Something From Nothing: Audacious Speculations in Art, Science & Entrepreneurialism

This project is focused on exploring the connections, overlaps and productive tensions between
three realms of activity often considered as totally distinct: 1) conceptual art, especially activist art, 2) scientific research, specifically experiment design in the natural, neuro- and social sciences, and 3) business/entrepreneurialism. In each of these domains, we will be studying imaginative acts that change the world by the illocutionary force of their own inspiration, seeking to understand the creative audacity that makes something from nothing.

“Something from Nothing” emerged from a conversation (between Eliza Slavet and Cathy Gere) about a presentation given by the neuroscientist V. S. Ramachandran in which he outlined a vision of the relationship between the sciences and the arts: with expert knowledge and insight, scientists can provide insight into the nature of creativity or the fundamental characteristics of visual and auditory perception. What was striking to us about Ramachandran’s presentation, however, was not so much his neuroscientific explanation of creativity and perception, but rather the creativity of his own research, the perceptive design of his experiments and the compelling performativity of his presentation. Where scientists implicitly engage with questions of aesthetics, performativity and presentation, these questions are the explicit concerns of artists and humanists.

With this project we aim to bring art and science into a more symbiotic relationship through which both artists and scientists will be in a position to learn from one another, specifically by considering the work of scientists and entrepreneurs through the lens of conceptual art. This allows us to focus on the ways in which creative people in these fields engage in similar processes of moving from the realm of the speculative, fantastic and imaginary to the realm of material reality that shapes the very life of humans, animals, cities, and spaces. The aim of our project is to find ways of articulating and playing with the processes that move us from speculation to reality and back again.

By focusing on audacity, we hope to shed light on the ways in which artists, scientists and entrepreneurs devise ways of making different worlds than the ones that we are “handed,” at birth and through life. Where others might see economic, institutional or infrastructural limitations as barriers to change, successful artists, scientists, and entrepreneurs are well-practiced at taking stock—of auditing— such conditions in order to begin the processes of transforming them. Yet one of the things that most clearly distinguishes these fields from one another is the mode of analysis: the evidence, framework, and logic that allows us to see the possibility for change. Artists, scientists and entrepreneurs also differ on the question of what constitutes “success” in each context: That is, what kinds of effects or changes are desired and what are the “actual” effects that ensue? Whether the project is developed and/or recognized as art, science, or commerce, there are overlapping questions, even if they are differently framed with different purposes in mind.

Group Members Include:
Emily Bovino
Marissa Brandt
Benjamin Bratton
Anthony Burr
Carolyn Chen
Ricardo Dominguez
Cathy Gere
Joe Hankins
Larissa (Ari) Heinrich
Eliza Slavet
Hermione Spriggs
Emily York

Contact: Eliza Slavet,

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