Who are we?

ArtScience Experiments

Works of art and design resulting from a confrontation with science, or at least with technology, fill art and science museums today. The works of art and design that result from experiments at a culture lab possess a narrower definition. At Le Laboratoire particularly we look for novel ideas of art and design that cannot be properly formulated without a sustained encounter with a pioneering edge of science. We then help broker encounters between artists and scientists that permit concrete idea formulation. Once ideas are formulated, we invest in development of the experimental projects that result. In this way, artscience, the process of creative thought that synthesizes esthetic and analytical methods, becomes a catalyst for innovation and the basis for partnership.

Innovation can occur in cultural, industrial, and humanitarian contexts. In a first culture experiment at Le Laboratoire, the French plastic artist Fabrice Hyber worked with the MIT scientist Robert Langer to explore the possibility of sharing the experience of being a stem cell that produces a neuron. Hyber came up with the idea that falling through a giant hourglass might produce an experience reflective of cellular division, the central process in neuronal production. He created several large inflatable hourglass objects, one through which the public could fall, with a mattress underneath. There were barrels of fermenting grapes and apples, which produced another sensory experience of cellular transformation, and a giant bubble-gum axon, which you could touch. The French designer Mathieu Lehanneur collaborated with me to design an object that would make plants ‘smarter.’ An air filter emerged, more efficient than anything tried with plants before, and later traveled to MOMA in New York for the Design and the Elastic Mind exhibit. In the spring of 2008 Popular Science selected Lehanneur’s filter as an “Invention of the Year.” The photographer James Nachtwey collaborated with the scientist Anne Goldfeld, co-founder of a major AIDS and TB clinic in Cambodia, and other medical scientists around the developing world. This led to a powerful photography exhibit within which 70 scientists from around the world gathered with funding from the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation to explore a new collaborative pharmaceutical model for addressing the healthcare crisis in impoverished countries. The Michelin starred chef Thierry Marx collaborated with the colloid physicist Jerome Bibette to invent a new form of flavor encapsulation, while art and science students at Harvard University worked with me to invent a way of eating by aerosol.

In all this art, like science, was process, and outcome – whether contemporary art installation or industrial design object – remained unpredictable until the end. The outcome was not entirely beside the point, but it was less meaningful without reference to the experimental process that brought it about. It’s this experimental process I explore in the “Séguier Novels,” published with Ecole Nationale Supérieure de Beaux Arts de Paris, including Niche (2007) and the forthcoming Whiff (2008).