Project description

Short project description

Contingent Agencies is an artistic research project conceived as an inquiry into the subtle, dynamic, complex and enveloping presences that emerge in given situations for those who inhabit them. These presences are denominated with terms such as “Stimmungen,” “moods,” or even “places” or “figures.” In this project we favor the words “atmospheres” and “environments.”

More particularly, this project investigates the specific ways in which the actualization of the agencies of single components of a situation (from light to animals, from artifacts to sounds, from matter to vegetation, from traffic to color, …) conditions the emergence of these all-over and senseful presences.

A “situation” is addressed here as a system of emergence. Accordingly, atmospheres are considered as coherent networks of phenomena that emerge due to a systematically organized set of intertwined agencies. All the components of a situation are, potentially, endowed with agency, that is, with the capacity of transforming the other elements of a situation, the whole situation and the arising environment. These agencies are the enabling conditions that, by virtue of the specific ways in which they interact with one another, that is, of their mutual contingencies, allow an environment to emerge. It is important to notice that the agencies of the researchers at work are themselves enabling conditions. The contingent character of all these agencies derives from their systemic interconnection: they condition one another while conditioning the emergent atmosphere. Furthermore, they are constrained by the atmosphere they enable. Situations, therefore, are considered here as systems of co-emergence: complex and dynamic systems in which all components condition one another simultaneously bottom-up (from the enabling conditions to the emergent qualities) and top-down (in this case, from the environment to their enabling contingent agencies).

This project pursues three main goals. The first is to provide new possibilities of connection with or different forms of access to the inquired issue. To pursue this goal derives from the particular nature of the project’s subject-matter. Atmospheres as well as the actualization of agencies and especially the way the actualization conditions the emergence of atmospheres are phenomenal—they appear, they are present—but not a single phenomenon: their appearance is not singularized, is not objectified. This specific nature requires practices, artifacts, settings and forms of communication and display that allow researchers to address these issues in a non-reductive way, that is, maintaining the specificities of their presences. The second goal can be only attained on the basis of the achievement of the first. This second goal consists in the production of descriptions and explanations of the inquired issue. This knowledge-producing objective requires different practices, settings and forms of communication and generates different kinds of artifacts. The third goal is a subsidiary of the first two. It consists in the development of a methodic framework that allows the aforementioned goals to be reached. This framework is constituted, basically, by two kinds of practices: practices of notation and practices of reflection. In this context, practices of notation, conceived and realized in different media, aim at achieving the project’s first goal. A variety of reflection, denominated “reflecting,” attains as well this first goal whereas a second form of reflection, designated as “reflecting on,” pursues the second goal. In both cases, practices of reflection are mediated by artifacts of notation. A third component of this project’s methodical approach is denominated “tactics of showing” It refers, on the one hand, to the specific forms of preparation and presentation of the artifacts of notation in order for them to facilitate practices of reflection and, on the other hand, to the settings and processes conceived and realized to display artifacts of notation and reflection to a specialized and a general public. In both cases the tactics of showing aim at efficiently mobilizing the epistemic agencies of the artifacts at stake. The project’s website, linked to “base,” a web-based platform for applications that digitally support art and science, and research and teaching developed at the University of Applied Arts Vienna, is one crystallization of these tactics of showing.



The concept of “notation” refers here to both the practices of notating and the artifacts resulting therefrom: single “notations.” Since both issues are connected in a relation of mutual determination, they are addressed here in conjunction.

The practices of notating, as outlined in this project, are basically conditioned by two constraints: on the one hand, the presences addressed through these practices, and on the other hand, the function of these practices and the resulting artifacts in the methodology of this project.

The presence to which each process of notation attends is the specific way in which the actualization of the agency of a singular component in a situation conditions the atmosphere that arises in this situation. Therefore, the focus of each process of notation is the actual dynamic relation of conditioning between two phenomenal entities: the unfolding of an agency and an atmosphere. Notation, thus, takes place in a framework which is constituted by seven significant elements: a situation, one of its components, its agency, the current unfolding of this agency, a present atmosphere, the specific way in which the actualization of the agency conditions the actual atmosphere, and one or several notators.

In this framework, the focus of awareness of the notators is set on a triad including the present atmosphere, the current unfolding of one agency and, particularly, the way in which the actualization of the agency conditions this atmosphere. These three issues share a fundamental feature: they are phenomenal—that is, they appear to the notators which are constitutively involved in their appearance—without being a single phenomenon. Their variety of presence is not clearly contoured and unambiguously differentiated from other presences. Unlike the terms used for their denomination (and eventually the concepts which these terms denote) the sensuous presences of these issues are not singularized objects. Consequently, notation cannot be performed as an operation of “apprehension,” “grasping,” or “capturing,” because these operations can only be realized with phenomena, that is, clearly objectified presences. In contrast, notating here has to be understood as the generation of organized signs in a correlation of “sensed coherence” (Stimmigkeit) with the attended presences. In this sense, notation implies the production of an object—an organized, contoured artifact: a notation—through operative contact with a non-objectual presence—the unfolding of an agency conditioning the emergence of an atmosphere. This concept of notation questions the transitive character of the verb “notate.” Due to its own nature, the way in which the actualization of the agency conditions an atmosphere cannot be the “object” in a grammatical sense, of this verb. Notate, here, does not mean “to notate something” but “to notate in contact with a non-objectified presence.” More fundamentally, the operation of notating, here, implies the establishment of the necessary variety of contact that allows for producing organized signs in sensed coherence with the notation’s correlate.

The operation of “enabling contact” or “providing access” constitutes the function of the practices of notation in this project. In a fundamental way, this function is fulfilled, as explained, in the relation to the project’s subject matter (the ways in which the actualization of contingent agencies condition atmospheres). In a further stage, this function is exercised in the relation between practices of reflection and the project’s subject matter. Notations, that is, the artifacts resulting from processes of notating, have to be endowed here with the agency of enabling the practitioners performing practices of reflection to establish a sensuous contact with the agency to be reflected upon. Accordingly, notations, as well as the practices of notation, fulfill a function of mediation—of “providing access” or “allowing for contact”—instead of representation.


The focus of reflection in this research project is the specific way in which the actualization of the agency of single components of a given situation conditions the emerging atmosphere / environment in this situation. In this context, reflection is always mediated by one or more notations, that is, by one or more artifacts resulting from the performance of practices of notation. The mediating notations and the practice of reflection have a common focus: one particular agency, or more specifically, the way in which one particular agency influences a concrete atmosphere.

A fundamental difference between the realization of practices of reflection and notation results from the kind of spatiotemporal relationship between practitioners and their focus.

In the performance of practices of notation the “notators” are in an immediate contact with both the inquired agency and the atmosphere conditioned by this agency. In contrast, the “reflector” is not part of the situation in which the inquired agency conditions a specific atmosphere. Accordingly, in the performance of practices of reflection the “reflectors” are in contact with the investigated agency only through the artifacts of notation, and the access to the atmosphere influenced by this agency is mainly facilitated by the description of this atmosphere in the protocol of notation and, tangentially, by the artifacts of notation. If “reflector” and “notator” are the same person, the presence of the agency and the atmosphere is enabled as well through memory. In any case, reflection takes place on the basis of a reenactment of an atmosphere that emerged under different spatiotemporal conditions of those in which reflection is performed.

This project contemplates a possible differentiation between two varieties of reflection. This difference can be understood either as being categorical or in terms of polarities in a continuous field of practice. One variety can be denominated “reflecting on” and the other, simply, “reflecting.”

Two intertwined parameters inherent to the performance of practices of reflection enable this differentiation: the way in which intentionality is mobilized and the specific relation of mediacy established between reflector and her focus. “Intentionality” is understood here in phenomenological terms as the intrinsic aboutness of consciousness: every act of consciousness—also denominated “intentional act”—refers to a phenomenon which is not consciousness itself.

In the case of the variety of reflection denominated here as “reflecting on,” intentionality has a clear direction: from the reflector toward her focus of reflection. The reflector sharply focusses on the agency at stake and performs her reflective skills in an (in)tense way in order to scrutinize the thematized agency. This structure implies a clear categorical differentiation between reflector and her focus of reflection. On this basis, the practice of reflection mediates between reflector and reflected agency. The performance of the practice of reflection is the connecting element between two categorically different entities. It realizes a one-way process through which the reflector reflects on or about one agency.

In contrast, in the variety of reflection designated here simply as “reflecting,” intentionality is conceived as a bidirectional, open channel of communication—understood in its original etymological sense of “making common”—or as a medium of contact between the reflector and the investigated agency. Intentionality is the connecting element between two ongoing processes: the process of reflection and the processes of an agency unfolding. Reflection, in this case, expresses—also understood according to its etymology as “pushing or pressing out”—the actualization of an agency by generating an artifact—a reflection—which immediately manifests or “gives back” (wiedergibt) phenomenally this actualization instead of generating an artifact about it. This variety of reflection—that could be denominated “aesthetic reflection”—can be described, metaphorically, in relation to the  basic concept of reflection in physics: “an abrupt change in the direction of propagation of a wave that strikes the boundary between different mediums.” [1]See: Last consulted on June 9, 2021. In this context, the new possibilities of accessibility to the inquired agency through the performance of practices of reflection could be understood as the different “directions[s] of propagation” and the practices reflection and the subjacent mobilization of intentionality as being the “different mediums.”

This variety of reflection presents a fundamental commonality with the concept of notation specified in this project: the porous immediacy between the investigated agencies and the practitioners. In this sense, notation could be understood here as a “primary reflection” and consequently there would be a continuity between notation and reflection.

Despite this commonality, and in addition to the aforementioned divergences in relation to immediacy and mediation, a further difference between notation and reflection refers to the temporal realization of both sets of practices. Whereas notation is realized “continuously and at once,” that is, uninterrupted during the time frame that defines a þing, both varieties of reflection can be realized iteratively during an open period of time.

1 See: Last consulted on June 9, 2021.
Research cell

A “cell” or “research cell” is an operative unit of inquiry that may include several processes of notation (and consequently several þings) and different processes of reflection as well as the artifacts resulting from both types of practice. A cell can be defined in advanced, for example, in relation to a topological delimitation in which a series of þings will take place or one agency that will be investigated through different practices of notation and reflection. In contrast, a cell can be defined a posteriori, that is, after the realization of the processes of notation and/or reflection that will be embedded in one cell. In this case, at least one criterion of coherence (spatial, temporal, relative to agencies, practices or practitioners) has to be established. One or several notations and reflections—meaning both the processes and the resulting artifacts—as well as þings, can be included in one or more cells.

A cell, independent of the process of its definition, provides conditions for focusing on one specific aspect significant for the development of the research process.

Tactics of showing

The two sets of practices that constitute the methodological foundation of this project—practices of notation and practices of reflection—produce artifacts. These artifacts are considered here as aesthetic “epistemic things” [1]Hans-Jörg Rheinberger, An Epistemology of the Concrete: Twentieth-Century Histories of Life (Durham: Duke University Press Books, 2010) and Hans-Jörg Rheinberger, Toward a History of Epistemic … Continue reading and consequently have to be “shown” [2]See the concept of “showing asunder” in Dieter Mersch, Epistemologies of aesthetics (Zürich: Diaphanes, 2015). in ways that enable the unfolding of their intrinsic epistemic agencies. In order to find the adequate varieties of presentation, it is necessary to proceed adaptively—attending to the specificities of each artifact, their epistemic agencies, their function in the project and the particularities of the situation in which the artifacts will be displayed—in order to achieve a specific goal. The “tactics of showing”—or, in a widest sense, of “sharing”—are conceived and realized in this project in order to fulfill this function and are, therefore, the third constitutive component of the project’s methodology.

Tactics of showing are developed in two different cases: in regard to the relationship between practices of notation and practices of reflection and in situations of sharing notation and reflection artifacts with further researchers and public audiences.

In the first case, the function of the tactics of showing is to present the artifacts of notation in the most adequate way for the performance of practices of reflection. Artifacts of notation have to be formalized, framed and rendered to the “reflectors” in ways that bring into focus those aspects that concentrate their epistemic potentiality. In this case, the strategies of display have to be an enabling factor for the artifacts of notation to fulfill their function: to provide access to the way in which the actualization of a specific agency conditions the emergence of a concrete atmosphere, knowing that the practices of reflection are performed neither in direct contact with the investigated agency nor with the atmosphere influenced by this agency.   

In the second case, the basic function of the tactics of showing—to facilitate the unfolding of the notation and reflection artifacts’ agencies—remains unaltered but the degree of diversity of the frameworks in which the actualization of the artifacts’ agencies should be actualized increases notably. On the one hand, the artifacts of notation and reflection will be displayed for researchers practicing in different fields—not only in artistic research, but in the humanities, social and natural sciences. As much as possible, the tactics of showing should take into consideration the specificities of these different research practices. On the other hand, the artifacts will be presented to a general audience, often with mixed backgrounds. In this case, the main focus for the realization of strategies of display can only be the goal to be pursued in each context. In addition, the contact with the audience may be indirect, as for example in the case of the projects website. In this case the strategies of display may be reduced to basic indications in regard to forms of handling of the artifacts.

1 Hans-Jörg Rheinberger, An Epistemology of the Concrete: Twentieth-Century Histories of Life (Durham: Duke University Press Books, 2010) and Hans-Jörg Rheinberger, Toward a History of Epistemic Things: Synthesizing Proteins in the Test Tube (Palo Alto: Stanford University Press, 1997).
2 See the concept of “showing asunder” in Dieter Mersch, Epistemologies of aesthetics (Zürich: Diaphanes, 2015).

A “þing” (pronounced thing) in this project is the framework in which one or more practices of notation take place. Drawing from the Proto-Germanic origin of this word, meaning originally “assembly,” “appointed time,” or “a coming together of parts,” a þing here is defined by five parameters: the “notator” or “notators,” the practice or practices performed, the spatial delimitation in which such practices are realized, the duration of their performance and the inquired agency or agencies.

A þing can be realized by one single notator or by a group of any number of practitioners.  Each practitioner can notate through a particular practice developed in a specific medium. The spatial delimitation of a þing has to be defined before the processes of notation start. This delimitation does not have to be precise but common and clear enough for all practitioners at work. In contrast, the total duration of a þing is not fixed in advanced but defined by the intrinsic development of each process of notation: when all notators come to an end, the þing is concluded. Each notator participating in a þing chooses one specific agency as focus of her practice. In case of more than one notator, the agencies chosen can be different. Although different kinds of connections between the different practices of notation performed simultaneously in one þing can be established, basically each process of notation is autonomous.