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  • It Is Time to Think the Anthropocene!A Manifesto
  • Jean-Marc Chomaz

WHAT COULD BE THE MEANING of a scientist engaging in art? What could be his or her motivation? Why such an imperious feeling, as if touched by a magic wand and relinquishing all free will, as if obeying a command to explore and physically expose flesh and blood to slings and arrows—from beneath the armor of scientific proof?

I have been wondering about this for a long time: Whence does this acute sense of urgency and this intimate conviction that scientific outreach to the general public is mostly awkward and inadequate originate? The question accompanies the intuition that we, scientists, should reveal the other side—dark and bright, shadowy and sublime, the side we do not master or even understand, but where true progress and scientific breakthroughs happen—and the need to end our soliloquy, to allow the story to be told by the public, in an inversion of the flux that would then permit public "inreach" and input to be injected into science, almost as an enrichment.

The work I have been conducting within the art collective Labofactory, with Anaïs Tondeur, the duo HeHe and several other artists, aims not to demonstrate scientific phenomena, assign proof, or invite the public to join a scientific journey to discover facts, but to suggest a different point of view: an unsettling transgression, an uncomfortable simile, a physical experience, a metaphor of physics that makes use of scientific imagination to reinvent our perception of the world and question its relative and fragile truth.

In the Fluxus installation with Labofactory, thin, transparent wave tanks are envisioned as silent, soft drums. The artistic narration then becomes a score ruled by the physical properties of the drums, their resonant notes, attacks, and vibratos building a visual fantasy with inverted materiality: the only visible matter being the water that remains transparent while the cold fog rises into the air above the interface [1].

In Domestic Catastrophe #3: La Planète Laboratoire, also created with HeHe, a realistic toy globe rotates in a tank that looks like a scientific installation. At regular intervals, a fluorescent green cloud is emitted and spreads a thin atmosphere that spirals out from the pole to the equator and then merges into the liquid ether. Although the physical phenomena at work on the toy globe does not correspond to anything similar on our full-sized planet, the metaphor still operates and conveys our vision of planet Earth as a delicate spaceship with no windshield and no protection against our actions from the inside [2].

In the Earthquake machine, created with Anaïs Tondeur, basalt rocks brought back from an expedition to the emerged part of the mid-Atlantic ridge, stressed by the constraint of spring-mounted tectonic plates, suddenly tremble, rotate and slide, and their giant shadows threaten the very stability of the showroom [3]. Meanwhile, the AMOC Last Water Dive installation stages a paral lepipedic ocean in which deep water periodically forms and eventually sinks, mixing the entire volume of water and thereby slowing down the real ocean's thermohaline circulation. The density variations, turbulences and wave motions inside the fluid are revealed by shadows on the gallery wall. They keep evolving visually over weeks as the waters continue to mix until they totally disappear, when, by the end of the exhibit, the contents of the tank become homogeneous [4].

These joint ventures with artists engaged in such different statements and public interactions, who are coming from diverse research paths—collaborators, all puzzled by my mysterious and compelling commitment to art-science—have brought me to realize, however, that these projects entail a deeper meaning and involvement.

Humankind, which should have been but an ephemeral, marginal event on the geological scale, is for the first time in history facing a lethal threat directly linked to its own actions and to its unquestioned, unspoken, unthought use of science and technology. The fascination generated by science—starting with scientists themselves—is still extremely powerful, as testified by the media coverage of the probable observation of the Higgs boson; it has given science a tribune and changed critical thinking into permafrost...


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pp. 217-219
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