by Maria Serra, Onclaude Founder
David Edwards, founder and director of Le Laboratoire in Paris and professor at Harvard University, explains to us why the boundaries between the arts and sciences should be knocked down, why collaborating is always a challenge and translating ideas is essentially a process of discovery.
1You advocate a new innovation model where artists, designers and scientists experiment together. What do they have in common and where they diverge?
Artists and scientists differ, of course, in many ways. They are generally educated differently, move in different social and cultural circles, use a different vocabulary to express their ideas, and ultimately often value different outcomes, or processes. But in the throes of the creative process, when imagining something new, that has seemingly never been imagined before, they can become essentially indistinguishable. Creators of all kinds, in bringing about whatever innovation, encounter multiple moments (and certainly the first) in the creative process where they are confronted by the unknown, by an ambiguous reality, by almost complete uncertainty. And faced with this, the manage to dream, imagine, induce, though also define, analyze, and deduce. Their creative process is a fusion of the caricatured "aesthetic process" we teach in art school and "scientific process" or "method" we teach in an engineering or science school. I definitely advocate environments, in cultural, social, educational, and industrial settings, where the boundaries between the arts and sciences knocked down. Where we free up creators to confront the unknown and conquer it.
2 What is the most challenging part in prototyping new ideas?
It could be said that it is precisely this "confronting the unknown" that is most challenging in the creative life. It is certainly, for many, the most frightening. However it is the most thrilling, as well, and I believe the key to the passion that leads creators to create again and again. It is also challenging to succeed in the kinds of (generally) complex collaborations that are needed to bring ideas to reality. We have this vision of the creative genius working all alone. And there is a lot of loneliness, or at least being alone, in the creative life. But collaboration is ultimately essential for creations to reach the gallery, the museum, the store, the world. And collaborating well is always a challenge.
3 “Translation” seems to be a key concept in your work as well as in your life. What fascinates you at most about it?
Translation is discovery. Translating an idea toward greater impact (a little like raising a child, especially in that the idea becomes increasingly autonomous as you move along) is all about discovering the world. Impact, whether you define it culturally, economically, or otherwise, starts as a kind of hypothesis, a belief about the world we live in, but as our idea translates, we always find that the world is not quite as we imagined it, and so the idea translates differently, making us smarter about the world and about ourselves.
David Edwards, a creator, writer, and educator, teaches at Harvard University and is founder and director of Le Laboratoire in Paris, France. His work, which spans the arts and sciences, has been featured prominently in the international media, and is at the core of a network of art and science labs in Europe, USA and Africa (ArtScience Labs). His work includes new approaches to treating infectious diseases, as pioneered by the pharmaceutical company Pulmatrix, and the nonprofit MEND; new ways of eating, such as Le Whif and Le Whaf (commercially developed through the FoodLab of Le Laboratoire) and new ways of cleaning the air with plants, such as Andrea, commercialized through the cultural incubator LaboGroup. One of his latest most interesting inventions is the OPHONE, which allows olfactive messages to be sent instantly around the world and be received as a series of letters or sounds (read our story on the Olfactive Project to find out more).
David Edwards' work also explore new approaches to experimental learning through art and science creation including the ArtScience Prize, and the Idea Translation Lab. David Edwards lives primarily in Paris, France, while he teaches at Harvard University in the School of Engineering and Applied Sciences, and is a member of the Wyss Institute for Biologically Inspired Engineering.
Watch David's talk at the Wired 2013 event in London: