Unseen Science and the Failure of the Visual

Alexis L. Boylan, University of Connecticut, alexis.boylan@uconn.edu

It has been lamented that climate change is the most important political, scientific, existential issue of our human moment and the arts are failing to speak to it persuasively or with urgency. While not an inditement of visual arts per se, there has not been a galvanizing visual moment, icon, or style, that has radically shifted popular or political momentum in addressing climate change. Similarly, despite a plethora of visual materials produced globally to explain the seriousness of COVID and the need for safety measures and vaccines, there remains a significant population that not only refuses to believe in prevention measures, but deny that COVID is real or lethal. Technology is often blamed for fostering scientific denial, yet, in thinking about more successful visual campaigns (HIV/AIDS activism and Ebola awareness, for example) technology has been crucial. So how is the visual failing to convince, cajole, activate contemporary scientific crises and truths? How can science be seen in this historical moment?

This session asks if there is a fissure between visuality and science. Countless political, social, religious, and moral movements have situated visuality as fundamental to communicating ideals and urgency. What has shifted about visual strategies or reception? Has something changed in regard to the power of the visual? Or has unseeable-ness always plagued science and visual culture? What case-studies might help unpack how the scientific visual has become/has always been unseen? Is the problem not that there is a fissure but instead that visual success needs to be qualified differently? Is there a way to culturally re-see science? What might alternatives be?

Information about the speakers and papers on this panel will be posted shortly.



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