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Art & Science Symposium

November 9-10, 2007

Bernard Snell Hall, Walter C. Mackenzie Health Science Center
University of Alberta Hospital
8440-112 Street, Edmonton

The Art & Science Symposium is a two day event exploring the places where art and science converge and commingle.

The Symposium will feature an opening keynote address by Alan Lightman and three panels exploring the themes:

  • Mysteries Unfolding: Science, Art and the Body
  • All in the Mind: Learning, Aesthetics, and Ways of Knowing
  • Manifestations: The Tangible Object

Download the full Art & Science Symposium program


Friday November 9

Welcome and Opening Remarks:
Eric Newell, Chancellor, University of Alberta
Keynote Speaker
Alan Lightman

At the Crossroads of Science and the Arts

In this lecture, physicist and novelist Alan Lightman discusses the differences and similarities between the scientific and artistic endeavors, drawing upon his own unique experience as a member of both communities. From his unique point of view, he explores different ways of knowing the world, different approaches to truth, and different patterns of creativity.

The presentation will be followed by questions and participatory audience dialogue/discussion.

photo of AlanAlan Lightman

"A scientist who is a humanist in the noblest sense of the word." That's what The Los Angeles Times calls bestselling author Dr. Alan Lightman, one of a select group of thinkers whose work has successfully and elegantly bridged the gap between the worlds of science and art. A theoretical physicist and a writer, Alan Lightman's novels include The Diagnosis, a finalist for the National Book Award, and the international bestseller Einstein's Dreams, which has become one of the most widely read books on college campuses. Salman Rushdie calls it "at once intellectually provocative and touching and comic and so very beautifully written." Lightman's much-anticipated new novel, Ghost, explores the delicate divide between the physical world and the spiritual world.

Praised by The New York Times as "a scientist in love with words, one who can write clearly and appealingly about his subject for a lay readership," Lightman is widely considered one of the great scientific interpreters of his generation. His acclaimed non-fiction books include A Sense of the Mysterious and The Discoveries: Great Breakthroughs in 20th Century Science, Including the Original Papers. His essays have appeared in Nature, The Atlantic Monthly, The New Yorker and top scientific journals.

Lightman has served on the faculties of Harvard, where he taught physics and astronomy, and MIT, where he was one of the first people to receive a dual faculty appointment, in science and in the humanities. He has been recognized for his writings by the American Academy of Arts and Sciences, where he is a Fellow, and has twice been a juror for The Pulitzer Prize, in the fiction and non fiction categories.

Moderator John Beamish
Chair & Professor, Department of Physics - Faculty of Science, University of Alberta

Noon – 1:30PM

Light refreshments will be provided for symposium registrants in the Snell Lobby area

Panel One ─ Mysteries Unfolding: Science, Art and the Body
1:30PM- 4PM

While science delves ever deeper into the intricate working of the body, artists explore a parallel path, reflecting and affecting the miracle of our physicality.

Featured Speakers

Photo of AlanDr. Alan Bleakley
Medicine’s Exquisite Corpse: Art, Science and Medical Aesthetics

The surrealists invented a parlour game called the ‘Exquisite Corpse’. It is a game of folded paper played by several people, who compose a sentence or drawing without anyone seeing the preceding collaboration. The example which gave the game its name was: ‘The-exquisite-corpse-will-drink-new-wine.’ This line is a wonderful metaphor for the contemporary rebirth of collaboration between medicine and art – spheres of life that should never have been separated in the first place and which have a natural affinity. Bringing art into medical science reminds us that the territory of the body is a risky and uncertain place that we can best inhabit through high tolerance of ambiguity. Medicine tends to refuse the uncertainty that it is faced with daily through emphasis upon the technical and the rational. This bias has generally anaesthetised or dulled doctors to the lively aesthetic of the body. Artists have set out to explore the body as an aesthetic site and some do this specifically through medical themes.

In this talk, I will explore how the ‘medical body’ has been re-animated by contemporary visual art in particular and how medical education can benefit from this work. I will illustrate this through examples of research projects I am involved with in the field of medical humanities, best described by the term ‘medical aesthetics’.

Dr. Alan Bleakley began his career as a scientist, first in zoology and biochemistry, and later neuropsychology. He has a background in biology, psychology, cultural studies, psychotherapy, literature, and education, with a doctorate from the University of Sussex. He works in medical education running the education research program for the Peninsula Medical School, UK. He has taught and researched in higher education for nearly 30 years, has written three books on the psychology of the imagination, a collection of poetry, and numerous scholarly articles. His current research focuses upon teamwork in operating theatres and the aesthetics of medicine, including clinical judgment. Alan has collaborated on visual art projects with his wife sue. He lives in the farwest of the UK overlooking one of the world’s most beautiful beaches, where he regularly surfs.

Photo of JimJim Ruxton and Camille Turner
Sync: The Beauty of Nature’s Systems

Jim Ruxton is an engineer and artist who specializes in bringing electronics into various fields of the arts. He is one of the founders of “Subtle Technologies”, a not-for-profit arts organization dedicated to blurring the boundaries between art and science. He collaborates in the areas of dance, theatre, and film to create interactive kinetic environments. Ruxton has an M.A.Sc in electrical engineering from the University of Ottawa, and has studied at the Ontario College of Art and Design to explore combining electronics and art. His company Cinematronics has provided numerous electronic props for films and television. Jim was awarded 2 Dora awards in 2002 for set and lighting design, and was recently awarded a patent for a new type of lighting system.

Photo of CamilleCamille Turner is a Toronto-based media/performance artist and cultural producer. She is one of the founding members of “Year Zero One”, a collective operating as a network for the dissemination of digital culture. She has presented her work in socially engaged media at the International Exposition of the Dak’Art _Lab at La biennal de l’art African Contemporain, Dakar, Senegal and Skinning our Tools: Designing for Context and Culture at the Banff New Media Institute in Alberta. Camille has a strong interest in helping communities who have been left out of the digital mainstream to represent themselves and make their voices heard in a world in which power is increasingly defined by technological fluency.

Photo of JefferyJeffrey Burns
Crossing Territories in Medicine and Art

Jeffrey Burns is a painter whose work has a strong connection to natural, organic and human forms. In recent work Jeffrey Burns has combined imagery of the environment with forms from the body. Source images are often from microscopy and aerial photography, or interpretive drawings and diagrams from the environmental sciences and medicine. He recently completed a residency at the Medical Humanities Program at Dalhousie University. During his residency he was able to research further into the relationship between art and medicine.
He was born in Kitchener-Waterloo, Ontario (Canada), in 1964. He studied Fine Arts at the University of Waterloo, Ontario, the Gerrit Rietveld Academie in Amsterdam, and received his Master of Fine Arts from the University of Alberta. Jeffrey has instructed studio art courses in the Department of Art and design at the University of Alberta and is currently an Associate Professor in the Department of Fine Arts at Mount Allison University in Sackville, New Brunswick.
He has exhibited his work at galleries in many parts of Canada, and is represented in both public and private collections.

Moderator: Pamela Brett-MacLean
Co-Director, Arts and Humanities in Health and Medicine Program
Faculty of Medicine and Dentistry


Reception at Snell Hall, University of Alberta Hospital
All symposium registrants are invited to meet and mingle with presenters and special guests.

Saturday, November 10

Registration and Coffee 9AM-9:45AM

Panel Two ─ All in the Mind: Learning Aesthetics and Ways of Knowing

How does the mind define our experience of art and culture? This panel explores the issue from three perspectives- culture, evolution and biology.

Featured Speakers

Photo of EllenEllen Dissanayake
Deep Structure of the Arts

Ellen Dissanayake is an independent scholar whose work focuses on the anthropological exploration of art and culture. Her work investigates the idea that art is not only learned, or “cultural”, but also biological or “natural” in origin.

Dr. Dissanayake lives in Seattle, and is affiliated with the University of Washington. She has taught at the New School for Social Research in New York city, the University of Edinburgh in Scotland, Sarah Lawrence College, the National Arts School in Papua New Guinea, and the University of Peradeniya in Sri Lanka.

She is widely published, and lectures frequently on the origins of Art. Her work emerged out of her lived experience in the countries Sri Lanka, Nigeria, India, Madagascar, and Papua New Guinea, where she observed first-hand the cultural differences and attitudes toward art and culture amongst this variety of peoples.

Photo of EllenDr. Ellen Bielawski
Philosophy of Science and Indigenous Knowledge

Dr. Ellen Bielawski is the Dean of the School of Native Studies at the University of Alberta. An archeologist and anthropologist, she has studied the relationship between western science and aboriginal knowledge, and has unearthed a vast field of largely unexamined areas of thought, enquiry, and information.

She has worked extensively in the North, and through her research, she has contributed to the awareness and preservation of numerous aboriginal cultural resources, including cultural sites, burial grounds, language, and intellectual property rights.

Throughout her career Dr. Bielawki has focused on developing alternative perspectives and methods of research and knowledge sharing with native communities. She explores and promotes community-based research that reflects cultural context.

David Miall
The Necessity of Reading: Evolution and Literature

David Miall was born in Sussex in England. After giving up a first career as a musician (conducting and teaching), he went to the University of Stirling in Scotland in his mid-20s to obtain a BA in English literature. This was followed by a doctoral degree from the University of Wales at Cardiff, after which he taught for ten years at the College of St. Paul & St. Mary in Cheltenham. It was here he became particularly interested in the study of literary reading, based on asking real readers about their responses as well as conducting experiments on reading; he also builds on the research in reading in cognitive psychology and neuropsychology. He was one of the first empirical researchers to emphasize the importance of feeling in reading. He has also been interested in considering whether there is an evolutionary basis to our enjoyment of literature, given that literary experience, whether oral or literate, occurs in every human culture.

In 1989 he moved to Canada and took up a position in the English Department at the University of Alberta in 1990, specializing in literature of the British Romantic period. Here he came to know Don Kuiken in the Psychology Department, and the two have collaborated extensively on research into literary reading over the last 17 years. He recently published a book on his research, Literary Reading: Empirical and Theoretical Studies (2006).

Panel Moderator: Melinda Pinfold
Graduate student (PhD Candidate) Department of Psychology, University of Alberta.

Noon – 1PM

Art Walk: We invite you to join us on a walk through the art collection at the Health Science Centre. Sign up and details at the Symposium Registration Desk.

Panel Three – Manifestations: The Tangible Object

Ideas are potent in every form, but perhaps most understandable when we can experience them through our senses- seeing, hearing and touching the creative thought.

Featured Speakers

Photo of WillWill Bauer
The Poet’s Bandwidth: Recent thinking about the tangible thought and non-cartesian perspective – an open letter of experiment from the edge of the middle of nowhere.

Will Bauer is an artist and engineer working with "integrated" (as opposed to "multi") media. He is the inventor of the Gesture And Media System (GAMS) - a wireless 3D virtual media control and integration tool increasingly used by artists and corporations around the world. Will shuffles a little bit, sings, writes music, prose, and poetry. He is also the author of various publications on Art and Technology, has presented and performed works at many festivals such as Cyberconf, Ars Electronica, and SigGraph, and holds a number of patents in diverse areas of technology.

photo of SidSid Fels
New Interfaces for Artistic Expression: A Mouthful

Sidney Fels has been in the department of Electrical & Computer
Engineering at the University of British Columbia since 1998.  He was recognized as a Distinguished University Scholar at UBC in 2004.  He was a visiting researcher at ATR Media Integration & Communications Research Laboratories in Kyoto, Japan from 1996 to 1997.  He also worked at Virtual Technologies Inc. in Palo Alto, CA.  He is internationally known for his work in human-computer interaction, biomechanical modeling, neural networks, intelligent agents, new interfaces for musical expression and interactive arts with over 100 scholarly publications and exhibitions.  He is currently the Director of the Media and Graphics Interdisciplinary Center (MAGIC), and leads the Human Communication Technologies Laboratory.

photo of RobRob Shields
From Intangible to Tangible and Back Again

Rob Shields is Henry Marshall Tory Chair and Professor in the Departments of Sociology and Art and Design.  He specializes in cultural studies, in particular the social use and meanings of urban spaces and regions, including tourist destinations, and the impact that changing geographical and spatial assumptions (“spatializations”) have on cultural identities and urban life.  His research results have been disseminated in a peer-reviewed journal Space and Culture (Sage) and publications on the spatiality of the city, consumption and Lifestyle Shopping (ed. 1993) and Places on the Margin (Outstanding Book of the Year, 1991).  Recent research concerns include what New Orleans after Hurricane Katrina reveals about the question What is a City? (In press, 2008).  Other research considers the relevance of Cultures of Internet (ed. 1996) and The Virtual (2003) or intangible aspects of objects and environments for everyday life and innovation, including the production of the built environment (Building Tomorrow, co- edited with André Manseau, 2005).

Panel Moderator:  Don Hill
CEO, Appropriate Entertainment Ltd.  Artist, scientist and cultural consultant.


Closing Night Reception
Faculty Club, University of Alberta, 11435 Saskatchewan Drive
All symposium registrants are cordially invited to meet and mingle with symposium presenters and other invited special guests.

Download the full Art & Science Symposium program

Registration Information

The two day symposium is free, but pre registration is required. Please phone 780-497-2336 or email to secure your place.

Registration Pick Up

  • Friday, November 9 and Saturday, November 10
    9AM-9.45AM, at Bernard Snell Hall Lobby, coffee and light snack provided.
  • All registrants receive a gift bag, program, and two day access pass to all sessions and events.
  • Registration table will remain open throughout the symposium, and single session admittance will be available as space permits.