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Ten simple rules for hosting artists in a scientific lab

Rillig, Matthias C.; Bonneval, Karine; Lutz, Christian de; Lehmann, Johannes; Mansour, India; Rapp, Regine; Spačal, Saša; Meyer, Vera

Hosting an artist in a scientific lab is likely a new experience for many scientists in the natural and engineering sciences, and perhaps also for many artists, yet it can be a very beneficial experience for both parties [1]. “Art and science are in a tension that is most fruitful when these disciplines observe and penetrate each other and experience how much of the other they themselves still contain” [2]. During our science and art collaborations in the last years, we have learned what connects and what separates our disciplines, how different yet common our worlds of working and thinking are, and how stimulating such collaborations can be. Although scientists and artists belong to two different cultural worlds, many share research as a congruent method to explore and understand the world around us. Often, scientific and artistic work spaces are indistinguishable as they are full of equipment, materials, tools, and computers to run experiments and analyze data [3,4]. Science and art are fundamentally connected through their focus on creativity [5]. Also, both scientists and artists deliberately venture into the public realm in the spirit of Hannah Arendt: “Humanity is never won in loneliness and never by handing one’s work over to the public. Only if you take your life and person[ality] into the venture of the public realm, will you reach [humanity]” [6]. At the most fundamental level, science and art both try to understand the world around us and to guide society to recognize and solve problems. Artistic and scientific research may also have much more in common than one expects at first sight: They both involve years of schools and personal development, they both involve trial and error, and the sharing of results with different communities. However, transdisciplinary cooperation requires openness, a willingness to take risks, the ability for self-reflection, respect, and esteem for the other culture as well as a lot of appreciative listening from both parties [7,8]. Our paper thus intends to serve as a practical guide for both, artists-in-residence and the hosting scientific lab to easier cross borders, to better collaborate, to better learn from each other, and to sustainably bridge the different cultures of science and the arts. Our discussion starts at the point where a decision for such an interaction has already taken place. Still wondering if this is for you? There is much to gain for both sides. For the scientists, for example, this interaction can be a source of new ideas and questions, offering new points of view. Some of us also felt that this interaction offered training in explaining research in clear, simple language, and provided opportunities for interfacing with the science-curious public in a curated context. For the artists, this can be about learning new tools, methods, and approaches and about the specific topics on which a lab works.
Published in: PLoS Computational Biology, 10.1371/journal.pcbi.1008675, PLOS