Art Meets Science

By Luca Buvoli, Director, Mount Royal School of Art M.F.A.

Video still from I.S.S. Log -- Day 142: An Hypothesis on Calder, Art in America, and a Mars Landing

In 2009, I began a three-phase art project that explores the relationship between art and science, addressing the changing roles of the astronaut and the space mission program.

The projects combines three elements: experimentation as a test subject in NASA laboratories used for training astronauts; a six-month, fictional “artist-in-residence” post on the International Space Station (ISS); and artwork generated for accompanying exhibitions. The project explores the relationship between art and science, addressing the changing roles of the astronaut and the space mission program.

Phase I (2009–2011) allowed me to examine the phenomenon of motion sickness, disorientation, and vertigo that result from the discrepancy between the visual and vestibular (inner ear) systems under certain conditions.

During the six-month “residency” in Phase II (May-November 2011), I logged in one concept for an artwork per day for 180 days — which corresponds to a typical residency on the ISS. The constraints inherent in this process provided a parallel to the data-collection experiments being conducted on the station. My “mission” drew inspiration from the NASA experiments, the journey of the real astronauts on the ISS, the final Space Shuttle flight and my own life.

A couple of years ago, when I was working on Phase III, I met Evelyn Hankins, a curator at the Hirshhorn Museum. She was preparing for the wonderful exhibition of a Light and Space artist from the West Coast, Robert Irwin, who influenced me when I was a graduate student. Evelyn expressed interest in my project-in-progress and nominated me for the Smithsonian Artist Research Fellowship, and she also put me in contact with Martin Collins, a curator and scholar at the National Air and Space Museum (NASM), right next to the Hirshhorn.

Thanks to these mentors, the Smithsonian awarded me a Smithsonian Artist Research Fellowship (SARF) in 2017. The SARF offered me an office at the NASM, a small stipend, access to the amazing sources and archival collection, and it allows me to benefit from the excellent advice of some of the most respected aeronautics and space history scholars.

Because of the fellowship, I am able to deepen and expand my research and experiments aimed at the development of related artworks. I explore what science can or cannot tell us about the limits of the human body, and how aesthetic and creative practice can address scientific experimentation.

The sculptures, video animations, photographs, paintings and other works that result from my experiments address our fascination with the myth of the astronaut and its vulnerability, the quest for outer space, and the physiological and psychological side effects related to gravity-less experiences. The latter leads to consideration of processes of adaptation resulting from changes in both the physical environment and the social environment, as when one’s ideals and belief systems are manipulated by a demagogic or totalitarian society.

To see more of Luca Buvoli’s work, visit