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Between physics and art: Imaging the un-image-able

Swist, Frédérique

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Frédérique Swist


This thesis explores the ways in which art practice can engage with science, and more precisely, how my own practice interacts with scientific knowledge. The theoretical underpinning and contextual position of the practice make it particularly suited to explore the concept of visuality, here deployed as a shared notion between scientific and artistic production. The artwork testifies to a deep interest in and fascination with the latest research in physics and the complex problems associated with the aesthetic visualisation of scientific concepts related to extreme scale, distance and mathematical abstraction. Through two volumes (a written thesis and supporting material) and an exhibition of artworks, the research asks: how can meaning be translated, transformed, and transfigured between one domain (science) and another (art), using the visual as its mode of mediation?

Following an opening survey of the broader field of investigation, looking at past and present literature and practices in the realm of science and art, the thesis analyses my art practice (considered as a hybrid between graphic design, illustration and visual communication) in terms of its immediate context, underlying motivations and methods for the production of art. In its present form, my practice does not fit any of the current sub-domains identified in the landscape of contemporary art, and is often situated outside the dialogues and concerns of fellow practitioners. Nor does it fully belong to the realm of scientific visuality (or of an “aestheticised science”): the field has shown some limitations in relation to art’s own domain of images, where modes of practice are not shared. In this instance the art is often reduced to explaining and communicating science in visual form. In contrast, my practice deploys a more sophisticated engagement with its referent, which needs to be positioned in relation to other practices, and its wider field of enquiry. To address this issue, findings from the initial investigation are reintroduced in order to conduct a reflective analysis through which the practice – argued as distinctive, and yet related to other visual traditions – exposes the problems that exist in the loosely defined domain of “Art and Science”.

Taking the position of the reflective practitioner, the thesis demonstrates how the notion of research is intrinsically embedded in the creative process; therefore the enquiry also argues for the production of artworks as artistic research. Through the formation of a three-fold proposition – a method-practice-discourse – the investigation shows how this body of work can participate in, and question, the dominant dialogues in Art and Science. Furthermore, it serves to revisit the conventional views in the study of visuality by articulating an alternative form of engagement between two otherwise specialist domains. Ultimately, the research presents its proposition as a contribution to knowledge by providing a model for both practitioners and scholars.


Swist, F. Between physics and art: Imaging the un-image-able. (Thesis). University of the West of England. Retrieved from

Thesis Type Thesis
Publicly Available Date Jun 6, 2019
Keywords art and science, visuality, images, practice-based, art practice as research
Public URL
Award Date Sep 1, 2014


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