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07 Dec 2010

HIDDEN WORLDS: screening & lecture

Hans Jenny - Cymatics

HIDDEN WORLDS: screening & lecture
Marco Mancuso / Digicult


Marco Mancuso

Via Cerano 12
20144, Milan

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screening & lecture
by Digicult / Marco Mancuso

16th International Conference of Film Studies
'Cinema & Energy'

Rome, Teatro Palladium, 'Roma Tre' University
8-11 December 2010

Link to video collection and description:

From the mid-Nineties, 'Roma Tre' University's Department of Communication and Spectacle (Di.Co.Spe.) reflects on changes in cinema and other arts, analysing new tendencies and perspectives linked to the evolution of languages, modes of production and making of films. Our Conference for 2010 will be on the relationship between 'Cinema and Energy', being energy a concept that invest social life all over the world (besides of human science and scientific research).

Cinema histories often write about relationship between cinema and technology, underlining that cinema is the technological art par excellence, because it was born during industrial revolution and because its optical-chemical-mechanical device derives from scientific experiments on stroboscopic effect and movement's deconstruction. Cinema histories also specify all technological conquers that have brought forward cinema expression, such as synchronization of sound, colour, lightening, film emulsions and so forth. Besides, contemporary reflections about 'remediation' between cinema, television and new media highlight the redefinition of filmic language, because of the mingling between analogical and digital technologies.

Nevertheless, energy, in which all these process are rooted and that gives form and meaning to cinema, is often neglected in contemporary studies. But energy is considered in other science – from biology to chemic to astrophysics – as the most important and engaging field for research, present and future. Just think about that 80% of cosmic energy called 'dark energy' (in relation with the 'dark matter'), that is defined 'dark' because is still unknown; in this sense, really interesting are recent observations about neutrinos made by CERN and Gran Sasso laboratories.

The conference will map the relationship between cinema and energy, showing an articulated picture of various ways to understand this relationship in filmic and audiovisual language and forms through history.



Lecture by Marco Mancuso / Digicult

Between 1899 and 1904 the german philosopher and biologist Ernst Haeckel published Kunstformen der Natur (Art Forms of Nature), one of his best known works and a symbol of his zoological research and philosophy, centered on the observation of marine micro-organisms as well of various natural species and animals. The complete volume, consisting of over 100 lithographs, each accompanied by a short descriptive text, obtained a great success even among the non-specialist public and among some Art Nouveau artists, committed to find new models to be used in the nascent industrial design and in architecture. In this regard, the volume lends itself to multiple assessments: as a zoological work depicting the evolution of organisms, as a work of art and as a work of aesthetics that focuses on seeing and perception as a way of knowing. Aesthetics, as the science of beauty, intent on understanding the nature in relation to art.

The tables of the book, according to a geometric arrangement of the drawings, are based upon the microscopic siliceous skeletons of radiolarians and diatoms, the umbrellas of the jellyfishes, the tentacles of sea anemones and spirals shells of molluscs. These illustrations depict therefore the law that regulates natural energy phenomena: the evolution, the fact that organisms are formed and transformed over time, according to genetic relationships of descent, from a common original type. In other words, by analyzing the tables of his rich classification, it is wonderful to see how nature is not only capable of spontaneously creating veritable art forms, but also of establishing a direct connection between a certain algebraic and geometric aesthetics, starting from a fundamental unit/core and reaching a more complex entity, a consequent evolutionary practice of adaptation.

Moreover, one of the most currently fascinating mathematical theories is no doubt the theory of fractals: according to the definition of its recently passed away discoverer, the polish mathematician Benoit Mandelbrot (1975), who started his researched form the fractal structure found out by french mathematicia Gaston Julia in 1920, fractals are geometrical figures characterized by a repetition to infinity of a same pattern on a more and more reduced scale. Nature is in fact filled with forms very similar to fractals, which don't follow in any way any of the rules of Euclidean geometry. A coastline, the branches or the roots of a tree, a cloud, the snowflakes, the zigzag lightning bolts and the leaf venation patterns: these are only a few examples of fractal forms spontaneously creating in nature.

Among these ones there is the spiral, the fractal form par excellence. The procedural, generative, hieratic and evolutionary element can therefore be considered the key of this thought, turned to a modern 'computational ecology': almost 40 years of study, analysis and research have passed between Alan Turing's revolutionary theories about morphogenesis (the capability of every living being to develop complex bodies starting from very simple elements, using self-assembling processes without an external guide), which followed those by bio-mathematician Thompson D'Arcy in his work On the growth and form (1917), and more recent studies (1980-1985) on genetic algorithms (a particular kind of evolutionary algorithms utilizing mutation, selection and other recombination techniques in order to guarantee a certain number of abstract representations of possible solution for optimization to become better solutions). Those researches were meant to point out the almost computational characteristics of Mother Nature on one hand, while on the other they confirmed the analog/digital machines' capability of simulating and replicating complex natural phenomena.

These examples show clearly how nature is characterized at the root by a matrix of numbers and mathematical expressions involving a series of physical, optical, chemical-physical, electromagnetic and nanometric phenomena influencing its forms, species, colours, sounds and structures. If science is considered an organic complex of knowledge obtained through a methodical procedure, capable of providing a precise description of the real aspect of things and the laws by which the phenomena happen, and if the rules governing such process are generally called 'scientific method', then the experimental observation of a natural event, the formulation of a general hypothesis about such event and the possibility of checking the hypothesis through subsequent observations become fundamental elements in modern scientific research.

All of this is really evident in some video works that have been collected within the screening Hidden Worlds, a critical reflection upon the existing connection between audiovisual art, energy and science on the borders of cinema, video and digital. A project that was born from a lecture held at Science Museum in Naples in 2008 followed by the curatorship at Sincronie: music and astronomy festival in 2009. Hidden Worlds doesn't some pioneering works which were not possible to include in the screening, like the studies on Cymatics carried out by naturalist Hans Jenny that explain how every existing sound can be reproduced starting from a waveform visualizable through precise geometrical forms, depending on the medium used. Moreover, some Mary Ellen Bute's works like Abstronic, that examine the expressive potentialities of the electrons flow within a cathode ray tube, shooting the film with a number of abstract animations to the rhythm of music. And Johny Whitney finally, who with Permutations, applied his 'Computational Periodics' theories to the field of computer graphic, obtaining a 'series of harmonic events in the audiovisual introduction', where a specific simulation of a musical progression can be achieved through the multiple superimposition of graphic objects.

What it is today recognized as 'immersive art-science' is a form of creative expression meant to rise above the notion of art as abstract representation, in behalf of a multi-sensorial experience. The purpose here is to create aesthetical fascinating objects and also to invite the public to go beyond ordinary perception's border. Immersivity awakens a synesthetic awareness both in the mental and in the physic space. A myriad of vibrant phenomena, usually beyond the observer's reach, are instead made reachable through an accurate psychophysical conditioning.


Videoscreening curated by Marco Mancuso / Digicult

The Hidden Worlds exhibition celebrates one of the most fascinating yet obscure territories of artistic audiovisual contemporary research: the relation between art and science. The video screening produces works that induce into a critical reflection on the existing relation between audiovisual contemporary artistic research (as regards to cinema, video and digital experiences) and applied sciences.

This project, dealing with different artistic examples which investigate new expressive forms for the representation of the sound-image relation, deliberately avoids focusing on the existing common aesthetics among them, as well as on a possible expressive language. It rather suggests an overview on specific systems for sensorial perception, and emotional mechanisms of 'saturation', achieved through the use of hybrid techniques, that today like never before expand the tradition of analog experimental cinema and digital audiovisuals.

This video screening takes the spectators to wonderful 'hidden worlds', illustrated by artists and scientists who more and more often collaborate and share experiences with one another on the research of new expressive potentialities within specific mathematical processes and physical, optical, chemical and electro-magnetic phenomena.

By watching the audiovisual representation of the existing energetic and electromagnetic phenomena on the Sun's surface and of current interferences generated from interaction of electromagnetic fields between the Sun and Earth, as possible instrument of aestheticization of the space phenomena by the Semiconductor duo (in works such as Black Rain and Brilliant Noise), the passage to the audiovisual representation of chemical-physical-optical reactions of the Portable Palace duo (Evelina Domnitch & Dmitri Gelfand) is extraordinary short indeed. In their first work present in this exhibition, (Camera Lucida) they study the chemical-physical phenomena of 'sonoluminescence', while in their second one (10000 Peackcock Feathers in Foaming Acid) they analyze the potentialities of optical phenomena generated by investigating the laser light within the nanometric structures of foams. Moreover, if the work on 'chemical grams' by the video maker Jurgen Reble (Materia Obscura) underlines the structures born out of a film's chemical corrosion, in the same way the first work by Thorsten Fliesch present in the exhibition (Energie!) shows the scorches on photographic paper produced by an high potential energy flow of an electron beam contained in a cathode ray tube.

The number is an ever present concept, being the fundamental element of every mathematical and algebraic formula which involves not only a single energy phenomenon present in nature, but also a series of disturbing/superimposition phenomena, such as interferences, beats, accumulations, harmonies and other optical event, like Moirè's (optical illusion created by geometrical sequences of interference phenomena), as shown by the purely glitch and software works by Carsten Nicolai (Spray) and Karl Kliem (Vienna Concert !! Excerpts).

The number, in its highest abstraction of key element for a fourth dimension representation , is still an important part of Thorsten Fleisch's video (Gestalt), a sort of recognition of the quaternion worlds (four-dimensional fractals) visualized in a three dimensional space through appropriate software. Yet maybe John Campbell's masterpiece (LI: The Patterns of Nature) is the work that mostly evidences the geometric structures spontaneously present in Nature, through a kind of magical and hypnotic audiovisual document, perfect sample of a deep critical conviction: contemporary audiovisual art, today more than in the past, has the technological instruments and the ethical duty to confront itself with the empirical world and the 'natural' technologies within it. Technologies that should be collected, observed and manipulated by man, who has already given proof of his skill with light, sound, image and space.


Marco Mancuso is new media art critic, curator, journalist and teacher, expert of the impact of digital, interactive, software and open source technologies on art, design, culture and contemporary society. Founder and Director at Digicult project and Digimag magazine, Marco Mancuso focuses his researches on the connection between sound, light, image & space, with an historical/theoretical point of view, among a cross-disciplinary territory crossing art, cinema, music, design, architecture & science. The lecture and screening was part of the teaching held at Transmedia Postgraduate Program in Arts + Media + Design in Brussels ( the last 23-25 of November 2010