Matters of Activity. Image Space Material (MoA)


A new culture of material

The Cluster of Excellence will explore materials’ own inner activity, which can be discovered as a new source of innovative strategies and mechanisms for rethinking the relationship between the analog and the digital and for designing more sustainable and energy-efficient technologies.
A groundbreaking event of the 21st century is and will be the re-invention of the analog in the digital age. Its core is a new active materiality which is beginning to transform research and everyday life. Today’s digital technology is engendering completely new modes of agency based on material carriers, spatial structures, and images that are primarily conceived as passive instruments. While research, industry, and our whole society are moving toward a new expansion and implementation of the digital into all spheres of life, we propose to explore the opposing direction by addressing a new culture of the material. For us, both tendencies—digitalization and the re-invention of the material as active matter—are deeply connected.
The fundamental dichotomy of active and passive material has historically exerted a tremendous impact, not only on crafts and technology, but also as a naturalized foundation for Aristotelian gender difference throughout modernity until this day. Treating material as a mere passive entity and ignoring the enormous energy consumption that digital technologies rely on must be seen as major drivers of the anthropogenic crisis of our time. The inner activity of biomaterials analyzed in materials research and biology, however, points to materials’ general activity that necessarily includes their inner dynamic spatial structures and a symbolic and iconic dimension. The Cluster Matters of Activity will therefore explore materials’ own inner activity, which can be discovered as a new source of innovative strategies and mechanisms for rethinking the relationship between the analog and the digital and for designing more sustainable and energy-efficient technologies. This shift to active matter draws on important references from the long history of matter and material practices including European antiquity, prehistoric times, and non-occidental cultures.
Our vision of a new theory and practice of matter can be seen as a ‘trans-digital’ consequence that brings the idea of algorithms and code down to Earth in order to re-set it within matter itself: We will seek to unlock the activity hidden within images, spaces, and materials, thus incorporating an additional dimension of symbolic activity in all dimensions of the material and cultural world. A central goal of Matters of Activity is to develop images, spaces, and materials as active construction elements of a new physical and symbolic reality, in which nature and culture are intertwined in a novel way.
The Cluster builds on the convergent and integrative concept of active matter, a challenging issue driving developments at the core of a whole range of disciplines, including the materials sciences, physics, biology, medicine, cultural and sciences studies, art history, media theory, anthropology, philosophy, and the design disciplines. Since this research topic cannot be addressed adequately by the disciplines individually, a close collaboration between the humanities, natural sciences, engineering, and design is a fundamental requirement for the proposed Cluster. This interaction will enable us to realize Matters of Activity as a new field of research that intrinsically intertwines experimentation, theoretical and historical analysis, and design processes as a distributed, but highly integrative research activity: The humanities and design will enter the laboratory, while engineers and scientists will reframe experimentation in a conceptual way, thus incorporating their different approaches into convergent project development and corresponding research processes. The Cluster’s collaboration between more than 40 highly specialized disciplines builds on the Interdisciplinary Laboratory established by the Cluster of Excellence Image Knowledge Gestaltung in 2012.
This sophisticated workbench or platform will enable an open, but very strategically driven convergent research process centered on Gestaltung. Our new research approach is conceived as a radical unity of theory and practice: Given the increasing relevance of design to all disciplines, we will focus firmly on making. Incorporating design—traditionally excluded from basic research at universities—as an equal partner recognizes its essential role in the production of knowledge. We consider making a highly sophisticated integration of epistemological theory, experimental practice, design strategies, enactive thinking, and structural operations that combine coding and acting, the material and the symbolic in the very same process. A vitally important aspect of this is that the new process of making and designing derived from the natural materials is a process of unfolding and designing the material’s own activity.


01.01.2019 - 31.12.2025




Deutsche Forschungsgemeinschaft (DFG)


Humboldt-Universität zu Berlin

Charité – Universitätsmedizin Berlin

Freie Universität Berlin

Max Planck Institute of Colloids and Interfaces, Potsdam

Museum of Decorative Arts, State Museums of Berlin, Prussian Cultural Heritage Foundation

Technische Universität Berlin

Weißensee Academy of Art Berlin