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Exploring Art-Science Transdisciplinary Practice through Botanical Art 

This Masters project was developed in response to what it means to me to be an Art-Science Transdisciplinary Practitioner and how collaborative work can be beneficial and innovative.


This project currently sits in relationship to multidisciplinary and interdisciplinary practice only.


Image 01: Venn diagram showing visually where this project currently sits in relation to transdisciplinary practice.


A transdisciplinary practitioner works across different disciplines and / or fields to create solutions and to solve problems. They collectively bring shared knowledge, diversity and experience from multiple subjects such as art, humanities, science, engineering, to address or challenge issues that cannot be answered by a single discipline alone (Introducing Interdisciplinarity Studies, 2021).Likewise, transdisciplinary practitioners often collaborate with diverse projects and work with stakeholders from various and diverse sectors to create change or to engage in creative processes with the intention to develop new solutions or to challenge new ideas or concepts (Pohl, et al, 2021). 

Transdisciplinarity can be defined as "between the disciplines, across the different disciplines, and beyond all disciplines" (Nicolescu, 1996).


Multidisciplinarity

Multidisciplinarity practice focuses on sharing knowledge from varied disciplines but strictly stays within their own boundaries.

Interdisciplinarity

Interdisciplinarity practice creates and synthesises links between different disciplines to create a coherent whole.

Transdisciplinarity

Transdisciplinarity practice integrates collaboration from different disciplines and transcends their traditional boundaries.

​​(Choi and Pak, 2006).


I argue this project currently sits in relationship to multidisciplinarity and interdisciplinarity only. Initially Dr Symonds and I formed a multidisciplinary team by collaborating to achieve the project goals and objectives with the original aim of strictly staying within our own boundaries (Choi and Pak, 2006). For example I am an Art in Science Student from The School of Art and Design and Dr Symonds is a Plant Physiologist from The School of Biological and Environmental Sciences. Forming a multidisciplinary team was established during our first meeting in February; when I was specifically seeking to collaborate with a scientist who understood plant biology and microscopic imagery to support the project by providing valuable knowledge and skills which I lacked.


In a multidisciplinary project, people will have diverse areas of knowledge, skills and experience to bring different perspectives and new ideas to a project. In this case, we each had our own skills and backgrounds ​(Nancarrow et al, 2013):


Dr Symonds who has a formal science background, focused her skills by sharing knowledge concerning the physiological plant cell structures and accurately depicting the cell imagery, explaining the role of the physical, chemical, and biological functions of the plants. Dr Symonds is a plant physiologist (Seed Your Future, 2020) and teaches plant physiology, biotechnology and plant based pharmaceuticals (Ljmu, 2023). The information and guidance connecting to the genetic and molecular aspect of the plants, provided me with valuable and extensive knowledge, which is crucial in this particular project as I will ultimately be transcending the knowledge to children at an easy-to-understand level.

My main role in the project is to focus on creating an art in science link. Working in art-science my role naturally focuses on the aesthetics of the images including completing tasks such as photography, post image enhancement, graphics and web-design. Going forward all other visual communication including the informational zine and grow-your-own herb kits will be something that I will design and produce. Art-Scientists are renowned for helping to break down silos between art and science (Melbourne, 2020) and this has proven beneficial especially within science museums. To argue this, Radio 4 produced a 20-part series, exploring its hope to break down the barriers between art and science by The Art of Innovation project, this was further displayed at the Londons Science Museum (BBC, 2019). This was a successful project and is an example demonstrating that art-science collaboration has a valuable role in educating the public STEM subjects through art and science. This is paramount as my project aims to educate children about Botany using art-science. 


Dr Symonds did an excellent workshop with me, that looked into how to set up the light microscopes, I would argue at this particular point within the project interdisciplinarity practice took place. For example, in the moment we were both using the microscope together, we each observed the microscopic images in different ways. Dr Symonds was focused on the accuracy of the cell structure, where as I focused on the aesthetics of the images. After learning more about the cell structure, such as trichomes withhold medicinal properties, my decision to take imagery of the microscopic cells for visual purposes altered, and I consciously decided to take images with the fundamental knowledge of the cell structure properties. This allowed me to view the cells through the eyes of a plant physiologist and art-scientist. Likewise, Dr Symonds viewed the cell work through the eyes of an art-scientist by considering the visual appearance of the cells as well as understanding their structure. It was at this point in the project that the exchange of ideas and knowledge from our different fields and skills combined, to form a cohesive framework in order to accomplish the project goals, arguing Interdisciplinarity took place (​Bosch and Mansell, 2015).

I would argue that although the Bradford Science Festival and Daresbury Laboratory are facilitating the project, their participation within the project has not been collaborative in the sense of disciplinarity. Fascilitars role can be described as “helping other people to deal with a process or reach an agreement or solution without getting directly involved in the process” (The Fountain Institute, 2020). I would argue their involvement in the project has been beneficial via hosting the science open day and funding my project, but their direct involvement in the collaborative process has not been with the intention to develop new solutions or to challenge new ideas or concepts to the project (Pohl et al 2021) and therefore, I argue disciplinarity did not take place between the project and fascilitators.

It is understood being a transdisciplinary practitioner requires specific skills such as creativity, communication, collaboration, and adaptability (Guimarães et al, 2019) something which me and Dr Symonds jointly achieved well throughout the project to date. However I argue transdisciplinary did not occur as neither of our disciplines transcended their traditional boundaries (Choi and Pak, 2006). Building trust between stakeholders is a crucial element to effective collaboration in transdisciplinarity (Grad School Hub, 2020). As I did not know Dr Symonds before collaboration, the project has enabled myself and Dr Symonds to foster a collaborative relationship. As trust continues to build, I argue this could allow for the project to bring together an integrated approach which ceases the boundaries between disciplines allowing for transdisciplinary practice (IBE, 2016). On reflection, the project could improve by incorporating transdisciplinarity. To argue this, Rittel & Webber (1973) supported the concept “wicked problems” referring to the ideology to resist solving complex problem by our usual way of working (The Transdisciplinary Practitioner, 2023). This is further supported by Basarab Nicolescu (2014) who states the “disciplinary boundaries are the axioms of the methodology of transdisciplinarity: the notion of levels of Reality.” With this mind, I argue going forward this project would benefit from transdisciplinarity. 

The three terms: multidisciplinarity, interdisciplinarity and transdisciplinarity all correlate to the involvement of multiple disciplines. It is argued each term has their own meaning, and therefore cannot be used interchangeably. However using the term "multiple disciplinarily" can be referred to the involvement of multiple disciplines without specified meaning (Choi and Pak, 2006). Basarab Nicolescu argues "there's no transdisciplinarity without disciplinarity", referring that there is no boundary between disciplinarity as well as multidisciplinarity and interdisciplinarity and transdisciplinarity Basarab Nicolescu (2014). Likewise researcher Michael Gibbons (Gibbons et al, 1994) defined transdisciplinarity as a different approach by the exclusive concentration on joint problem solving. This theory is further supported by Helga Nowotny (2003) and Christian Pohl (2011) (Nicolescu, 2014). 

Overall, from this collaborative experience I have learned the benefits brought by the unknown possibilities of working as a multidisciplinary and interdisciplinary practitioner outweigh working in silo. Herbert Simon suggested “The art of authentic embeddedness requires an art of distantiation and the courage to abandon one’s home discipline in the pilgrimage of one’s quest and research” Giri, (2004). Being able to abandon my own discipline in order to achieve my research goals is something that I can identify is an area I could improve on in the future, which fundamentally will benefit my own practice as well as benefit future research. 

Reference

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Gibbons, M., C. Limoges, H. Nowotny, S. Schwartzman, P. Scott, and M. Trow. Eds. 1994.

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Guimarães, M.H., Pohl, C., Bina, O. and Varanda, M. (2019). Who is doing inter- and transdisciplinary research, and why? An empirical study of motivations, attitudes, skills, and behaviours. Futures, 112, p.102441. doi:https://doi.org/10.1016/j.futures.2019.102441 [Accessed 1 May 2023].

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IBE (2016). Transdisciplinary approach. [online] International Bureau of Education. Available at: https://www.ibe.unesco.org/en/glossary-curriculum-terminology/t/transdisciplinary-approach#:~:text=An%20approach%20to%20curriculum%20integration [Accessed 1 May 2023]. 

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Nancarrow, S.A., Booth, A., Ariss, S., Smith, T., Enderby, P. and Roots, A. (2013). Ten Principles of Good Interdisciplinary Team Work. Human Resources for Health, [online] 11(1). doi:https://doi.org/10.1186/1478-4491-11-19. [Accessed 1 May 2023].

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