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Unstable Bodies

Project leader:
Wolfgang Tschapeller (IKA)

Project team:
Christina Jauernik (IKA), Johann Lurf (IKA), Fabian Puttinger (IKA), Rüdiger Suppin (IKA), Christian Freude (TU Vienna), Vicki Kirby (University of New South Wales), Thomas Lamarre (University of Chicago)

Funded by:
FWF – Austrian Science Fund | PEEK (AR574)

FWF I PEEK project
led by Wolfgang Tschapeller, Institute for Art and Architecture
Duration: 1.1.2021 – 31.3.2024

This research project is guided by the question "What is it to be human?" Humans have always taken measure of themselves and their environments, and architects have continued to design and materialise their ideas for human needs. However, what defines "being human" is now in question. Evolving algorithms and elaborate artificial intelligence software can mimic and enhance our own neurological system and interact with living environments, and as technologies acquire "human capacities" even non-human creatures such as plants appear more human than we thought. Research suggests that even the humble pea-plant experiences space and time in complex ways, making calculated decisions that further its well-being. If machines and plants can manifest what we would otherwise call intelligence and foresight, then perhaps humancentric notions of perception and cognition have become inadequate.

With the pea plant as our companion in this research, the project will investigate vegetal modes of perceiving, even "seeing" and "hearing," and ask if there is a central "who" or "what" that organises these sensory inputs, or if agential focus can emerge in dispersal. Using different methods from the fields of movement research, film, neuroscience, plant studies, phenomenology and computer science, the interdisciplinary project team will experimentally explore how cross-species collaboration can be aesthetically and spatially perceived as a shared sensorial space. Among other results, the project will develop a filmic essay incorporating the different sensory documentations, focusing on specific thresholds across plant and human states of being - such as sleep, wakefulness, memory - where commonalities and differences will enable further inquiry.

Developing a broader appreciation of the myriad ways that perceptive attention can be configured and through modes and morphologies that are currently unfamiliar to us, does more than add differences into the mix. It also challenges humancentric assumptions about the what and where of perception and encourages a more curious approach to things we thought we knew. Not unrelated, the project will be especially concerned with inclusion and access, and special consideration will be given to the partially sighted or blind and those with restricted mobility. In the context of the project’s inquiry and its aim of exploring accepted prejudices and beliefs, an audience with disability will have the opportunity to participate in the experiment, documenting what might prove strategic, inventive and unusual in their perceptive negotiations with the world.