybe it is).

When we as artists and scientists try to communicate what art and science are doing, we really see that any boundaries for the disciplines are muddy. This interdisciplinary space is to me the most exciting space, because it contains the reality of many constantly changing viewpoints. In that space, how do you tell where to turn your attention? This is the space where passion operates.


By passion, I mean what takes up your attention. What attracts the attention of others.


Passion makes us stick to things. It answers, Why am I doing this? by saying, Because doing this is living.

And though passion is influential in decision making, there are other factors.


We often operate under the idea that we can accumulate evidence and make a decision based on that evidence. But there is a gap in our process between thinking rationally about a decision and making a decision. Our rational faculties churn away until they get tired, then we simply leap to a conclusion.


I say simply, but in that gap between the end of rational thought and coming to a decision is where education, knowledge, passion, and prejudice all operate. The gap of decision-making is the most important point of influence.

Two books have influenced by thinking on this: Predictably Irrational, by Dan Ariely, and Thinking Fast and Slow, by Daniel Kahneman.


So there are formal ways of educating people about the rational part of decision-making. But how do you influence that irrational gap? How do you influence it often enough to get a reliable result — that is, reliably avoiding disastrous consequences?

Making information accessible to many points of the spectrum is important in order to build consensus. How do you influence that irrational gap in people across a really diverse spectrum of rational inputs, meaning how do you influence it amongst people of very different educations and upbringings? We run into another problem equally shared in art as well as science: how results, if they only effect a homogenous group of like-minded people, are discounted, and they become valid if they effect a heterogenous group, but work effecting a heterogenous group risks being dumbed-down, artificial, or impossible.


But assuming there is a way forward across a broad spectrum, I speculate it is by communicating passion.

How do you communicate passion? — I don’t know. Silly drawings, mammoth sculptures, mountains of data, excellent machines, cocktails. Something somewhere in the wild margins.


Communication via language is one of the most sophisticated things that we do. It actually helps us get a little further with each generation, because when it is used and received well, it can help us avoid mistakes by proxy. The better we are at developing a form of language that communicates the specific things we know, the more space we open up for change in our species.


Opening up space for change in our species is not a measurable outcome.

Outcomes are really the place of policy. I’d prefer to think about directions, and impact is a nice word because it indicates a crash that can cause a change of course. So I would ask, are the people framing inquiries the best ones to evaluate the outcomes of their questions? Or does that actually require a fundamentally different way of thinking, a different language, meaning a different perch on the view of the world?


So, a list of markers for a good project in an art and science collaboration:

– What framework is bring influenced? Study the framework and name it.

– Where is the passion / danger — what can and should be risked for the sake of influencing this thing we’ve named?

– Does the project use science’s ability to prove something about the world in which we live, and art’s ability to disprove that we are all alone? In other words, is it factually sound, intellectually interesting or novel, as well as have an emotional impact that helps us confront our individuality and feel like it is multiplied?

– Does it cross into policy? Do we want it to? Do we have the right tools and people in place to have a responsibility for impacts? At what point are we quit of the spread of impacts — in other words, for how long are we committed to stewardship in order to see this project done?


I am curious to see how I and the people I surround myself with, how successful can we be at influencing each others’ passions? And to conclude — is that a good goal? What stands in its way?

Thank you.