Constituting aesthetics and utility: Copyright, patent and the purification of knowledge objects in an art and science collaboration

James Leach


Utilizing ethnographic material collected through conversations with artists and scientists who were engaged in an institutionally supported, collaborative research scheme, this paper aims to sketch the persistent organizing power of narratives that positioned the world on the one hand as an external reality, ontologically independent of the perceiver prior to action, and on the other, as a social reality which all perceivers are party to creating. The former, foundational to the self-descriptions of scientific and engineering participants on the scheme, is examined in relation to a concomitant logic apparent in patent law. The latter, foundational to the participants’ understanding of art, is contextualized with refer­ence to copyright law. I investigate how, in coming together to collaborate, these artists and scientists reiterated and reconstituted images of themselves as working with one or the other kind of reality. Further, I show how that division came to structure the emergence of different kinds of persons defined through their association with the different outcomes and registers for the effect of their endeavors, appropriate to the two kinds of reality.

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DOI: https://doi.org/10.14318/hau2.1.012