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Humboldt-Universität zu Berlin - Matters of Activity. Image Space Material

Symbolic Material

The Cluster of Excellence Matters of Activity is currently hiring outstanding researchers and designers.

The project Symbolic Material especially encourages applications by:

  • Candidates with a PhD in Cognitive Science, Language Science or Neuroscience and a strong background in behavioral & neuro-cognitive experimenting and neuro-computational modeling addressing the mechanisms of symbol and image processing in the human mind and brain (see also project Cutting)
  • Candidates with a PhD in Philosophy, Art History, Media Studies, or Design Research and experiences in experimenting, analyzing and shaping of materials and codes


The project will analyze the shift from passive to analog-coded matter that represents and performs the symbolic dimension embodied within the material and spatial dimensions. Symbols are intrinsically linked to both their own indexical material activity and to their relationship to other material objects and actions. Our analysis of the symbolic dimension of materials will focus on the following question: What conditions are necessary for the emergence of symbolic processes in matter as an additional degree of freedom? This linking of symbolic operations and material processes will be explored from a practice-based theoretical and experimental perspective. The project will examine symbolically active matter as analog code directed at innovative procedures that reach far beyond and combine with the digital. We consider intrinsically intertwined material and symbolic activity essential to adaptive processes via feedback and affordances. Homologies will be drawn between physical, biological, and symbolic structures, which will provide the general theoretical basis for an interdisciplinary and experimental structuralism focusing on symbolic material as the essential requirement for analog coding. Symbolic materials as material and spatial structures "augmented" through the symbolic dimension will be adopted as a completely different approach to exploring so-called virtual and augmented reality, mixed media applications, or tangible interfaces. We will also focus on multidimensional spaces of mathematical physics that can in fact be regarded as a speculative and intimate merging of image, space, and material.
The project will start with the following experimental settings:

The setting Material Structuralism to Analog Code will bring the interdisciplinary analysis of materialism and structuralism into the lab. The aim is not only to elaborate an extended concept of materiality, which avoids in particular the reduction of matter to perceptive or sensory qualities, but rather addresses matter from the viewpoint of its "quasi-immaterial" properties and feedback loops. The project will strive to sophisticate the concept of the symbolic beyond the linguistic or discursive paradigm that has hitherto predominated in its understanding.

The setting Brain Matters aims to investigate the material activity of the brain and its emergent functions in image and symbol processing. We will analyze whether symbolic understanding depends crucially on action-related and motor processes, and what these processes contribute to understanding, thus intrinsically relating the symbolic and spatial dimensions.

The setting Active Multidimensional Spaces is dedicated to designing active multidimensional spaces in which the materiality and spatiality of symbolic operations can be explored. The question is how multidimensional spaces with tangible material interfaces can be developed for a play-based exploration of their symbolic meaning from a technical, aesthetic, and analytical perspective.

Principal Investigators: Bredekamp (Art History), Mareis (Design & Design Research), Nyakatura (Biology), Picht (Neurosurgery), Pulvermüller (Linguistics & Brain Research), Schäffner (Cultural History & Theory), Sieck (Computer Science), Staudacher (Mathematics & Physics), Vogl (Literary Studies)