Dark Matters: an interrogation of thresholds of (im)perceptibility through theoretical cosmology, fine art and anthropology of science

Innovation Award

Project Team:

Principal Investigator:

Dr Rebecca Ellis, Lancaster University


Dr Konstantinos Dimopoulos, Lancaster University

Dr Sarah Casey, Lancaster University

Award Information:

This project will bring together an unlikely alliance between theoretical cosmology, fine art and anthropology of science to explore the relationship between human knowledge and perception and the realm of the imperceptible. It is a highly innovative project introducing novel forms of interdisciplinary investigation. Our aim is to develop, test and reflect upon an interdisciplinary methodology that will enable mutual exchange and trigger fresh insight for each discipline as it works with things that are difficult or perhaps impossible to sense. Our starting point is one of pure curiosity – the claim that 95% of the universe is made up of invisible dark matter and dark energy is alluring in quite different ways to our respective disciplines. Further still, our project is also motivated by a broader realization that research into what lies presently beyond human and technological modes of sensing, has serious implications for a wider spectrum of disciplines involved in understanding earthly and non-earthly processes (atmospheric and biodiversity science are but two scientific examples) and for relevant science-policy interfaces. While we converge in our mutual interest in the imperceptible dimensions of the earth and the far-flung reaches of the cosmos, the innovation of our research lies in its focus upon understanding disciplinary differences and how these disrupt and challenge the ways each one of us approaches the imperceptible. The boundaries between what is and what is not sensed by humans is not of course static. For a theoretical
cosmologist, the imperative is to produce evidence – to ultimately reveal the imperceptible. For the artist, the interest lies in interrogating thresholds between the seen and unseen through art practice to enable critical and poetic reflection on the imperceptible. For the anthropologist, there is a different urge to use the category of the imperceptible as a way of questioning and further pushing the limits of human experience and sensibility.

We have designed a three-part methodology. Stage One is a period of three-way discussion, mutual observation and exchange. We will be made aware of each other’s ways of enquiring; social theory, drawing, theoretical physics, computational analysis. Our questions will include; what, for example, do we each mean by the imperceptible? What concepts and materials do we each use to attempt to make sense of the imperceptible? Where do we coincide in our understanding and engagement with the imperceptible and where do we diverge? Stage Two will allow for a period of distillation of the results from Stage One in order to develop a toolkit made up of concepts and drawings with which to dig deeper into the differences between the disciplines. Our questions will include; what concepts and materials may enable us to further understand how and where we differ? Can we identify a shift in how each one of us approaches the imperceptible and what might be the evidence of this shift? At this stage we will also extend the conversation to include a broader community of UK theoretical cosmologists.  In Stage Three we will test and reflect upon the viability of our methodology through a workshop with a wider group of forty artists, theoretical cosmologists and social scientists/philosophers.

The outputs of the project will include a twenty minute film of the research process culminating in the coverage of the workshop, a report summarizing each researcher’s critical reflections on the process of mutual exchange, an interdisciplinary publication, two conference papers (art/ anthropology of science), a new series of drawings and three public talks by the theoretical cosmologist.

Project dates: October 2014- October 2015