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The Lab: Creativity and Culture Hardcover – October 31, 2010
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The Lab exactingly and enjoyably describes the process of building a "funnel shaped" institution devoted to process—the node of a network that ceaselessly promotes innovation by finding the common thread that links artist and scientist when they're truly creative (as in this book). (Jay Cantor, author of On Giving Birth to One's Own Mother: Essays on Art and Society)
When artists and scientists come together, cheeks gets rosier, voices go up a few notches, eyes sparkle. They are eager to learn from each other. Just as David Edwards maintains, true innovation can only happen where science and culture intersect, and it is time for this millennial truth to become a pillar of our educational system. (Paola Antonelli, Senior Curator, Architecture and Design, Museum of Modern Art)
[Edwards'] enthusiasm is infectious. He comes across as a free-spirited inventor and educator. He is also a pragmatist, conceding that an emphasis on the creative process, and a high tolerance for failure, may make it harder for inventive researchers to achieve financial autonomy. In these austere times, Edwards takes a firm stance on the importance of the imagination. (Jascha Hoffman Nature 2010-11-25)
The Lab has done much to shake up ideas about the science-public nexus. (Graham Farmelo Times Higher Education 2010-12-16)
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But it's hard to underestimate my disappointment: Half of The Lab looks like a mind-numbing laundry list of how long it took to get how many Harvard undergrads into this-and-that TwoWord project: ArtScience, MuseTrek, CityTrek, ArtWise, FoodLab, LaboShop, TechPoint, ... to name just a few of them. And all of this topped up with obsessive name-dropping from famous French chefs to even more non-famous undergrads. To make things even worse, until the end I wondered what all of that had to do with the grilling and barbecuing the cover promises.
I am sure that Edwards had a great time in his lab and his students produced cool stuff. But in The Lab the excitement that must have been part of many artist-scientist collaborations drowns in unnecessary detail: dates, names, locations of product launches. I learned less about the creativity and culture behind Le Whif than about how hectic the launch had been.
Then I realized that The Lab is just very badly edited. The book should be read in reverse order! Chapter 2 alludes to all the projects that are explained only in the second half of the bood. Reading about `breathable food' is quite confusing before someone bothers to tell you what it is. And the Ryoji/Gross artist/mathematician project on visualizing Cantor's Set (p36) makes much more sense if you know more about the two collaborators (p83+).
Some bits and pieces of The Lab are really engaging (for example the Ryoji/Gross story once you get to it, or Hugo van Vuuren and the microbial fuel cells to lighten up Africa) but these good parts are completely overshadowed by long, unreflected lists of dates and peoples.
It's really a pity: I'm sure a good editor -not afraid of cutting and sewing- could have rescued The Lab and its message of creativity and innovation.
Full review and more at Scientific B-sides on Wordpress.