Local Spirit Initiative

The accelerated developments in communications technology since the invention of the electric telegraph sped up the democratization of the marketplace of ideas. The traditional vertical dissemination of knowledge from educated elites to the people has been replaced by a lateral and apparently decentralized flow of information. Experts, scholars and scientist cannot rely anymore on authority guaranteed by entrenched hierarchy. The Nietzschean demasking of science as a ramshackle raft on flowing water built of an “enormous structure of beams and boards of concepts, to which the poor man clings for dear life” out of fear of facing the radical vulnerability of humankind has been folklorized and trivialized. One can lament the growing knowledge gap between advanced studies on the one hand and public opinion on the other as well as the loss of the privilege of the university researcher to be believed without an effort to present their case in a persuasive manner.

Or one can accept the challenging epistemological conditions that require the expert, the scholar and the scientist to master the art of persuasion by cultivating the cardinal rhetorical virtue of perspicuity in an effort of an effective transmission of ideas. Enlightenment thinkers accepted the challenge and engaged in vigorous and competitive rhetorical activity including the rhetoric of science, pamphlets and encyclopedic articles argued in an accessible and perspicuous style with full awareness of the rival rhetoric of the clerical pulpit and the superstitions of the simple folk. While the Enlightenment thinkers utilized the art of verbal rhetoric and illustration on the printed page, today we need to master non-verbal, architectonic rhetoric to tell our stories. Architectonic rhetoric is the art of spatialized, dynamized, sensationalized (as in making available for the senses) argumentation.

In 2018, Erika Kiss, Sigrid Adriaenssens, Chris Tully and John Higgins launched a faculty initiative in Princeton University that recognizes the increasing importance and opportunities of sensory learning, research and teaching through film and digital media. The first projects of the Local Spirit Initiative include co-teaching ‘Environmental Film Studies’ a Princeton course designed by Erika Kiss and the development of short research films and other immersive and mixed media teaching aid. Several award-winning film directors, who visited our campus, advise the faculty group’s filmmaking.

Current Projects

Angelus Novus: Before Dawn

Palazzo Mora, Venice, Italy

ANGELUS NOVUS - Études for Cupola in Instinct and Algorithm

Inspired by Klee’s iconic angel of innovation and Brunelleschi’s legendary dome of the Santa Maria del Fiore, the Form Finding Lab and the UCHV Research Film Studio of Princeton University together with Skidmore, Owings & Merrill will present an installation of a study on cupola-assembly with a projected cinematic fresco designed to assist sensory learning about architectonic invention.

Quantum-Cinematic Storytelling via 360-degree Filmmaking

Our research film communicates concepts of quantum physics perspicuously and persuasively not only between experts but also from experts to the public. The innovative virtual reality filmmaking will use cinematic storytelling based upon architectonic-geometrical as opposed to verbal-conceptual thinking. Our architectonic dramaturgy is drawn from the dramatic staging of scientific demonstrations, experiments and dramatic animation of digital simulations of quantum phenomena.


A Virtual Reality (VR) rendering of Kubrick's time-travel sequence from his "2001: A Space Odyssey”.  Kubrick’s epic film gave us the first image of Planet Earth from an out of space perspective – a whole year before the analogue photo from Apollo 11 – showing that art can train imagination to advance knowledge by priming our cognition to take in the unexpected and unfamiliar that science discovers, and technology delivers. This is also the first film to give us a representation of Einstein’s theory of relativity: a very inspiring (some say psychedelic) sequence of time-travel that takes us back to the beginning of the universe.  We will project the circa 10-minute sequence into a full-dome screen and record it with the 360-degree camera available in PU's Studio Lab. The VR film will be able to be viewed via headsets and can be used for educational purposes. We hope to learn the ropes of immersive filmmaking and maybe even reinvent the technology while figuring it out from scratch. The VR rendering of the time-travel sequence is an opportunity to extend beyond the limitations of the original film.  Our short research film will be an ideal starting point for conveying a sense of the notion of a space without a sense of time and other complex ideas about the fundamental physics of the universe as well as the Big Bang.

A Local Spirit - Research Film Studio Production (Erika Kiss, Chris Tully, Sigrid Adriaenssens, John Higgins)

Awarded by the David A. Gardner ’69 Magic Grant

Virtual Reality


In this short film we're following a molecule of air (carbon dioxide) as it is transported around the world 3 million years ago, before it ends up in Antarctica and gets trapped between snowflakes and buried. This molecule of air is buried under kilometers of ice until today, when this air being drilled out in an ice core by scientists as a window into what the Earth was like 3 million years ago.

A Local Spirit-Research Film Studio production (John Higgins, Erika Kiss, Sigrid Adriaenssen, Chris Tully)


Home Beyond Good and Evil

A Klee painting named ‘Angelus Novus’ shows an angel looking as though he is about to move away from something he is fixedly contemplating. His eyes are staring, his mouth is open, his wings are spread. This is how one pictures the angel of history. His face is turned toward the past. Where we perceive a chain of events, he sees one single catastrophe which keeps piling wreckage and hurls it in front of his feet. The angel would like to stay, awaken the dead, and make whole what has been smashed. But a storm is blowing in from Paradise; it has got caught in his wings with such a violence that the angel can no longer close them. The storm irresistibly propels him into the future to which his back is turned, while the pile of debris before him grows skyward. This storm is what we call progress.
Walter Benjamin, Thesis on the History of Philosophy

A Local Spirit - Research Film Studio Production.
Erika Kiss, Sigrid Adriaenssen, Chris Tully, John Higgins,

Grant from The New Institute, Hamburg