[ISEA94] Paper: Richard Wright – Art and Science in Chaos: Contesting Readings of Scientific Visualization


This essay explores how scientific knowledge is diffused into society through the medium of scientific visualisation, taking the late eighties phenomena of Chaos Culture as an example.

I will compare two recent approaches to the problem of finding a place for scientific visualisation as a cultural artifact. Vivian Sobchack’s reading of Chaos Culture in her 1990 Artforum article gives a cultural critique of chaos imagery as a postmodernist metaphor in the worst sense, of a refusal of bodily scale and the historical situation. In Donna Haraway’s recent work she tries to construct a way of contesting scientific knowledge or stories for the creation of public meanings without sacrificing scientific values. This takes the form of a programme of scientific literacy in which science is seen as a series of situated knowledges subject to political
and social accountability. A problem of applying this to the Chaos story is that the situation is complicated by its diffusion through imagery and media. This telling of a scientific story in visible form allows Sobchack to give a particularly aesthetic critique of chaos theory. But both approaches are needed.
Chaos theory gives a dramatic indication of how new scientific approaches have made simulation the dominant mode of knowledge – the allegory that lives its own meaning. This gives related imagery an explanatory power beyond the merely imitative or even aesthetic. We explore this role of imagery as the most appropriate way to exercise this change in perception and the possibility of a more phenomenological way of contesting science. We conclude that a
deeper level of cultural readings of scientific visualisation are needed, especially in the context of art, readings that address changes in scientific discourse more thoroughly and attend to how it now operates through imagery

  • Richard Wright was born in 1963 in Barnet, England. He is a electronic media artist, writer and lecturer. Since 1991 he has been a lecturer in Computer Graphics at London Guildhall University.