Leaning Out of Windows: Art and Physics Collaborations through Aesthetic Transformations

SSHRC Insight grant 2016-2023
Co-investigators: Dr. Randy Lee Cutler and Ingrid Koenig

Leaning Out of Windows (LOoW) is a four-year SSHRCC funded interdisciplinary art and science project, comprising four phases between 2016 to 2020. It involves co-designing, curating, testing, and analyzing models of collaboration for art and science. Participants include Emily Carr University’s faculty, art students, visiting artists + physicists, post-doctoral researchers and graduate students working at TRIUMF, Canada’s particle accelerator centre and accelerator-based science located at the University of British Columbia.

In this venture we join together artists and physicists to share the quest to understand the nature of reality. Their diverse experiences, views, and interactions bring each discipline to see a new perspective on the creative process while also broadening the potential for communication between disciplines. Our aim is to transform the grammar of abstract knowledge by specifically addressing the barely discernible phenomena studied by physics through aesthetics, analogy, metaphor, and other inventive methods.

Leaning Out of Windows: An Art and Physics Collaboration

Edited by Ingrid Koenig and Randy Lee Cutler
Published by Figure 1 and Occasional Press

Leaning Out of Windows shares some of the results of a six-year collaboration by a group of artists and physicists exploring the connections and differences between the language they use, the means by which they develop knowledge, how that knowledge is visualized, and, ultimately, how they seek to understand the universe. Physicists from TRIUMF, Canada’s particle physics accelerator, presented key concepts in the physics of Antimatter, Emergence, and In/visible Forces to artists convened by Emily Carr University of Art + Design; the participants then generated conversations, process drawings, diagrams, field notes, and works of art. The “wondrous back-and-forth” of this process allowed both scientists and artists to, as Koenig and Cutler describe, “lean out of our respective fields of inquiry and inhabit the infinite spaces of not knowing.”

From this leaning into uncertainty comes a rich array of work towards furthering the shared project of artists and scientists in shaping cultural understandings of the universe: Otoniya J. Okot Bitek reflects on the invisible forces of power; Jess H. Brewer contemplates emergence, free will, and magic; Mimi Gellman looks at the resonances between Indigenous Knowledge and physics; Jeff Derksen finds Hegelian dialectics within the matter–antimatter process; Sanem Güvenç considers the possibilities of the void; Nirmal Raj ponders the universe’s “special moment of light and visibility” we happen to inhabit; Sadira Rodrigues eschews the artificiality of the lab for a “boring berm of dirt”; and Marina Roy metaphorically turns beams of stable and radioactive gold particles into art of pigments, oils, liquid plastic, and wood. Combined with additional essays, diagrams, and artworks, these texts and artworks live in the intersection of disparate fields that nonetheless share a deep curiosity of the world and our place within it, and a dedication to building and sharing knowledges.

In the Media

2020: Episode 063: Let’s Talk Physics, The Leaning Out of Windows Project – Interview with Co-Investigators Randy Lee Cutler and Ingrid Koenig
2020 “Searching for the Language of the Universe”, Canadian ArtWhat happens when physicists and artists collaborate on some of science’s biggest questions? A unique project reveals surprising affinities. Co-written with Ingrid Koenig.
Randy Lee Cutler - Rock Album

Ecocene: Cappadocia Journal of Environmental Humanities

Visual Essay and cover image: “Mineral Garden” by Randy Lee Cutler and Andrew Rewald, Vol. 2 No.2 (2021): December

Ecocene website

An Elemental Typology, 2019

Artist book
SSHRC Explore Grant with Emily Carr University

An Elemental Typology is informed by three areas of knowledge – arts based research, designed based research and scientific research, including physics, medicine and geology. It aims to explore how artists and designers might work with scientific information to develop a poetic investigation of interdisciplinary knowledge. This multifaceted project focuses on the importance of hybrid research for considering current investigations into our relationship with mineral extraction, technological innovation and archaic knowledge practices. As a research creation project, An Elemental Typology aims to generate multiple ways of knowing through innovative design.

The project involves interdisciplinary research on mineral substances from the fields of physics, medicine, biology and geology. This is coupled with image research through online sources of material labeled for non-commercial reuse with modification. In addition to digital images in the public domain, Cutler also includes her own photographs that address how minerals and crystal forms are found in popular culture, street graffiti and consumer contexts such a storefront display.

The artists’ book is an artwork for the page. Artist books can be quite diverse representing a broad understanding of the medium. As a multiple, it is a form that allows the artists’ book to be accessible to many people in different locations. As an artwork, the artists’ book offers innovative ways for thinking about the parameters of the book as an editioned object, experimenting with design and printing processes, and bringing together form and content in innovative ways.

“Mineral Materialities in Contemporary Art: between intra-action, discursive magic and grief” in Curating Beyond Disciplines: Collaborations with Lively Objects, eds., Dr. Lizzie Muller and Dr. Caroline Seck Langill, Routledge. 2021

SSHRC Connection Grant collaborator with partner institutions OCADU, University of New South Wales, University of Dundee and The Banff Centre. Routledge will publish a book of the project.
Co-investigators: Dr. Caroline Langill and Dr. Lizzie Muller

Curating Lively Objects, hosted by the Banff International Curatorial Institute in 2015 (BICI), brought together a small and focused group of Canadian and Australian researchers and practitioners (both independent and institutionally affiliated) from the fields of art history and curatorial practice. It built on Dr. Langill’s and Dr. Muller’s collaborative research to consider the notion of lively objects – including, but not limited to media art works – and their potential for disrupting the mono-disciplinary structures of the exhibitionary complex. It examined the agency of such objects within curatorial practice and audience experience, and ask how we might reconsider modes and venues of display in response to this agency. In particular the group explored the implications of such objects and practices for the future of museums, galleries and other cultural organisations as sites of knowledge production.
The edited volume published by Routledge is an anthology of essays drawing from the Lively Objects residency in Banff. The volume called Curating Beyond Disciplines: Collaborations with Lively Objects will be a unique contribution to literature on curating, museums and material culture studies.

Maggie Groat, of another natural history, 2011

Knowings and Knots: Methodologies and Ecologies in Research-Creation Think Tank

Featuring Keynote Speaker Donna Haraway
March 24-27, 2014, University of Alberta
Sponsored by the University of Alberta’s Kule Institute for Advanced Studies, a Killam Research Fund Connection Grant, SSHRC

Knowing and Knots… the edited volume published by the University of Alberta Press asks the question how research-creation is conceived and actualized by practitioners in the interdisciplinary humanities and how research-creation prompts critical new directions in the academy today.

Randy Lee Cutler, ​”Open and Wide: Figuring Digestion as Research-Creation” (PDF)

Randy Lee Cutler and John Cussans, “Special Investigations: Randy Lee Cutler in conversation with John Cussans” (PDF)