Focus Artistic Research

Radical Matter

Project lead: Virgil Widrich
Art & Science
Duration: 01.09.2021 - 31.08.2024
Austrian Science Fund (FWF): AR 664 Programm zur Entwicklung und Erschließung der Künste (PEEK)
»Radical matter« is a new way to think about and to resolve some of the problems facing our planet. As a method it embraces things and ideas beyond their commodity value or use. But »Radical matter« is not merely about how to understand things and ideas – it also provides practical tools with an emphasis on making.  Linked to art and curiosity, it refuses the sterility of black box technology and instrumental logic. Instead, it celebrates the messiness of this world and all its unintended possibilities.
The idea of »radical matter« owes its vitality to the wonderfully strange behaviour that was predicted at the scale of atoms and subatomic particles. For a long time these so-called quantum effects were pure theory, but nowadays they are more and more accessible and better understood – even to a degree that building extremely powerful computers based on this technology seems only a few years away. 
In the past, groundbreaking scientific discoveries often have shifted our understanding of the world. It is only logical that also the laws of quantum physics will affect the way we think and act as humans over time. In the case of quantum physics however this might be a quite radical change, since it contradicts the world as we know it fundamentally: there, linear time does not exist as such; in quantum mechanics, time can even go backwards. The very same object can appear at the same moment at several places millions of lightyears away. And as if this were not strange enough, every attempt to witness these events would change their outcome in an unpredictable way.            
At the moment, the world of quantum physics however is only accessible via complex machines. In order to interact with this unknown universe, we need to invent new tools and languages in order to become an active part or even inhabitant of this part of reality. As a consequence our lives will have to interweave with that of machines in an unprecedented way, that will exceed today's predictions by far. This closer and more subtle co-existence with complex machines will open up new worlds – not only in computing and in the sciences – but also in philosophy, art, literature, engineering, gaming.
We are not designing a ‘new product’ – instead, we intend to show how this new alliance between the sciences and the arts is critical in order to envision future possibilities. We want to explore practical ways to implement their impact on ourselves and our planet and think that this can only be done by foregrounding a non-hierarchical, arts practice led research.
The result of our project very likely will be something along the lines of a ‘roadmap’ – a guide to the unknown that is written while we are on the journey.  This however is an unconventional map, one that takes account of the fact that we are, as we are moving, changing the very events being mapped. Perhaps unsurprisingly, this kind of approach mirrors the very techniques required for art making and, indeed, for all forms of invention.