Artist Cat Scott visits LIFD

Written by Cat Scott 

On the 20 September 2022, I was grateful to spend the day meeting lots of lovely and inspiring researchers at the Leeds Insitute for Fluid Dynamics (LIFD), at the University of Leeds.

This day had come about after I visited Maths City in Leeds’ Trinity Shopping Centre, and emailed the CEO, who put me in touch with the directors of LIFD, who proposed to look into an artist-in-residence post at LIFD, and after being shortlisted for the prestigious DARE Art Prize 2022, with the University of Leeds, Opera North, The Tetley, and the Science and Media Museum. I have been wanting to do a longer term residency in a science lab for many years, after doing several shorter residencies, and collaborating on short term projects with scientists at the Univerisity of Leeds, University of Bath, Royal Society of Chemistry, and Manchester Metropolitan University. Some of these collaborations came about through my involvement with The Superposition Collective, for artists, scientists, and makers in Leeds, from 2016.

To put things into context, I studied Textiles to degree level at Manchester School of Art where I graduated in 2015, and never formally studied science, engineering or technology outside of school. I’m self-taught in this area which is exciting for me, as my ideas, knowledge, and skills bring a different perspective and journey to the ones the scientists at LIFD have undertaken, which creates an opportunity for experimental collaborations.

The plan for the day was that I would do a 30 minute presentation about my work to the scientists, and the scientists would present their research to me, so I could get a feel for their research. There were several scientists and research areas, but my highlights were:

  • Gareth Keevil (Experimental Officer, Sorby Environmental Fluid Dynamics Laboratory, School of Earth and Environment) I absolutely loved Gareth’s experience in experimental fluid dynamics, using physical phenomena to create experiments in tanks in the lab. There was something about the physicality, and technical quality of his work, that got me interested in his research, in a practical way.
  • Leif Denby (Research Fellow, Insitute for Climate and Atmospheric Science) had some great research into the studies of patterns in clouds, which was interesting, and I loved the fact that he spent his free time making electronics projects, using microcrollers, after I showed him how I made the multichannel bubble system for my work Inner Horizons.
  • Imran Qureshi’s high level of knowledge into 3D printing, so much so, that most of it went over my head, as it was highly technical. It would be interesting to see if he could collaborate with me, if there were any 3D elements to the research.

After that, we had a social lunch, which was great, as it was super informal, so we could all chat together, and get to know each other a little better. I felt grateful for the interest of the scientists, and the effort that Helen, and the team at LIFD had gone to, to make me feel at home, whilst at the university.

Then the afternoon consisted of visiting some of the labs, which included a fabrication lab with fabricators who work on site in a workshop to fabricate anything, paid for at an hourly rate. This will be really helpful for the residency itself, as I will need to get tanks/artworks fabricated, so having this in house is incredibly valuable. We will need ensure that their time and materials is factored into the funding raised for the residency, which I imagine to take place sometime in 2023.

The best part of the day, was visiting the Sorby Environmental Fluid Dynamics Lab, in the School of Earth and Environment, with Gareth Keevil. I felt so excited to be in the lab, and at home, to say the least! I could imagine collaborating for some time with Gareth in particular, as we could do many practical experiments with air, and liquids in the lab, exploring natural systems, and playing with different tanks, pumps, and liquids to create some amazing effects in physical fluids. I am less interested in simulations, and more interested in experimenting with real, physical phenomena. With Gareth’s experience in teaching students the foundations of fluids, his technical, and experimental experience, we’d have lots of fun in the lab, and both agreed it would be a great opportunity to put the Dorby lab on the map, in terms of getting the press in to spread the word about the residency, which is just one example.

My initial ideas for a possible residency:

  • A longer term residency, over 2 years, 1st year would be focussed on research, and artist talks at the University, in art and non-art spaces. I want to ensure the language used is accessible to art and non-art audiences, outside of the academic world. The 2nd year would be focussed on making an artwork, or series of artworks, based on the experiments and research from year 1, and could be shown at the University, and local art and non-art spaces, depending on which partners were involved, but this would need further thinking and development. The 2nd year, would also enable enough time to order materials if needed, due to the long waiting times, and high cost of materials.
  • Have a Creative Partner/Mentor to guide the process of the proposal, partner agreement, and check in throughout the residency on my progress. International Creative Partner/Curator/Producer/Writer, Ariane Koek, and founder of the Arts at CERN programme, would be perfect for this role. Ariane works with artists and universities to set up art/science residencies regularly.
  • Documentation of the residency, eg: professional photos, and films by local freelance photographers/videographers, which can then be used by both myself, and LIFD, to use in marketing and press will be fundamental, and this would need to be agreed, about how and where it would be used.

Ahead of a possible residency, a day with the LIFD scientists made me realise what was essential to me:

  • To collaborate with practice-led experimental scientists, who also have technical skills and knowledge.
  • On site fabricators on hand to get works in progress, and final artworks made to a high quality.
  • To have a suitable creative partner/mentor, to guide the whole process.
  • Which partners outside of the sciences, could be part of the programme? Eg art and non-art spaces for showing the artwork, and showcasing talks.

The next steps will be to have a further meeting, and to write a more detailed proposal, with some consultancy from Ariane Koek (budget dependent).