Hamer Dodds

The sublime and the unimaginably unpresentable.

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There is a long association between Burke’s ideas of the sublime delivered in his 'A Philosophical Enquiry into the Origin of our Ideas of the Sublime and the Beautiful' and the life sciences. Darwin read and re-read this enquiry on at least two occasions as he considered the idea of sexual selection and how Burke's views might be integrated into his Evolutionary theories.

Contemporary culture uses the sublime in a broad way. Roald Hoffmann, a Nobel chemist, has documented contemporary usage in books such as 'On the Philosophy, Art, and Science of Chemistry and Beyond the Finite: The Sublime in Art and Science'.

The term sublime is used quite freely in "Sciart" exhibitions that claim to be art merely by dint of colourful, complex micrographs. Ede has in some ways prepared the ground for research. In her book 'Art and Science' Ede writes:

"Some scientists claim that images produced by the new scanning technologies possess a beauty that is sufficient unto itself… but although 'aesthetic' judgement may go into the selection and creation of such technological enquiry it is painfully uninvested with subjective emotion… when we are informed as to what these weird objects are, they are more likely to evoke in us a shadow of repulsion, and experience of the sublime, where wonder is tinged with a sense of fear and foreboding, squeamishness at the site of normally hidden cellular all molecular processes which connect us to fears about our own mortality, contemporary memento mori in other words. This might not be quite what beauty affirming scientists mean."

My research interests itself the 'emergent biosciences' and sublime qualities associated with them using scientific techniques within artistic practice. There is, of course, the question of the existence of any form of 'emotional investment', painful or otherwise in play with this work.

Names of supervisors: Dr Paul Harrison and Dr Alan Prescot