Eppur si muove!”

Thomas Lassner

Even if some admonishers currently fear a loss of importance of the sciences in society since the degree of social delusion and irrationality is increasing with the trend of current crises, there is rather little reason to worry that science could lose its role as a yardstick for rationality and truth. The paradigm of modernity holds unbroken that only what can be measured first and calculated second is true. Accordingly, what is only measured is considered ephemeral, what is only calculated is considered abstract. The conspiratorial belief in magic forces and hidden machinations is in the truest sense the reactionary turn against the general social principle of measuring and calculating values and people. What the individual misses in concreteness by being bound in the abstract principle of the commodity form, he recovers in superstition. At the same time, abstraction and the disciplines in which it is primarily cultivated enjoy an almost reverential standing in everyday life. What comes across as abstract is considered unimpeachable, almost sacred. Mathematics, philosophy, or even art are generally touched on superficially – for example, in friendly discussions – so as not to say anything controversial nor wrong. But it is art that does not do justice to those who think that it is the image-forming process of abstraction itself, just because cheap copies of some Kandinsky or Malevich hang in various bourgeois living rooms. As dishonest as it is to want to say anything general about “art,” it is equally inaccurate to reduce it to abstraction. It shimmers in an ambivalent light, because the modern consciousness demands a definition that art resists. The supposed tendency to abstraction would elevate it to the rank of the sciences, while the shyness of definition would rather banish it to the realm of fiction. In the end, can the common distinction between art and science not be maintained at all?

Let’s stay with art: in contrast to the pre-Enlightenment practice of aesthetic representation, today it is no longer clear what its exact subject matter is. The spectrum of possible subjects and techniques is wide and ever widening. Sometimes it almost seems as if the representation itself were the main object of representation. The old attempt to see the seeing. At the same time, on closer inspection, the principle of authorship is also dissolving more and more. This phenomenon is by no means a discovery of the 20th century. Even if Roland Barthes sums it up with the “death of the author,” it can be assumed that aesthetic work has always been rather collaborative1. The genius, which is characterized above all by the fact that it can be marketed much better in the cultural industry, is first and foremost a kitschy exaggeration and not an adequate representation of artistic work. “Fine and good! But what is art now?” Someone might ask, but it cannot be grasped. Its charm lies in the fact that it keeps slipping through the fingers of definition. In analogy to the oversimplification of the answer to the question of what the world is, one could at most answer in a Dadaist way:

“It is a disk!”

The Cloud Chamber, addressed quite objectively, is neither simple, nor a disk.

It is rather a space of its own ambivalence. Originally conceived as a physical experimental setup to visualize tiny particles that cannot be seen with the naked eye, its artistic adaptation is a space where metaphors take shape. These figures are ephemeral and creatures of different authors, and thus condensations of communal activity. Each manifestation of the Cloud Chamber has an expiration date, its constellation is temporary. But these iterations are not arbitrary, even if it may seem so. As an aesthetic experimental setup, it is a chamber for making visible contexts of meaning that are only brought to light through collaborative work.

Its particular rationality, like artistic intelligence as a whole, consists in the ability to create ambiguity and allow for states of indecision2. Similarly, the British writer Zadie Smith describes her work as creating a space of nonidentity, for in the fictional world of her characters, they are at all times simultaneously identical with and distinct from the author3. Thus, every work lives from this indistinguishability – also for the receiver, because empathy with a character depends on identification and the tension of a developing story from the experience of the unexpected, the surprising. It is this tension that not only constitutes the quality of a good story but can also be transferred to any form of expression of aesthetic practice. The authenticity, or, to use Benjamin’s term, the aura of a work always derives from the tense relationship between identity and nonidentity.4

Likewise, the relationship between art and science is not a trivial one. As methodologically opposed rationality practices, they nevertheless suffer loss without the other. Science without a fundamental understanding of the beautiful and sublime degenerates into a mere measuring station, art without a deeper knowledge of the mechanisms and structures of cosmic phenomena threatens to slide into arbitrariness and babble. What both spheres have in common is the curious mind that dares to ask uncertain questions, to let go of the familiar under certain circumstances, and to commit itself at the right moment. 

1 cf. Roland Barthes: “The Death of the Author,” in: Fotis Jannidis, Gerhard Lauer, Matías Martínez, Simone Winko (eds.): Texte zur Theorie der Autorschaft, Stuttgart 2000, pp. 185−193.
2 cf. Artistic Intelligence.
3 cf. Zadie Smith: “The I Who Is Not Me,” in: Zadie Smith: Feel Free, London 2019.
4 Walter Benjamin: “The Work of Art in the Age of Mechanical Reproduction,” 1935.

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