The Vibrancy Effect - Expert Meeting

The expert meeting "The Vibrancy Effect", curated by Chris Salter, discussed the fundamental theoretical division between "living" and "non-living."

The Vibrancy Effect - Expert Meeting

Domnitch and Gelfand: "Camera Lucida" 2007

Apr 2011
Apr 2011
location: V2_, Eendrachtsstraat 10, Rotterdam

Several times a year, V2_ holds an expert meeting in one of its research areas, at which leading researchers, writers and artists spend a few days together. Though the meetings are not open to the public, we aim to make the results available in online publications, interviews and videos.

On April 9 and 10, V2_ will hold the expert meeting The Vibrancy Effect, curated by Chris Salter, on the fundamental theoretical division between "living" and "non-living." What is the difference in behavior between the living and the non-living at various levels? For instance, why is a rock clearly part of the non-living category in spite of the fact that at the atomic level it is anything but static? Would we be more careful with the earth if we believed everything was alive to some degree? Interestingly, in investigating these questions, artists in particular regularly come up with surprising insights by focusing on finding out what matter can do, while scientists limit themselves to determining what it is. Guest curator Chris Salter assembled a group of scientists, theorists and artists to examine the division between "living" and "non-living" by searching for "the vibrancy effect." An e-book on the Vibrancy Effect is forthcoming.





(Introduction by Chris Salter) 

Art, biological, physical and social science and the humanities are currently finding common ground in their vigorous turn towards a renewed interest in vitalism – the age-old philosophical tradition that sought to identify the "cause of all phenomena of life in the human body." While, as the French philosopher and medical doctor Georges Canguilhem stated that the history of vitalism was traditionally associated with biological forms of life traced back to the Hippocratic and Aristotelian traditions, our renewed interest has shifted the focus towards what Jane Bennett calls "material vitalism." This is a vitalism that sees the material world as an endlessly active, energetic and resonating space – a world in which, as Bennett states, we must "become more adept at discerning and contending productively with the force of things."

Bennett’s charge towards "vibrant matter" is not just rhetorical. As technical-scientific processes increasingly reach into every aspect of our lives, formerly fast held distinctions between the inert and the active, the human and non-human and life and matter are cracking. From biotechnical engineering and shifting flows of migration to the cataclysmic imminence of climate change, our very notions of what and how we consider life are under fire. Indeed, as Diana Coole and Samantha Frost in their new collection New Materisms: Ontology, Agency and Politics state, this new (or renewed) interest in a vibrant materiality is forcefully driven by the emergence of critical political and ethical concerns.

At the same time as scientists speak of "molecular vitalism" (Kirschner) and scholars in the humanities and the social sciences shift from an earlier focus on text, discourse and language to the lively dynamics of matter and stuff, technologically-inflected artistic, design and architectural practices are also conceiving, building and staging such "material agency" – deferring or displacing actions and performances traditionally accorded to human actors onto materials, substances, machines and processes. 

The aesthetic-ethical-political efficacy of these issues now appears more urgent than ever. Yet, why this turn towards a vibrant, non-human vitality? How are scholars conceptualizing and articulating this new materiality in words and how are scientists and artists acting it out in material practices? Furthermore, if working with material life has always been the purview of artistic practices, how do these new technological, ethical and political questions transform experience, for both the makers and publics?

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