a fable on language in art and science

Got up at 9:30 a bit late – so I meet the nice cleaning lady. We don’t understand each other very well, but I think, there is sympathy. Will meet Isabelle this noon. Missed the time by writing emails at ERC – couldn’t even finish my coffee. Had to rush – to bring art supplies to CQT: for the test examples, that I will have to create today. Say hello to Jenny. Quickly deliver the email for tomorrows board-meeting (and forgot to announce starting time!).

Took a taxi to LaSalle, were Isabelle and I will meet. Isabelle arrives sometime later. There I realise, that I feel really dizzy. Now, I have a suspicion: the coffee. Maybe for some reason I can not drink usual coffee any more – without feeling strange.

Isabelle and I jump immediately into a conversation about art-science projects. Isabelle studied biology first and second art. She knows a lot of people at LaSalle. She works on ‘failures’ – she explores them and classifies. Giving performance-lectures – that sounds terrific! She invented a machine that never fails and does: nothing. I invite her for our nothing project. She promises to send me some links to videos. It feels good to talk to someone, that finally understands details and their relevance. Next summer she will have a residency in GB in a bio-lab, observing failures happening over the time. Not as joke, but seriously. Also, good point for me, too.

Madhura joins us. She does textile works – weaving. Her main interest is pattern – she even wrote a thesis about this topic, researching them in different ways. Her opinion is, that in many cases, when we recognise something – it happens through patterns. I can see that. Often times, I observe this at myself. It is a funny feeling, when you realise, that something is calculating inside you – but the only thing, that you get – is the result: an idea, a decision a concious feeling. We visit her Studio. I take pictures from some works. I am amazed, by this former undiscovered perspective. I tell her, that Momo promised to send me a lattice of something – yeah, of what? Anyway, this pattern thing has something to do with Quantum Mechanics.

We go for lunch to Little India. Very nice talk – I enjoy Madhuras and Isabelles company a lot! They both are interested to attend the board-meeting tomorrow – I would love to see them involved in the project. Within all conversations, Isabelle nearly misses her appointment and I am also late – if I still want to produce something today.

I visit the wood-shop in order to buy plywood – to create examples for tomorrow. People there are very friendly. Explain a lot. Only, I forgot to ask for a receipt in the end.

Went back to CQT by taxi – with my wood. Almost late afternoon now. Spent the day nicely, but unproductive. Fortunately Christian is working after 6 pm at the workshop. That allows me to do my stuff – I am lucky today.

Back to office then – John enters – we discuss about to continuing our talk from last week. About his work at CQT. I ask him if he has time on evening (and meant ‘evening-time’ in general). Since John is only free for THIS evening, we make an appointment around six. Today seems to be my talking day. Actually, I would be a bit in a rush to continue writing and do other admin-stuff. Well anyway – it may have some reason, why all talks happen today. Maybe otherwise it would not happen at all.

Writing emails for tomorrow. Debashis enters – we discuss the his (cool!) qubit animation and the Schrödinger-cat-box, only, that I can’t do multi-tasking (Frank Schirmacher, German author says: Multi-tasking ist Körperverletzung / Multi-tasking is bodily injury). So I apologise and promise to come by his office, later. When I look at my computer, I realised, that it was 5:30 – no chance to be finished by 6 pm. So I shift my appointment with John a bit.

Change dresses – working trousers and lap-coat. Glueing the wood panels – assembling prototypes of presentation panels to display A4 sheets of paper. Chatting with Christian in between – about technical details of operating CNC-machines and shaping metal. Always very relaxed atmosphere. I like it there. Surprisingly finished in time, to meet John at 6:30 pm. Some confusion about the meeting point. Finally managed to get together. We decide to go out for walking, talking and having dinner.

John suggests to visit Geylang. He says it is one of his favourite places. We go by MRT – on various lines – I just follow him. Meanwhile we discuss a lot of issues on our ride. Such as the difference between quantum-mechanics and quantum-technologies. Quantum-mechanics is the fundamental research field, that explores natural laws within the realm of atoms, photons and electrons. Quantum-technologies is rather about applications, based on that knowledge. John also explains the relation between physicists and mathematicians. Physicists try to describe nature as precise and simple as possible – with mathematic language. Chemistry and biology is much less precise than physics. But still there is no clear border between physics, chemistry and biology. John asks about my impression from physicists. I say, that I sometimes have the feeling, of falling behind within a talk. If the metaphor would be walking together, the speed and frequency is sometimes too high, for me.

I’d like to tell a story as metaphor – it is a Russian folk novel (after a recording by A. Tolstoi) about a fox and a crane – maybe to describe my idea about the two different languages known as art and science:

Once upon an time a fox and a crane were friends. One day, they met in the grass-fields, and fox said “my dear crane, please visit me, that we can have dinner together, today”. Crane happily agreed and both of them were looking forward spend time together. Fox prepared  a nice kasha-porridge at home. When there was dinner-time, crane came and they sat together – enjoying their company. As we know, fox brought delicious buckwheat-porridge – spread on a flat plate. Well prepared, but not well-thought, because only suitable for a fox snout, while cranes have pointed traps. Crane picked on the flat plate – getting nearly no bite of the porridge. Pleasurable, fox ate the all porridge – saturated and satisfied: “My friend, this was all I could offer!”. Crane angryly planning revenge. “My dear fox, I would like to reply for your hospitality and invite you for dinner tomorrow”. Fox agreed.

Next day in the evening crane cooked delicious soup. Fox came. They were sitting down together and chatting. Crane brought the meal – as I said a well-done Okroshka-soup served in a precious carafe – perfect for a long cranes trap. With hearty appetite cranes slurped the soup – only fox sat beside nearly getting not even drops from the fringe. When the soup was finished crane said “I hope you enjoyed your meal?”. Fox angrily started to jump after crane to bite his throat avenging for staying hungry. Since this time all fox hunt cranes though the fields and their friendship was over.

This story came into my mind afterwards – it is not meant to match for all points of communication. But it describes nicely, what happens, if one doesn’t pay attention to different needs, presuppositions and conditions. Certainly it isn’t meant to address my communication with John. But maybe some others at CQT. Some serve food on flat plates and are irritated, if I don’t get it. There is no doubt, that I would rather see myself as the crane than as fox. Why? Because the convention is on fox side. Our society does not use too much poetry in every-day-life; rationality, efficiency and clarity are seen as ‘professional’ and ‘good’, while intuition, indifference, doubt and ambiguity are avoided. Let’s see the food as ‘message’ and the ‘plate’ or ‘carafe’ as language used to express the message. Although this metaphor is incorrect, since language is not only a container for messages, but rather the medium were thoughts and concepts are created (after Wittgenstein, as fas as I know). What I find interesting in this comparison, is that failure in communication causes negative emotions and enmity.

My belief is, that if Artists and Scientist want to work together, they will have to figure out a new language. At least I can not imagine, that one learns the language of the other and can express the same things within this foreign language. Still, I don’t know how a new language will look/sound like, but I guess a lot of meta-communication is necessary. From my point of view philosophy helps a lot within this translation! Defining terms is a big issue within this discipline. It may seem unusual and unnecessary to some people, but only because they assume, that everyone shares their concept of a sign or term. Which I see as dangerous mistake. Maybe because math is a formalised, simple and defined language. While vernacular language is not.

I guess John and I are aware of our different languages. I have the impression, that he observes a lot – without judgement – at least there I can’t see any signs, that he does. What makes it more comfortable for me – he seems to be interested and curious. He ‘advises’ even less than I do – I guess. I mean he doesn’t explain the world – without being asked. Other people do – even more, they lecture the truth.

We get off at MRT-station Aljunied. After some walk we enter a small street with two-storey houses. The first one is a temple. While John is explaining, a man invites us to have a look. We take of our shoes and enter the room.

It smells nice. A bunch of colourful figures is displayed above eye-level. Three big figures in the back and rows of smaller figures below in the front. John says, that the god with the red-face is sort of a war god, a former general, that became a god. At the other side of the wall are the gods of the underworld, which are all black. They smoke and drink spirits and beer.  The old man of the temple chats with us – complaining, that it becomes harder to keep this place running. The rents are rising and the temple-community has to finance all expenses on their own.

We continue our walk – seeing more shrines – discussing statues – explore shops with paper items, that are sacrificial offerings to be burned in stoves all around. Besides traditional shapes, there are also mobile phones, shoes, shirts and even batteries made of paper! Also, we see a frozen-cat performance  in front of a temple, an air-conditioning-installation and weird construction side, a back door street and many more astonishing entities – places that I wouldn’t have seen on my own. I guess we did a dérive – surprisingly. I enjoy the mixture of relaxing, exploring and education a lot. Only sometimes John had to save me from car-accidents, since cars continuing running on the wrong side where they are unexpected.

After a while we decide to have food and beer at a hawker center. Continuing our discussion, but more focused on our work. John says, he was studying Quantum gravity for a quite a time. It bases on the assumption, that matter bends time and space. I stumble over the expression ‘bended space’ – I can image, time being bend, but not space. John says, that I am strange, because ‘every-one’ thinks the other way round, in his opinion. Really? Okay, but still I can not image, how space can be bend. Maybe it depends also on the concept, that one imagines as ‘space’. Of course, something being bend ( i.e. a light beam), I can easily imagine. But nothing being bend – my brain flickers if I try to understand that. I feel sorry afterwards, but again our talk shifts to ‘nothing’, economy and surviving as an artist.

Nowadays, John is about to make a shift into other tasks and topics. Such as developing models in order to forecast climate change. He has a blog. This topic seems more urgent to him. Sounds really interesting!

We have to run to catch the last MRTs. When we arrive at Kent Ridge – we took one train before the last – around eleven. It was an incredibly lovely tour – so many impressions and talks!

Back at home around midnight – I feel awake enough to finish the summary of last board-meeting. Somehow crazy, but I promised to send it today – before tomorrow. And I can work much better at night than in at early morning. And due to the time-shift and jetlag, it is even worse. So I finish the  summary around 3 am. Went to bed and couldn’t sleep until 4 am. Why does it always happens, if I have to be focused next day? Tomorrow is board-meeting and I should be attentive by then.

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