In 2018, Erika Kiss, Sigrid Adriaenssens, Chris Tully and John Higgins launched a faculty initiative in Princeton University that recognizes the increasing importance and opportunities of sensory learning, research and teaching through film and digital media. The Local Spirit faculty group shows that research films are a new apt way to disseminate scientific, technological and scholarly discoveries.

The Quantum Research Films collaboration by Erika A. Kiss and Chris Tully stretches the limits of the new literacy of architectonic rhetoric. Their research films pursue persuasive and aesthetically informed dramatic data visualization used for representing quantum phenomena. Pure quantum states have no external interactions and no sense for the direction of time therefore cannot be conceptualized from the classical humanistic, single fixed-point perspective. While the single fixed point of view emerges from observing the tangible functionalism of classical physical systems, quantum thinking requires the imagination to give up the single fixed perspective of the classical observer and assume a dynamic, 360-degree, non-anthropomorphic, rather, environmental perspective in a radical break with the tangible-object fetishism that is habitual to the mind. Since classic verbal, geometrical, and cinematic representations are suited for classical Newtonian physics, we need new representational strategies to communicate quantum thinking in a perspicuous and persuasive manner. Quantum research films enable audiences to use their imagination counterintuitively, so that the mind can be adjusted to quantum systems of non-tangible relationality and non-directional spatial-temporal conceptions. Two such research film installations directed by Kiss can be viewed in Venice as part of the Architectural Biennale 2023 until November 26.

Angelus Novus project won the European Culture Centre’s University Innovation Award in the 2023 Architecture Biennale Venice.

Inspired by Brunelleschi’s dome of the Santa Maria del Fiore and Klee’s artwork Angelus Novus, the Form Finding Lab and the UCHV Research Film Studio of Princeton University, together with architects and engineers at Skidmore, Owings & Merrill (SOM), present an exhibition that explores new possibilities for the self-balancing vault—a construction method that has enabled centuries of architectural innovation. In the garden of Palazzo Mora, the Angelus Novus Collaborative displays a self-balancing masonry vault constructed using augmented reality (AR), and a digital film-fresco that is viewable in two ways: on an LED panel, and on the vault itself via an interactive AR application.

In self-balancing vault construction of the Angelus Novus Vault, the balancing emerges from the local interactions between the bricks without any external support, even during the process of assembly. This invention was prompted by the 1418 architectural competition that stipulated that the vaulting of the main dome of the Florence Cathedral should have no supporting buttresses. Brunelleschi, the winner of the contest, went even further: his engineering solution eliminated the need for the expensive, temporary external supports traditionally used in masonry construction during the settling of the mortar.

Arthouse Memes

ArtHouse Memes is to be created by the UCHV Research Film Studio of Princeton University for the European Cultural Center Exhibition at the 2024 Art Biennale in Venice, which runs from May to November of 2024 and attracts hundreds of thousands of visitors.

One of the multiple functions of architectural structures, from caves to cupolas, is to communicate ideas persuasively to the public. The film-fresco entitled “Assembly & Disassembly” visualizes the analogy between architecture and the architectonic language of the universe, transforming NASA images and arthouse film clips.

Standing under the center of the Angelus Novus Vault in the garden of Palazzo Mora in Venice while holding up a mobile device equipped with the Plato’s Cave App, one can see the inside of Brunelleschi’s dome of the Santa Maria del Fiore. The inside of the augmented reality dome is “painted” with the animated mashup of the original Vasari fresco depicting The Last Judgement and Kiss’s Assembly/Disassembly. The augmented reality experience via the Plato’s Cave App reveals the coincidence of the self-balancing architectonics in Brunelleschi’s curved space engineering, in Vasari’s vision of Dante’s non-Euclidean, spherical cosmology and in the perfect moral balance of The Last Judgement.

Work in progress

A Klee painting named ‘Angelus Novus’ shows an angel looking as though he is about to move away from something he is fixedly contemplating. His eyes are staring, his mouth is open, his wings are spread. This is how one pictures the angel of history. His face is turned toward the past. Where we perceive a chain of events, he sees one single catastrophe which keeps piling wreckage and hurls it in front of his feet. The angel would like to stay, awaken the dead, and make whole what has been smashed. But a storm is blowing in from Paradise; it has got caught in his wings with such a violence that the angel can no longer close them. The storm irresistibly propels him into the future to which his back is turned, while the pile of debris before him grows skyward. This storm is what we call progress.
Walter Benjamin, Thesis on the History of Philosophy

Work in progress

A Virtual Reality (VR) rendering of Kubrick’s time-travel sequence from his “2001: A Space Odyssey”.  Kubrick’s epic film gave us the first image of Planet Earth from an out of space perspective – a whole year before the analogue photo from Apollo 11 – showing that art can train imagination to advance knowledge by priming our cognition to take in the unexpected and unfamiliar that science discovers, and technology delivers. This is also the first film to give us a representation of Einstein’s theory of relativity: a very inspiring (some say psychedelic) sequence of time-travel that takes us back to the beginning of the universe.  We will project the circa 10-minute sequence into a full-dome screen and record it with the 360-degree camera available in PU’s Studio Lab. The VR film will be able to be viewed via headsets and can be used for educational purposes. We hope to learn the ropes of immersive filmmaking and maybe even reinvent the technology while figuring it out from scratch. The VR rendering of the time-travel sequence is an opportunity to extend beyond the limitations of the original film.  Our short research film will be an ideal starting point for conveying a sense of the notion of a space without a sense of time and other complex ideas about the fundamental physics of the universe as well as the Big Bang.

Work in progress

In this short film we’re following a molecule of air (carbon dioxide) as it is transported around the world 3 million years ago, before it ends up in Antarctica and gets trapped between snowflakes and buried. This molecule of air is buried under kilometers of ice until today, when this air being drilled out in an ice core by scientists as a window into what the Earth was like 3 million years ago.

A Local Spirit-Research Film Studio production (Erika Kiss, John Higgins)

Work in progress

A circa 50-minute full-dome research film using telescopic NASA images and original animation in the style of Kiss’s Assembly&Dissassembly (2023) to capture Dante’s non-Euclidian 3-sphere cosmology that physicists liken to Einstein’s general theory of relativity.

The Modular Atlantis Project is a new Princeton faculty collaboration across disciplines.