radical art                

physics as art



The world is not a totality of things, nor is it a totality of facts; it is a potential of infinite possibilities. When we perform a scientific experiment, we explore this potential by observing the outcome of deliberately contrived conditions. These days, this exploration tends to occur in a distanced, theoretically mediated way. Prototypical scientific experiments yield measurements: sequences of numbers which raise our interest only to the extent that they corroborate or undermine theoretical hypotheses. This distance, however, is not an intrinsic property of the experimental procedure; it is the result of the increasing complexity of theories and technologies. In the early days of experimental science, the experiments often produced directly observable "artificial phenomena" which, independently of any theorizing, demonstrated new dimensions of reality and invited new perspectives on the world. Experiments were often performed in public, and many researchers exploited the entertainment value of their discoveries. Experimental science was in many ways akin to the performing arts.

Today's technological art, in its turn, shows close affinities with scientific experimentation. A new continuity thus emerges, which suggests a new vantage point for looking at the intertwined histories of art, science and technology.

Über das Theatralische des Jahrmarckts und des Experimentirens –
Jede Glastafel ist eine Bühne –
ein Laboratorium – eine Kunstkammer ist ein Theater.

Novalis, Fragmente # 963


"Das exakt Wissenschaftliche ist das absolut Poetische."


The innovative stages of scientific investigation involve a definitely aesthetic mode of perceiving and thinking. When observing a phenomenon which is felt to be not understood, the empirical scientist must cast preconceptions aside, and avoid the conventional, classificatory perspective. Since he believes that his existing conceptual system is inadequate to grasp the phenomenon, he must prepare the emergence of new, possibly incommensurable concepts by embedding the concrete experience of the phenomenon in a rich network of analogical and associative projections across different domains. The move to a new conceptual system can only occur through the conscious experience of a formally incoherent state which is strongly reminiscent of the paradoxical "aesthetic concept" (which is emphatically not a concept!) invoked in Kant's Kritik der Urteilskraft.