Topic 2 – Physical Media: Responsive Matter

Mixed media, 2008
Hsinli Wang

Programmable materials, tangible interfaces, ambient intelligence, augmented reality, mixed reality, pervasive computing, behavioral objects, radical atoms, sustainable design: these terms suggest a new approach in our relationship to our environment. This is a time not only of virtualization but also of the reverse, of a growing association of our physical world with digital and interactive media. The innovative coupling of these two worlds gives rise to what we call "Physical Media", an expression that refers both to the most trivial of physical aspects – for instance the physical activity for the human body – and the most scientific, in particular those related to the material and life sciences: physics, chemistry, and biology.
This proposition is part of the "Tangible Media" dynamic, though it intensifies two of its aspects: the relationship to users and the relationship to the environment. On the one hand, the relationship to users is disrupted by the interactivity that can no longer be considered only from the point of view of multimedia (image, sound, and text ) and that becomes more and more physical, soliciting increasingly advanced movements. On the other hand, objects – and even the most physical of our environments – are destined to be heightened by an informational dimension that will allow them to be controlled, and more broadly, to be interacted with. Objects affected in this way may include the most trivial (pencils, spoons...), more substantial ones such as furniture (tables, chairs...), architectural elements (walls, floors, windows, ceilings, pipes, and cables...), or even fluids (water, gas, electricity, waves...) and other materials (asphalt, glass, concrete...). The operative relationship between our physical activities and our physical environments becomes a critical question for technical, artistic, and societal innovations, while taking into account environmental and economic criteria. The Physical Media topic is therefore based on a particularly original multidisciplinary approach at the intersection of physics, chemistry, and the life sciences, computer and electronic technologies, and artistic creation in the arts and design.
From 2015, we have a more specific program on this topic, with the help of PSL Research University: Responsive Matter .
How to find innovative expressions of the couple matter / form to devise and design sensible, sensitive and responsive devices with new materials.
Material sensitivity can become sensibility to mobilize our sentiments in line with the complex response of matter. Emerging materials, as formulated in our laboratories, are not this amorphous substance that we needed to shape anymore. Structured in a controlled manner down to its smaller components, it IS form. Even more : RESPONSIVE, it is able in certain circumstances to interact with its environment, and to get in touh with us. A sensitive relationship is therefore possible: direct, palpable, even sensual, without necessarily using various sensors and computer interfacing. A quasi-biological hardware INTELLIGENCE combined with an internal driving force that seems particularly fruitful to examine and implement, in an interdisciplinary “art-science” approach, looking for new ways of expression and innovative forms of interactive experiences.


Lia Giraud et Benoît Verjat, Naviguer / Comparer,
dispositif interactif rendant compte de l’évolution d’Algaegraphies
(photographies composées de micro-algues photosensibles vivantes)
Open studio : Lia Giraud + Benoit Verjat = Recherches, Cité Internationale des Arts, juin 2013