Art-Science Collaboration in an EPSRC/BBSRC-Funded Synthetic Biology UK Research Centre.
Here I examine the potential for art-science collaborations to be the basis for deliberative discussions on research agendas and direction. Responsible Research and Innovation (RRI) has become a science policy goal in synthetic biology and several other high-profile areas of scientific research. While art-science collaborations offer the potential to engage both publics and scientists and thus possess the potential to facilitate the desired "mutual responsiveness" (Rene von Schomberg) between researchers, institutional actors, publics and various stakeholders, there are potential challenges in effectively implementing collaborations as well as dangers in potentially instrumentalizing artistic work for science policy or innovation agendas when power differentials in collaborations remain unacknowledged. Art-science collaborations can be thought of as processes of exchange which require acknowledgement of and attention to artistic agendas (how can science be a conceptual and material resource for new aesthetics work) as well as identification of and attention to aesthetic dimensions of scientific research (how are aesthetics and affective framings a part of a specific epistemological resource for scientific research). I suggest the advantage of specifically identifying public engagement/science communication as a distinct aspect of such projects so that aesthetic, scientific or social science/philosophical research agendas are not subsumed to the assumption that the primary or only value of art-science collaborations is as a form of public engagement or science communication to mediate biological research community public relations. Likewise, there may be potential benefits of acknowledging an art-science-RRI triangle as stepping stone to a more reflexive research agenda within the STS/ science communication/science policy community. Using BrisSynBio, an EPSRC/BBSRC-funded research centre in synthetic biology, I will discuss the framing for art-science collaborations and practical implementation and make remarks on what happened there. The empirical evidence reviewed here supports the model I propose but additionally, points to the need to broaden the conception of and possible purposes, or motivations for art, for example, in the case of cross-sectoral collaboration with community engaged art.