Learning from Elise Wagner

| Tags: Creativity

Learning from artists has been a focus of the studio’s work for years now. It seems to me that by the time the big research companies get round to ripping Flickr to illustrate their latest research project the real stories have already been told by artists. To stay in touch with reality requires us to be in conversation with the arts. The collision of art and science is a collision of understanding and one of the most compelling stories of the modern age. While knowledge may be articulated in rational thoughtfully prescribed constructions, it can also be intuited and presented in a way that strikes the emotions. No wonder then that artists are being drafted into conversations about science and technology.

With this in mind we recently collaborated with Elise Wagner in creating a book with designer Deana MacKay.


Elise Wagner is an encaustic painter who has been exploring the meaning of science and its associated symbolism for many years. The nature of the interaction bridges the gap between old and new wisdom. In doing so she reveals the intuitive nature of understanding. There is something very beautiful and ancient about her images. At the same time the stories contained seem relevant in an age where science and technology have overwhelmed the public discourse even to the exclusion of art in our schools.

OpposingCartographies” stretched the boundaries of this conversation to spatial awareness and together we began to explore the tensions between past and present, science, tradition and art, in Hong Kong. Hong Kong is a flash point for engagement between East and West, old and new, art and science, young and old, imperial and indigenous and … well there are many tensions in Hong Kong. It is a crucible of change and a window into the present future.

The book proposes an exploration of “Opposing Cartographies” in Hong Kong and in so doing we hope to mine the richness of the cultural exchange that is occurring there and reveal something of the nature of future knowledge: A knowledge that can be both scientific and cultural and that embraces all forms of expression beyond the equation and rational argument. It is a fringe project and as such may seem a little distant from the everyday pragmatism that dominates contemporary plan-by-the-quarter business. But look closely and you will see something important. We are shifting into a visual age within which the young are developing highly sophisticated cognitive skills. As the intermedia artists Jonathan Harris has observed; “There is a new global consciousness forming”. It is not forming around scientific papers and market research tabulations, it is forming around concepts, visual narratives and cultural meaning. It is a knowledge that intuitively defines our interaction with the world rather than keeps us apart from it through the mechanisms of rational observation. It is, literally, a new way of seeing that is in fact, very old.