Science and Art / by Ekaterina Smirnova

I would like to say a few words here regarding the relationships of Science and Art, based on my recent observations. In my artistic career, science plays a big role, inspiring me to create various artwork. For example my two year long project about the comet 67P, which is the object of exploration by the Rosetta mission of the European Space Agency (ESA). My fascination with a “dirty snowball” (that’s how comets are unofficially called due to their composition of ice and dirt) might surprise one, to think of it – it’s just a large rock floating through space. But what got my attention is the effort of thousands of people involved in this unbelievable sci-fi style mission when after nine years of chasing the comet we landed a robotic probe on it! 

Thanks to social media and the well curated public information output by ESA I was able to follow this mission for 2 years. Working on my own and being an observer, I, in a way, was having my own personal exploration of the comet through art. A lot of research, facts collecting, figuring out how to generate my own water to paint with (that is similar in composition to the water on the comet)… A lot of fun, and yet, all on my own in my New York studio.

Solo show at ESA. "67P I" painting next to the Rosetta spacecraft model.

Solo show at ESA. "67P I" painting next to the Rosetta spacecraft model.

I was shocked when someone from ESA got in touch with me, being very curious about my artwork on the mission! This changed everything. In a few month time I found myself participating the 50th ESLAB symposium “From Giotto to Rosetta” where I was able to meet in person so many scientists from all over the world who were involved in the mission for as long as 20 years, since the beginning! You can only imagine what pleasure it is to meet, talk and share your work with this special community. Of course many scientists know each other very well, since they have been working shoulder to shoulder on the same project for many years. But what fascinated me is that I was so easily accepted in this community and was so warmly welcomed. It is clear that I am not a scientist, I don’t ever claim to be one, but yet, my work and research on the mission was not disregarded and has attracted a lot of attention (my artwork were displayed for the duration of the symposium). 

50th ESLAB symposium  “From Giotto to Rosetta” with 67P paintings on display.

50th ESLAB symposium “From Giotto to Rosetta” with 67P paintings on display.

During that week of the conference I realized, that artist’s and scientist’s mind is not that different, it must be inquisitive, creative and experimental. Also, you must be a dreamer. It is very important to be a dreamer, in order to make such ambitious projects possible. 

There is a dedication of time, as one of the sacrifices to the science and art. There is no fear of making a mistake. And there is no mistake, because a negative result is also a result. 

Some of the questions that the Rosetta mission is trying to answer are “How did the water come to the planet Earth?” or “Is it possible that life travels through the Universe via comets?”. Those questions are very philosophical, in the art world, philosophical questions are best resolved in the form of an abstraction. One may say that abstract art has no algorithm and does not follow any rules, but I disagree. Even abstract work is highly organized. There could be different approaches to each abstract work, which is so similar to the science. There are many types of science involved in answering those questions mentioned above. During the symposium I was able to discuss various topics with professionals who presented their research in front of the audience. Those scientists, like artists, use different media to create a final masterpieces. That masterpiece is on view in front of the eloquent spectators, who would discuss it and share their thoughts on it, just like an artists would present an artwork at a gallery available for critique. 

When I was working on my project I made an incorrect assumption of a fact, which I only realized during the symposium. And this is exactly why these events have a place to be, as you not only meant to share your work, but also test it and make adjustments. This experience allowed me to correct myself and make my work stronger. 

The amount of information that I was exposed in the short period of time set my mind in a creative mode, I got inspired to observe the topic (of 67P) from a different perspective, which will lead me to create more works in different media. The power of knowledge is a strong tool.

Historically Art and Science inspire each other. Scientists would question a possibility of something that has a dream quality. Can a human fly? – asks a dreamer. Yes, says the scientist, he/she can, here is how… How infinite is the Universe? – a dreamer wonders. Lets see, I will calculate it for you – ready-to-answer scientist.

I believe that we are all artists and scientist naturally, since childhood. But not many of us continue to pursue those faculties. Yet, if you are a scientist, you are a dreamer. If you are an artist, you have an inquisitive mind. Both, an artist and a scientist have much in common, why would we not want to make this connection stronger?

Show at ESTEC: Johannes Benkhoff, Joe Zender, Lee Mottram, Ekaterina Smirnova, Matt Taylor

Show at ESTEC: Johannes Benkhoff, Joe Zender, Lee Mottram, Ekaterina Smirnova, Matt Taylor