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Artists, Scientists Collaborate on Visions of Future

November 26, 1986|CONNIE ZWEIG | Zweig lives in Los Angeles. and

We must learn to create on the same scale as we can destroy.

--High-tech artist Kit Galloway

It's a frenetic morning at the offices of International Synergy Institute on Melrose Avenue. The cool elegance of the setting betrays the intensity beneath. Simple steel-gray sofas. A two-foot gold Buddha lit from behind by sunlight. An IBM PC glowing incandescently.

Andra Akers, founder and director of International Synergy, or IS, hung up the phone and described the first hour of her morning without taking a breath. "The Disney studios called about a lecture series we're setting up. An architect came in asking about building playgrounds that reflect new cultural values. A systems theorist called to invite us to an international conference on evolution in Italy. And a woman who writes about post-feminist issues called to say her new book on 'partnership societies' will be out next spring."

Akers, a tall, striking blonde, talks passionately about the recently launched International Synergy Institute, a not-for-profit institute whose aim is to "build bridges between the intellectual, scientific, artistic and business communities."

The company's official statement of purpose reads: "Imagination can form the basis . . . for responsible action in the information age. IS encourages a merging of the abstract conceptual realms of scientists with the dynamic, expressive forms of artists."

One visiting scholar described it this way: "IS is like a summit--where opposite values can come together."

Akers explained further: "The 1980s represent the sacred union of opposites, a marriage of the artistic vision with the scientific journey--and the new technology is the midwife."

Born in Texas, the daughter of an undersecretary of the Air Force and U.S. ambassador to New Zealand, Akers moved to New York City as a young woman to join the theater.

Broadway, Movie Career

Her success on Broadway led to a string of film appearances, most recently in "Desert Hearts" and "Just Between Friends." After moving to the West Coast, Akers became a founding member of the classical repertory company of the Mark Taper Forum.

Several years later, she said, her curiosity was piqued by reading widely in the field of science. "The contrast between the miracles reported daily by investigators of the natural world and the monochrome quality of the theater troubled me deeply."

Akers said she did not imagine then creating a haven for "intellectual break-dancers," as she calls them--people who can translate between disciplines and spin radical new ideas.

But a year and a half ago, Akers set up shop on Melrose with a small group of privately funded creative thinkers. (The institute name, synergy, refers to the action of two or more people working to achieve an effect that each cannot achieve alone.)

Since January, 1985, they have brought artists and scientists together with local film makers in a series of lecture events and informal gatherings. "These gatherings lead naturally to networking, which in turn leads to people exchanging dreams and developing innovative projects," Akers said.

The result, according to observers: IS has become a magnet for vanguard artists, scientists and metaphysicians passing through town.

In the light, spacious living room of a Spanish-style West Hollywood abode, eminent thinkers and doers gathered. They were invited by International Synergy for an afternoon salon with UC Santa Cruz mathematician Ralph Abraham, who spoke on topics ranging from esoteric math to Indian music to ancient mysticism.

The crowd included visual music artists, parapsychology researchers, Chinese software specialists, brain biologists, satellite sales representatives, rock video entrepreneurs and anti-apartheid activists.

Abraham, who has published a dozen books on mathematics, recently helped develop the field of nonlinear dynamics, a new kind of mathematics that studies chaotic or non-regular change. He also recently designed software to teach high school mathematics visually, rather than symbolically.

In collaboration with International Synergy, he recently built his newest invention, known as MIMI (Mathematically Illuminated Musical Instrument), a sophisticated visual music machine.

In his talk, Abraham echoed a theme that was touched on repeatedly by members of the IS network. There is something special, even crucial, about the times in which we live, they say. "Our world is at an evolutionary turning point, facing what may be a watershed event."

The reasons for the turning point are many. Abraham pointed to unprecedented crises in global resources coupled with science-fiction-like technology breakthroughs in every field.

Developing Ideas

He and other like-minded members of the international network share a basic belief: "The future is in our hands." A family of ideas, they say, is being developed by a wide range of people to meet the needs of a world in crisis.

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