Press Release

MIT's CAST Presents Symposium Exploring Contemporary Convergences of Digital and Material Worlds

Event Date: 
21 April 2017
Boston, MA

Taking place at MIT on April 21 – 22, 2017, BEING MATERIAL will draw leading artists, scientists, engineers, and scholars from around the world to explore the future of programmable materials, 3D/4D printing, synthetic biology, and wearable technologies

Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) announces the second major symposium mounted by its Center for Art, Science & Technology (CAST), “BEING MATERIAL.” Through conversations among artists and designers including Trevor Paglen, Hussein Chalayan, Claire Pentecost, and Lucy McRae, alongside leading scientists, engineers, and international scholars, such as Manu Prakash, Professor of Bioengineering from Stanford University, George Barbastathis, Professor of Mechanical Engineering at MIT, and Christina Agapakis, “BEING MATERIAL” will explore the unexpected intersections of the digital and material worlds. Building on MIT Media Lab founder Nicholas Negroponte’s 1995 prediction that the rise of the digital would rapidly untether us from material constraints, the symposium will grapple with the persistence of materiality and showcase how the material and the digital have continued to converge and foster innovations in material systems and design. These technological and engineering developments will be contextualized with input from artists and scholars from a range of humanities disciplines, advancing CAST’s mission to create opportunities for art, science, and technology to thrive as interrelated modes of exploration, knowledge, and discovery. 

Chaired by Stefan Helmreich (Elting E. Morison Professor of Anthropology and Program Head); Leila W. Kinney (Executive Director of Arts Initiatives and MIT CAST); Skylar Tibbits (Assistant Professor and founder of the Self-Assembly Lab, Department of Architecture); Rebecca Uchill (Postdoctoral Fellow and Lecturer, Department of Architecture); and Evan Ziporyn (Kenan Sahin Distinguished Professor; Chair, Music and Theater Arts; and Faculty Director of MIT CAST); “BEING MATERIAL” will take place over two days, April 21 – 22, 2017, and will encompass four panels, two performances, and demos, at the MIT Samberg Center. Each panel will be dedicated to a realm of digital and material intersections including the Programmable, Wearable, Livable, Invisible, and performances during Audible. Symposium registration is open to the public on the event website

“If over the past half-century, we have experienced a software and hardware revolution, we are now experiencing a true materials revolution,” said Skylar Tibbits, Assistant Professor and founder of the Self-Assembly Lab, MIT Department of Architecture. “We can now sense, compute, and actuate with materials alone, just as we could with software and hardware platforms previously. BEING MATERIAL will draw thought-leaders and practitioners from across these diverse domains to MIT to share their innovations with the public and with one another— with the aim of inspiring future discoveries and new pursuits in material systems and design.”

“BEING MATERIAL” follows CAST’s inaugural symposium, “Seeing / Sounding / Sensing,” which took place in September 2014 and invited artists to join with philosophers, cognitive neuroscientists, anthropologists, and historians to participate in open-ended discussions about knowledge production, resulting in the publication Experience: Culture, Cognition, and the Common Sense, edited by Caroline A. Jones, David Mather, and Rebecca Uchill, distributed by The MIT Press (2016). “BEING MATERIAL” also follows the Active Matter Summit, a conference held at MIT in April 2015 and organized by MIT’s Self-Assembly Lab in collaboration with MIT’s Center for Art, Science & Technology (CAST), MIT’s Department of Architecture, as well as Autodesk Inc. and Steelcase Inc. Leading researchers from the fields of materials science, art, design, engineering, synthetic biology, and soft-robotics along with thought leaders from government, public institutions, and industry collectively defined and explored challenges, applications and future scenarios in the emerging field of programmable materials. A forthcoming publication, Active Matter will be published by The MIT Press (Fall 2017).

Select participants include Manu Prakash, the recent MacArthur winner known for his Foldscope, a 50-cent microscope that unfolds like origami, and “paperfuge,” a 20-cent blood centrifuge; Hussein Chalayan, whose fashion designs have integrated new technology, science, and architecture for more than two decades; Lucy McRae, a sci-fi artist who probes the adaptability of the human body in extreme conditions; Trevor Paglen, a sound/video/installation artist, writer, and cultural geographer whose current work explores machine vision and surveillance; and Claire Pentecost, an artist who examines the implications of industrial and bioengineered agriculture. The event also includes performances by cellist and CAST Mellon Distinguished Visiting Artist Maya Beiser and the electronic musician Grace Leslie.

The broad spectrum of “BEING MATERIAL” participants include:


● PROGRAMMABLE: Benjamin Bratton, Ben Fry, Nadya Peek, Manu Prakash, Casey Reas

● WEARABLE: Christina Agapakis, Hussein Chalayan, Michelle Finamore, Lucy McRae, Natasha Schull

● LIVABLE: Tal Danino, Bill Maurer, Claire Pentecost, Bettina Stoetzer

● INVISIBLE: Sandy Alexandre, George Barbastathis, Michelle Murphy, Trevor Paglen, Lisa Parks

● AUDIBLE: Maya Beiser, Grace Leslie

Additional details about each thematic panel and their respective participants and available in a PDF of the press release below. 

Read the Release
PDF icon Download PDF (193.7 KB)
Download PDF to read the full Press Release >
Photo by Prakash Lab.

Other news about Arts at MIT

Press Release
Olafur Eliasson and Nick Mauss selected to create two New Percent-for-Art projects for MIT’s campus
15 November 2017
Press Release
Audra McDonald Awarded 2018 Eugene McDermott Award in the Arts at MIT
25 October 2017
Press Release
MIT Museum Presents North American Premiere of Groundbreaking Virtual Reality Experience “The Enemy” By Visiting Artist Karim Ben Khelifa
27 July 2017
Press Release
MIT's CAST Names Maya Beiser Inaugural Mellon Distinguished Visiting Artist
31 January 2017
Press Release
MIT Announces Virtual Reality Project “The Enemy” by Visiting Artist Karim Ben Khelifa
31 October 2016