Nanotechnology: Instability in an Unpredictable Milieu

Attractors: Paul Thomas & Edward A. Shanken & Mike Phillips & Frederik De Wilde

The use of concepts from nanoscience and nanotechnology materials in art provides alternative perspectives on the material world by putting us literally ‘in touch’ with ‘increasingly fuzzy, unstable and chaotic’ atomic structures. Indeed, in order to measure the infinitely small, The Atomic Force Microscope (AFM) instantiates a shift from optical microscopy to a minute cantilevered stylus as a haptic interface with the seemingly intangible atomic substrate of the universe.

Methodology: The relationship between the ephemerality/tangibility of matter shall be considered in a roundtable convened and led by Paul Thomas, Mike Phillips, Edward Shanken, Frederimk De wilde. We intend to explore the effects on human senses and perceptions of living in a boundary less states. The roundtable ‘think tank’ will interrogate and challenge the rhetoric of scientific nanotechnology that implies a controlled and regimented overview of all nature. In contrast to the machinic measurement of the atom within a fixed quantitative framework we will celebrate its instability in an unpredictable milieu. We see it as part material reality; part science fiction – an evolving narrative involving humans and non-humans that has the potential to rewrite the oppositional terms through which meaning (and our scientific understanding of reality) has traditionally been constructed.


Dr Paul Thomas, has a joint position as Head of Painting at the College of Fine Art, University of New South Wales and Coordinator of Collaborative Research in Art, Science and Humanity, (CRASH) Curtin University. Paul has chaired numerous international conferences and has co-curting a show of Australian artists for ISEA2011. In 2000 Paul instigated and was the founding Director of the Biennale of Electronic Arts Perth.Paul has been working in the area of electronic arts since 1981 when he co-founded the group Media-Space. Media-Space was part of the first global link up with artists connected to ARTEX. From 1981-1986 the group was involved in a number of collaborative exhibitions and was instrumental in the establishment a substantial body of research. Paul’s research project ‘Nanoessence’ explored the space between life and death at a nano level. The project was part of an ongoing collaboration with the Nanochemistry Research Institute, Curtin University of Technology and SymbioticA at the University of Western Australia. The previous project ‘Midas’ was researching at a nano level the transition phase between skin and gold. In 2009 he established Collaborative Research in Art Science and Humanity (CRASH) at Curtin.


Edward A. Shanken writes and teaches about the entwinement of art, science, and technology with a focus on interdisciplinary practices involving new media. He is a researcher at University of Amsterdam (UvA), guest-lecturer in Comparative Arts and Media at VU University, Amsterdam, and a member of the Media Art History faculty at the Donau University in Krems, Austria. He was formerly Universitair Docent of New Media at UvA, Executive Director of the Information Science + Information Studies program at Duke University, and Professor of Art History and Media Theory at Savannah College of Art and Design. Fellowships include National Endowment for the Arts, American Council of Learned Societies, UCLA, University of Bremen, and Washington University in St. Louis. Recent and forthcoming publications include essays on art and software in the 1960s; interactivity, agency, and responsibility; sound art and ecology; art historiography, and bridging the gap between new media and contemporary art. His forthcoming book, Inventing the Future: Art, Electricity, New Media will be published in Spanish and Chinese in paper and e-text. He edited and wrote the introduction to a collection of essays by Roy Ascott, “Telematic Embrace: Visionary Theories of Art, Technology and Consciousness (University of California Press, 2003). His critically praised survey, Art and Electronic Media (Phaidon Press, 2009) has been expanded with an extensive, multimedia Online Companion.


Mike Phillips is Professor of Interdisciplinary Arts at the University of Plymouth. R&D orbits digital architectures and transmedia publishing, and is manifest in a series of ‘Operating Systems’ to dynamically manifest ‘data’ as experience in order to enhance perspectives on a complex world. The Operating Systems project explores data as an abstract and invisible material that generates a dynamic mirror image of our biological, ecological and social activities. Mike Phillips is director of , an Arts Research Organisation that acts as a catalyst for creative innovation across the fields of Art, Science and Technology, facilitating regional, national and international collaborations and cultural projects. As a networked organisation and ‘cultural broker’ i-DAT’s transdisciplinary agenda fosters ‘open innovation’ and knowledge exchange between companies, institutions, communities and individuals. i-DAT is developing new ‘tools’ for production, dissemination and participation that challenge traditional models of creation and consumption, and embrace the shifting relationships between audiences and cultural producers. i-DAT’s projects can be found on the i-DAT web site at:

Frederik De Wilde acts on the border area between science, technology and art. The conceptual crux of his artistic praxis is the notions of the intangible, inaudible, invisible. It is this interstitial territory that Frederik De Wilde explores in his various works. Sometimes on the side of the technological, and often in the perceptual, conceptual, social—human—register, De Wilde’s art is grounded in the interaction between complex systems, both biological and technological. Moreover, the indistinct, diffuse, ‘fuzzy’ arena where the biological and the technological overlap and commingle is a productive and favored ground for his projects/ projections. Frederik is now working as a guest professor at Transmedia Brussels and is a permanent artist in residence at the University of Hasselt.