Imagine setting up a UFO landing site as extreme exercise of hospitality. How would you welcome the most foreigner of the guests? Among all the human inventions and languages, what would really matter, and which space configuration would immediately convey hospitality?
In the past few days I participated in IMPACT17, the annual PACT Zollverein interdisciplinary symposium, as part of my investigations around curatorial practices in innovation. The programme was officially about transposing practices from one discipline to another, but – thanks to PACT approach and the participants’ qualities – it ended up being much more than that. It is uncommon to find institutions willing to push their boundaries and act in the realm of uncertainty. Our experience is more defined by limits than by opportunities, and institutions are not an exception. PACT was born 15 years ago out of a blank of meaning: in 1986 the Zollverein mines, once at the heart of the Ruhr economic and social life, were shut down and most of the workers relocated elsewhere. In this no-man’s land, PACT started as a centre for performing arts. Fifteen years later, besides proposing a valuable artistic programme, they are performing a space-making role. From inhabiting an empty factory in the middle of nowhere to the recent repurpose of a pharmacy into a space welcoming citizens’ ideas, PACT creates zones of free expression and dialogue. PACT made us inhabit their space through a great deal of care and without monopolising the situation.
A strong sense of community was produced by discussing the working questions and the approaches of the participants, and confronting them with the practices of Chim ↑Pom, Dana Kaspersen, Paul Feigelfeld, Hood and Jeremy Bolen/Deep Time Chicago. If one can’t immediately find a sense of coherence in interventions ranging from understanding the Anthropocene to body awareness to conflict management, to artivism in Japan and technology capillarity, connections emerged at a meta-level, that of human beings confronted with the inconsistencies of life. Eliminating the details around specific artworks and projects made us go straight to the essence of each other’s work, finding a great sense of communality. I find great value in confronting with experiences and individuals which are not immediately related to my work in curating technology R&D and reflecting on tech societal impact: the greater diversity of inputs and feedbacks, the greater capacity to answer challenges and innovate. Some ideas in particular are echoing in my mind after these intense days. The first, sees practices as narratives, ways of traversing space and time, elaborating it and leaving a trace. De Certeau put it nicely XXX. Narratives build communities, and allow the materialisation of the unexpected.
As in the opening exercise, a fictional artefact or situation can work extremely well in setting the scene for poiesis. In this, prototyping as used in technology development and works of art are not that distant. Prototyping deals with investigating a challenge through what could be a final product, by iterative enactments of it, a mise en scène gathering feedback and improving the final result. It is a simulacrum turned the other way around. Art questions a topic through potential answers, rehearsed as much as possible, confronting with the feedback of the audience (even when this is not looked for, its same absence makes it a defining element). They have both a strong experimental and experiential dimension strongly bonded into their identity. Though we are training machines to give us feedback, the human factor tied to it is likely to be still relevant for a while. This leads me to the final element of reflection, the embodiment. Much of our Western culture is based on the intellect and on a constant underplay of interaction and motion into space. Although we constantly fail at admitting it, the information age has left space to the experience age. This means we can’t separate ourselves from the physical internet dimension in which we live, and that ultimately we don’t own technology but we are it, we are the tools that shape our experience. And our experience is not only recorded and given meaning through our mental interpretation, but also through our body feedback and related capacity of opening the door to further new experiences. I still don’t know what may body can do said Spinoza. Thinking with the guts said the ancient Romans. When we consider ourselves as complex organisms we can live more in coherence with ourselves and the environments surrounding us. And guess what? Organisms are ecosystems: taking care and creating a nourishing context is the best we can do to make them healthy, independently from them being an assembly of cells, groups of artists or innovation ecosystems.