Nicola Triscott – The Multidisciplinary Research Laboratory – 2003

Director, The Arts Catalyst, London, UK

First publication symposium Visibility – Legibility of Space Art. Art and Zero G. : the experience of parabolic flights, in collaboration with the @rt Outsiders festival, Paris, 2003.

The Arts Catalyst facilitates artists’ engagement with science and promotes dialogue and collaboration between artists and scientists. Our specific interest is to develop new and emerging areas of artistic/scientific work (zero-g art, space projects, extreme environments, life-based systems), breaking new ground in promoting artists’ engagement with high profile and sensitive areas of investigation.

Fundamental to this work is the need to facilitate in-depth research projects by artists working with, as or alongside scientists. The research we wish promote focuses on artists’ use of scientific processes and equipment and on developing dialogue between artists and scientists, through opening up new/unusual opportunities for artists and scientists to undertake research alongside each other and facilitating multidisciplinary research groups.

During 2001-3, we have set up three multidisciplinary research laboratories to explore new ways of promoting dialogue and understanding between artists and scientists. These laboratories are either geographically remote or in some other way remove the participants from their usual society. In the laboratories, artists and scientists work as a group pursuing their own research projects alongside each other. Our vision was that an exchange of ideas and expertise would take place through the social and work situation in which the participants would find themselves – together most of the hours of the day for a period of time.

Laboratory 1 : MIR Flight 001 Russia

Our first ‘laboratory’ took place in October 2001 in Star City in Russia. With the Gagarin Cosmonaut Training Centre and in association with Projekt Atol Flight Operations, Arts Catalyst was able to take a group of UK and Russian artists and scientists and a Russian philosopher (16 in all) to experience and undertake projects in zero gravity on a ‘parabolic flight’ (diving aircraft) and to film in and experience the atmosphere of Star City.

Here is one of the artists writing about his experience:

“I would like to say something about the team of people I travelled with. The camaraderie and bonhomie generated was unique. There was a definite sense that new, inspirational relationships were being forged. Given the wide divergence in these various practices there was a lot to talk about with, and learn from, every other member of the group. I found myself almost constantly embroiled in conversation. The informal settings and mobile nature of these conversations, extending over a week, contained by a communal ‘rite of passage’, made them quite different from the conversations that might happen at conferences, seminars and formal meetings. These encounters were perhaps the most valuable aspect of the whole trip for me.” Ansuman Biswas

Laboratory 2 – Makrolab Mk 2 Scotland

Makrolab was envisioned by Slovenian artist Marko Peljhan as an autonomous research and living environment, powered by sustainable sources of energy (solar and wind power) and designed for a long existence in isolation. His vision for Makrolab is for a true art-science research station, able to function in a variety of climates with the long-term goal of a permanent art-science research station in the Antarctic.

Arts Catalyst sited Peljhan’s Makrolab in the Scottish Highlands in Summer 2002, as part of International Year of Mountains (IYM). Here 21 artists and scientists lived and worked together over a period of 3 months – in groups of 4-6 at any time – remote from civilisation but connected via satellite links. Our scientific collaborators at the IYM were particularly interested in the potential of the Makrolab to help advance current thinking about ‘footprint-light’ research in fragile changing ecologies. In this thinking, ‘gateways’, in the form of sustainable research stations, are sited at the boundaries of fragile environments. These enable researchers to undertake study programmes of varying durations, making controlled excursions into the local ecology, whilst disseminating information to the local area and internationally.

Laboratory 3 – MIR Campaign 2003 Russia

Our most recent laboratory, in April 2003, again revisited the Gagarin Cosmonaut Training Centre at Star City and the parabolic flight experience, this time drawing on the knowledge gained from our participation in a European Space Agency parabolic flight campaign.

This time, we selected 7 artistic and scientific projects from several countries in Europe and took a group of 20 (artists, scientists and accompanying curators) on a working trip to Star City for 8 days. During this time, the participants socialised, ate and planned together.

Two parabolic flights with the Gagarin Cosmonaut Training Centre were undertaken. A 6-parabola flight allowed those undertaking projects in weightlessness (all for the first time) to experience and adjust to the microgravity environment and test their projects and equipment. A 25-parabola flight then enabled the full project work to be undertaken. An artist’s project was also undertaken on the giant centrifuge at Star City, and the museums, archives and environment of Star City were also explored. Several of their projects are explored in this journal.


These experimental laboratories are a new model to foster long-term links between artists and scientists from different countries and different disciplines. In the short-term, the results are certainly encouraging, with collaborations emerging between participants after the laboratory experience. Inevitably, as arts-led projects, not immersed in the structured world of the scientist, it has been harder to attract strong science proposals than art proposal and this has resulted in an imbalance of the two disciplines represented in the laboratories. Attracting more, stronger science proposals remains a challenge, and linked to this is the challenge of finding or creating laboratory situations unique enough to attract the scientist as well as the artist.

© Nicola Triscott & Leonardo/Olats, October 2003, republished 2023