The charm of the Unknown Unknows told by the curator of the 23rd International Exhibition
One of the images that inspire the theme of the 23rd Triennale Milano International Exhibition is the photo of a sunrise seen from the International Space Station. The Earth appears as a thin, dark blue concave line, with a bright light – the sun – at the centre, cutting the dark background in two.
On the one hand, this photo of the rising sun is of striking beauty, familiar and yet from a new, unusual perspective, while on the other the symbolic simplicity of the shaft of light forms the borderline between the little world we live on and the vastness of all that is around it.
Whether we are talking about dark matter, the depths of the oceans, or even about our own minds, what we know today is only a fraction of all there is to know, barely 5%. By contrast, this means that our awareness of what we do not know – of what we do not even know that we do not know – counts for a massive, overwhelming, and highly symbolic 95%.
Dealing with unknown unknowns means leaving the comfort zone of our personal and collective experience and transforming ourselves through a change of perspective.
We have the ability to touch down on distant comets, we can create matter from pure energy, and we can control robots just with our thoughts, and yet we have never felt so fragile as we do now. Today, for the first time, we find ourselves living through a global, collective, and simultaneous experience of profound vulnerability, with a growing awareness that only a thin blue layer separates us from a suffocating void. This pandemic has focused our minds on our relationship with the unknown, which has once again become everything – a full 100%. Once again, we have had to start asking questions, searching, and learning. If we open up our point of view, what might have seemed impossible can become real, even if it is beyond us and if it eludes our senses. And this is a great opportunity. Unknown Unknowns takes us on a journey of exploration, not in search of answers but simply letting ourselves go to the thrill of investigation and of the imagination.
Photo Thomas Pesquet (astronaut), source ESA/NASA
The unknown is not some defect of a particular era, culture, or civilisation. It is a structural aspect inherent in the very nature of the universe and of the forces that shape it. Hidden within the perfection of the spherical shapes of celestial bodies that shine, float, and turn into nothingness, is the relentless force of gravity. Outside of the Newtonian world that we experience, gravity becomes geometry, a shape that emerges from the curvature of spacetime. A line along which we slide effortlessly. Gravity is a modeller, a constraint and a variable: it is the first designer, and the greatest of all.
We live on our planet unconsciously bound by gravity, the great cosmic architect that unceasingly designs our habitat, just as we live with the unknown, embracing and inhabiting it.
Unknown Unknowns is a profound experience that gives us a chance to upend our idea of the world, no longer antagonistic towards what we do not know, but viewing it as a dimension to be lived in consciously, and even joyfully.
By blurring the boundaries, Unknown Unknowns will investigate how the interaction between reality and fiction can lead to new solutions and answers, considering the notion of instruments in broader terms and going beyond just their mechanical or technical aspects. Instruments of speculation, prototypes, and scientific and artistic experiments will be made to interact in order to highlight the ability of the human species to imagine what is not there, and to face up to it.
The 23rd International Exhibition will explore the unknown all around us, in search of a relationship that is not one of appropriation but rather one of sharing. This is why we have started up a long-term debate with a series of intellectuals, researchers and teachers. Thanks to the collaboration of, and constant dialogue with, Stefano Boeri and Francis Kéré, and with the advisory board consisting of Hervé Chandès, Emanuele Coccia, Joseph Grima, Sarah Ichioka, Weng Ling, and Mariana Siracusa, the exhibition is a particularly choral event, with four special projects that we are working on with Giovanni Agosti, Francesco Bianconi, Ingrid Paoletti, and Romeo Castellucci.
The aim is to approach Unknown Unknowns with a sense of wonder and amazement by bringing about interdisciplinary influences, in order to imagine different futures and find new ways to inhabit them.