Age of Wonder

The beauty and terror of progress

Why now?
In 2014, it is a century ago that Gilles Holst, commissioned by the Philips brothers, began physics research. That was the beginning of what we now know as the NatLab. With Age of Wonder, we want to enhance the perspective on our time. By going back to the history of a successful institution like the NatLab and placing this knowledge in the context of a larger fundamental story about what artists and scientists drives and unites, we will shed new light on the issues of the day.

Why this programme?
There are three ways in which you can approach the world around you: artistic, content- specific, and narrative. The same holds for this programme. To approximate the experience of a bustling lab as closely as possible, we have put together an unexpected programme consisting of artistic experimentation, great ideas, and mythical stories. They are inspired by the alchemists’ cellar from the NatLab, the lectures that used to be delivered in the auditorium, and the work of the famous visionary writer J.G. Ballard. At first sight, probably a confusing multitude of ways and ideas to look at the world and ourselves. Yet they are a reflection of the richness and diversity of us. We do hope that the enthusiasm of artistic and scientific research becomes palpable and touches you. Welcome to the Age of Wonder.

Artistic experiments in the scientific realm
The alchemists’ basement is the nickname that the Natlabbers (Natlab workers) gave to the basement where their first particle accelerator (before WWII) came into being. Right from the start, in the Natlab a great deal of knowledge was accumulated about vacuum tubes in which electrons were accelerated and focused. The tubes were produced for radio, television, X-ray, etc. Building a particle accelerator was a logical step in this development, even though the scientists had little idea about the purpose of it. In the basement, the weirdest experiments were conducted to explore the potential functions of this piece of equipment. Acquisition of knowledge through trial and error. This was no exception with the alchemists of yore. They also found themselves in unfamiliar territory and deviated from what was then accepted and known. For this reason, experiments were veiled in secrecy and mystery. What in those days was seen as dangerous, undesirable or even blasphemous now has a place in history as the founder of Western science. Our alchemists’ basement refers to being a forerunner, doing research on unfamiliar ground and being different from what already existed. We will also explore how ultimately everything is connected. In that sense, it is an interesting thought that at the time of alchemy, science still believed in the divine and assumed that everything is interconnected, both the spiritual and the material.

Lectures about big ideas
“When I was very young I wanted to understand everything, the whole cosmos! I was very curious and often found it hard to believe all the things that other people told me.” (Felix Hess)

In these lectures, the speakers explore and present so-called great ideas. Evolution as the greatest idea and source of inspiration that we can investigate at all. The enormous acceleration with which we design our world technologically and whether/how we will survive in the future. The difference between the fascinating, enchanting beauty of science and the touching, comforting beauty of art. About the ways in which the relationship between the intuitive and the rational mind, spread over our two cerebral hemispheres, can create and develop art, concepts, and society.

Myths of the near future film programme
“I hope that the movies in this collection together form a chromosome of the future which will divide and grow in the viewer’s mind, dreams of the day after tomorrow waiting to enfold us as we move like sleepwalkers towards them” (J. G. Ballard)

Both artists and scientists need fiction to get in touch with the elusive and the incomprehensible. Science fiction is the genre par excellence of this kind of imagination, and exists by the grace of researching and developing ideas. In the purest form, all possible sides of an unconventional idea are examined. The programme shows a number of the most unusual and original examples in their entirety. Movies that sometimes are purely artistic, sometimes pure thought experiments, and sometimes both. That some of these films are documentaries and therefore officially do not belong to the domain of science fiction is, in our opinion, still debatable.