An Exhibition on the Idea of Serendipity in Art and Science 

Artists: Nici Jost, Maeva Rosset, Dawn Nilo, Yota Tsotra

in collaboration with scientists and technologists from the Institutes of Polymer Engineering (IKT) and Polymer Nanotechnology (INKA) of School of Engineering FHNW


"... This discovery, indeed, is almost of that kind which I call Serendipity, a very expressive word, which, as I have nothing better to tell you, I shall endeavor to explain to you: you will understand it better by derivation than by definition. I once read a silly fairy tale, called the three Princes of Serendip: as their Highnesses travelled, they were always making discoveries, by accidents and sagacity, of things which they were not in quest of: for instance, one of them discovered that a mule blind of the right eye had travelled the same road lately, because the grass was eaten only on the left side, where it was worse on the right- now do you understand Serendipity?.... "

H. Walpole, 1754, Extract from "The Travels and 

Adventures of Serendipity" R.K. Merton and E. Barber, 

Princeton University Press (2006)


The initial idea of this project was simply to enter the polymer science world with innocence and curiosity, to let ourselves be seduced by polymers. The fascinating thing about polymers is that they can be designed, formulated and manipulated for almost any kind of application. Polymers can be anything and anything can be made out of polymers. We were also curious about their potential, as well as their limitations. Do we understand them? Are we actually using them in the right way? How far are they from the Ideal Material

H.-J. Rheinberger has characterized Research as an epistemic searching movement on the border between the known and unknown. Scientific experiments are designed and performed to let something come to light, from which one still has no precise idea. The history of science is full of stories about surprising turns from which the discovery principle cannot be reduced to pure chance. They can be described by the term Serendipity.


The Serendipity exhibition at the Foyer of the Hochhaus at HGK FHNW in Basel attempts a multi-level presentation of our project. The space is designed to serve this purpose. 

The outer surface represents a map of ideas, processes and inspirations quoting the IKU/INKA staff on the question of the Ideal Material. We asked them to imagine its properties and its functions. How should it help or change humanity and how might it be researched? What small or fantastic steps might be taken to this end? 

The inner passage unfolds art works which were inspired through the duration of this project. 

The core of the Structurereveals the essential of the project: material samples, sketches on the profile of the Ideal Material and experiments of our residence at IKT/INKA laboratories, the real space where Serendipity can manifest.


About the artists: 

Nici Jost is experimenting on the idea of the natural/artificial by searching for the organic nature of polymers. Sheobserves the macroscale textures of processed polymers and explores connections to human organs and tissues. In an age where artificial skin is a reality, what can be defined as natural and what not? 

Maeva Rosset’s practice is situated between knowledge and non-knowledge. She experiments, analyzes and tries to describe what smell means. Does polymers smell? Does it absorb scents from the outside and by which means? How does it react to stimuli? She tries to explore the essence of polymers, which are omnipresent today, and upon which we are dependent.

Dawn Nilo is interested in the scientific process of working through the simplest mysteries of the world. She would rather play with matches than work with high end products or the machines of science. Her performances seek to open realms of the imagination through the marriage of sense and thought. Simple chemistry experiments and conversation/interviews with scientists make up the substance of this work. 

Yota Tsotra reflects on the polymorphism of the materials. By seeking relations between morphologies and properties, she explores actual concepts in material science such as multifunctionality, crosslinking and interpenetration.

Text: Yota Tsotra