THE ART OF TECHNOLOGY
Honor Harger, Executive Director of the ArtScience Museum in Singapore, tells Joanna Lee about the fusion of technology and art in these ever-evolving times.
Honor Harger, Executive Director of the ArtScience Museum in Singapore, tells ThePeak about the fusion of technology and art in these ever-evolving times.
How did you begin your journey in art? Did you have an interest in science from the start as well? My whole career has taken place at the intersection between art and science, and art and technology. It is where I have been working creatively for the better part of 20 years. I studied Art History, Philosophy of Science and History of Science at university in New Zealand, so this fascination with both art and science was with me from an early age.
Before I became interested in art, I actually wanted to be a marine biologist, so the science actually came before art. But most of my career has been within arts organisations. What’s been distinctive about my work in the arts is integrating science and technology into cultural contexts, such as curating art and technology programmes and electronic music at Tate Modern, exhibitions in Berlin and Barcelona that explored invisible infrastructures such as the radio spectrum, and, in my final posting at Lighthouse in Brighton, UK, I commissioned projects by artists and filmmakers on topics as diverse as genetic science, surveillance, big data and astronomy. I have passion for science but, at the same time, I find the work of artists, filmmakers, musicians and designers endlessly inspiring. What is a typical day like for you at ArtScience Museum? There is such a huge diversity in what we do that there is really no typical day. What we are engaged with varies according to what exhibition is being conceptualised, designed and set up; what programmes we are devising and delivering, and which partners, sponsors and stakeholders we are liaising with. There are times that we have to work through the night and, especially in preparation of upcoming exhibitions, it is very common for me, and members of my team, to work weekends also. What are your thoughts on the arts scene in South-East Asia? Do you think it is evolving? There’s an incredible diversity of
outstanding art being produced across South-East Asia, by artists working in all disciplines. The practice of artists like these shows just how dynamic the arts sector in the region is right now. In Singapore, in particular, we’ve seen almost unprecedented growth in the arts sector, from the influx of international art exhibitions and fairs, to the development of major new infrastructure and institutions, including ArtScience Museum as well as National Gallery, Esplanade and many others. There is also strong progress being made in arts education with LASALLE College of the Arts and Nanyang Academy of Fine Arts. Do you think technology will overtake art one day? I don’t believe there’s any great dichotomy between art and technology, or art and science for that matter. Thinking of science and technology existing at one end of the creative spectrum and art at the other, often leads to all sorts of fears and misconceptions. Given that artists are often developers of new technologies and certainly amongst the first to demonstrate the creative, social and conceptual uses of hardware and software, I don’t think there’s much danger that technology will somehow overtake art. If anything, artists are embracing advances in materials science, like 3D printing and nanotechnology, to create ever more intriguing physical forms. What are the challenges that you face as Executive Director? How do you overcome them? A key challenge is providing inspiring, innovative and rigorous exhibitions and programmes for the public, while taking care of my very talented and hardworking team. Balancing these priorities, while keeping the museum on-mission and sustainable, are the challenging parts of my role. We also keep our audiences in mind and try to learn from them. Keeping our audiences intellectually and aesthetically challenged, while inspiring them to come back again and again, is a big challenge. As a museum that operates at the intersection of art, science, culture and technology, we try and signpost new trends and innovations, and that means being tuned into new developments in multiple different fields. Who is your favourite artist? Choosing a favourite artist really is like choosing a favourite child. It’s quite impossible. Maybe I can share something about a few artists who are inspiring me right now. Trevor Paglen is an American photographer and experimental geographer, who uses the technology of astronomical photography to allow us to see phenomena that are ordinarily out of view. I also deeply admire Dragan Zivadinov, who is one of the founding members of Slovenia’s legendary art movement, NSK. He is also one of the only living artists to have trained as a cosmonaut. I also adore the work of Singaporean artist, Ho Tzu Nyen, who we are welcoming back to the museum this month as part of the film and video programme, Look at the Earth from the Universe. What do you hope to achieve at ArtScience Museum? ArtScience Museum has become something of a cultural icon in Singapore, and our building has even become an integral part of the visual identity of the city. That means the museum has a big responsibility to keep delivering inspiring and engaging stories about art and science using a combination of intellectual discussion, education, beautiful design and intriguing content.
Since its opening in February 2011, we have staged large-scale exhibitions by some of the world’s major artists, as well as exhibitions that explore aspects of science. We have hosted major international exhibitions from renowned museums and galleries around the world. We have also originated and curated our own exhibitions and this is something we want to do more of. We co-curated our latest show, The Universe and Art, with the Mori Art Museum in Tokyo and we hope to be able to develop more curatorial partnerships with like-minded organisations.
We also want to continue to grow and develop our programmes. We run a full programme of education events, film screenings, performances and learning opportunities for a wide range of audiences, which touches tens of thousands of visitors per year. Programmes like ArtScience Late provides a monthly platform for local and regional performing artists like Angie Seah, The Observatory, Syndicate, Arts Fission, Bani Haykal and more to be able to develop new work and share it with the public.
So, balancing our position as Asia's premiere venue for art and science, with our role as a key part of the local and regional arts ecosystem, is something we will be very focused as we navigate the near future. Where do you look to for inspiration? Nature, usually. As Leonardo da Vinci once said: “Human subtlety will never devise an invention more beautiful, more simple or more direct than does nature, because in her inventions nothing is lacking, and nothing is superfluous.” What does art mean to you? Art is a way of exploring and understanding the universe. The Singaporean poet Alvin Pang put it quite nicely when he said: “Science is what the universe tells the human mind. Art is what the human mind tells the universe.”