Tim Hyde & MCRM, 2019 “A Useful Fiction" (Photograph, 15x23”, edition of 5)

Symposium + Speed of Light Expedition

Humans collect and interpret measurements to understand the world and exercise control over chaos. We rely on mechanisms of measurement – such as a meter, the speed of light, or a photographic record – with the assumption that they establish a truth in which we can believe. However as traces, proxies, and indices, measurements are fragile and prone to manipulation and misinterpretation. Tools are almost as malleable as the ideas they produce; the promised indexical pars pro toto correlation between measurements and their interpretations has been increasingly exploited in pursuit of human agendas. In the context of a complex problem, such as climate change in the Anthropocene, this relationship has become increasingly political.    

Useful Fictions is a week-long symposium and a public participatory art project in Paris. It is a platform to embrace complex problems by modeling radical openness to research in which tools, laboratories, studios are shared between artists and scientists to expand concepts for ecological thinking. Useful Fictions proposes to see the calculation of a catastrophic future not as an inevitability but as an invitation to innovate and effect change. Bridging the divide between urgency and agency, the project gathers a coalition of artists, designers, humanists, and graduate students to work with globally acclaimed climate scientists in their laboratories to build future machines and write absurd fictions.

This project invites critique of the human-centered narrative that dominates and defines contemporary cultural consciousness. The issues we are faced with challenge us to reclaim knowledge creation by examining the idea of proxy and measurements in ways that will expand anthropocentric lenses. Through the use of both critical discourse and practice-based research in art, design, and science, as well as case studies in climate science and related contextual research, we will ask: “What controls the manufacturing of our systems of belief? What stories do we tell ourselves? Can we imagine differently?”


Monday, Sept. 9, 2019 - Friday, Sept. 13, 2019
​École polytechnique, Institut Polytechnique de Paris, France

The Useful Fictions Symposium will take place from Monday, Sept. 9, 2019, to Friday, Sept. 13, 2019, at École polytechnique, Institut Polytechnique de Paris, France. Within the defined framework of Useful Fictions, research activities will unfold in the laboratories outlined below. These research engagements will run continuously from Monday to Friday in conjunction with guest lectures and group discussions.



Speed of Light Expedition

Saturday, Sept. 14, 2019 and Sunday, Sept. 15, 2019
​Galerie HUS, Montmartre, Paris, France

The Speed of Light (SOL) Expedition is an invitation to travel the same eight kilometers of distance between Mont Valérien in Suresnes and Montmartre defined by physicist Hippolyte Fizeau in his significant 1849 Speed of Light experiment in Paris. Designed with incredible precision, Fizeau’s experiment is a part of the collective genius, a wave of breakthroughs in history that gave birth to Einstein’s theory of relativity that introduced paradigm shifts in the science and art of the modern world.



About the Project:​

This project was initiated through a Global Affairs International Activities Seed Grant with matching funds from the College of Letters and Science and the Office of Research from the University of California, Davis, and the Chaire Arts et Sciences of the École polytechnique, École nationale supérieure des Arts Décoratifs – PSL and The Fondation Daniel et Nina Carasso.

Principal Investigator: Jiayi Young (UC Davis), Co-Principal Investigators: Jean-Marc Chomaz (École polytechnique), Timothy Hyde (UC Davis), and James Crutchfield (UC Davis); Collaborators: Victoria Vesna (UCLA), David Familian (UC Irvine), Asa Calow (Madlab, Manchester, UK).

Since its conception, additional funds have been contributed by the Chaire arts et sciences and the Chaire Développement durable – EDF (École polytechnique). The development of the project also received generous support from Samuel Bianchini and Manuelle Freire of the Chaire arts et sciences and the Reflective Interaction Group of EnsadLab (the research lab of École nationale supérieure des Arts Décoratifs – EnsAD, PSL University, Paris), and David Bihanic (University of Paris 1 Pantheon-Sorbonne / EnsADLab - Reflective Interaction Group).

The Speed of Light / Speed of Shadows Expedition: Tim Hyde, Jiayi Young, Jean-Marc Chomaz with the collaboration with Laurent Derobert (Galerie HUS) and Chloé Laumonier (Effets désirables).

Guest Editors and Advisors: James Housefield (UC Davis) and Jens Hauser (Michigan State University)
​​Communication and Project Manager: Julie Sauret, Chaire arts et sciences
Co-organizer: Christine Lavaur, Chaire Développement durable – Edf, École polytechnique
Student Intern: Ragnhild Ståhl-Nielsen, University of Copenhagen; Alice Magdelénat, SDA Bocconi School of Management Milano