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Uncommon Ground: Scale and Intimacy


Uncommon Ground Picnic (foto: Bart Groen)

— Expertmeeting tijdens PICNIC '07 over de internationale creatieve praktijk van kunst, vormgeving en nieuwe media.

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Announcing (Un)common Ground – Scale and Intimacy, the latest in a series of expert meetings designed to track the developing role of creative practice (art, design and new media) as a catalyst for collaboration across sectors and disciplines. The meeting will take place on the 24 Sept. (1 - 5pm) and 25 Sept. (9am - 5pm) in Amsterdam. This year's (Un)common Ground will once again be a partner event of Amsterdam's renowned cross media week, Picnic.</p>

Scale and Intimacy
This year we consider the key challenges faced by an organization or movement when it starts to operate on different scales. Working in close cooperation with a highly diverse and fascinating set of case studies, we will identify and ask some important questions. Our working assumption (to be tested and explored in this meeting) is that successful collaborations, from small projects to those involving multiple partners can only operate on multiple scales by understanding how to create and maintain not just one but different kinds and qualities of intimacy.</p>

(Un)common Ground is not only about bringing together divergent projects and interests, it is also about examining the effects of interconnectivity itself. This takes us well beyond the traditional concept of knowledge transfer, to include the negotiation of different concepts, politics, modes of engagement with the world – differences even in what constitutes valid knowledge for different people and institutions in different communities, localities and contexts.</p>

​In keeping with the first event we are keeping this meeting small and by invitation only. Our aim is to create an intimate environment where participants are more likely to take risks. In fact in the presentations and discussions we would like to take the risk of coming with more questions than answers. Our style of meeting will continue to be pragmatic, any theoretical propositions (including the idea of (Un)common ground itself) should be able to be revised in the process of examining what actually happens in practice, and that this in turn should help us shape the direction of future practice, theory, research and investment. This meeting is not simply about presenting projects and discussing them; rather it is more of an intensive workshop where we collaborate to reflect on issues raised by the case studies.

We have recently launched our first publication, (Un)common Ground: Creative Encounters Across Sectors and Disciplines, which juxtaposes analysis of concrete case studies of multi-dimensional collaboration with reflective essays by leading thinkers and makers involved in either organizing or theorizing complex collaborations. The discussions and reflection that followed the book's publication have helped us identify a series of categories and themes we are introducing in the expert meeting to frame the discussions on a new set of case studies. We see the series of expert meetings and publications as steps along the way to a longer-term, and more ambitious destination. What are currently a loose set of heuristic categories and themes can be used to arrive at more a general understanding of the new role for creative practice in the dynamics of cross sector collaboration.

Case Studies

Goldsmiths Interaction Research - Bill Gaver and Tobie Kerridge (United Kingdom)

The Home Health project investigates how technological systems can be used to support people in reflecting about their emotional well-being at home. The initial deployment was taylored for a particular household in North London. Also other households were studied, to uncover how their emotional lives might be reflected by the states of their homes. The project so far has resulted in a series of prototypes and the exhibition The Curious Home. Home Health is a close collaboration between designers and engineers from Goldsmiths College in London and Cornell University in Ithaca, New York. Home Health is part of the Well-Being project funded by Intel Corporation.

Trans.forma design – Paula Dib and Renata Mendes (Brazil)

Trans.forma design works with communities in Brazil to create products using craft techniques that are part of the local heritage. With the introduction of new sustainable materials that are locally available they develop new products together with the community and thus offer new economic opportunities to people. Products created in remote Brazilian villages are sold in museum shops in large cities around the world. The participatory design approach creates an intimate connection between designers and communities. The project presented at the (Un)common Ground expert meeting brings this approach to a multicultural secondary school in West London's Southhal. In this project British and Brazilian designers work with student groups to explore how they can improve the perceived value of cultural diversity in the school environment through design. Paula Dib won the British Council's prestigious 2006 International Young Design Entrepreneur of the Year award for her work.

Human Rights Media Centre - Shirley Gunn (South Africa)

Shirley Gunn has worked at the forefront of community development in the difficult South African townships - she is an expert in the understanding of the power of media and creativity to navigate uncommon ground - through enabling communication and understanding.

Shirley Gunn is Director of the Human Rights Media Centre, Cape Town and the producer of of the 2002 documentary "We never give up" . She recently produced a rights exhibition at the Apartheid Museum Johannesburg called "Breaking the Silence" which continues her work with Khulumani the apartheid survivors network.

Breaking the silence: A luta continua documents a process involving over a thousand Khulumani (“to speak out”) Support Group members in the Western Cape who used scrapbooks, body-maps, photographs, memory cloths, drawings, paintings, art banners and film to tell the stories of their lives under apartheid. The purpose of the process was twofold: to give the unacknowledged heroes and survivors of the struggle against apartheid a chance to remember and express their experiences and to create a record that might honour their sacrifice and educate future generations. In 2002, the Human Rights Media Centre also produced the movie We never give up (71 mins) directed by Cahal McLaughlin. This travelling exhibition spans three years of collaborative work between the Human Rights Media Centre and the Khulumani Support Group - Western Cape. It was hosted at the Apartheid Museum in Johannesburg, South Africa, from July to December 2004, at the Slave Lodge in Cape Town from July 2006 to February 2007 and Slough Museum in London, United Kingdom, in March 2007. At smaller exhibition is hosted at the Red Location Museum in Port Elizabeth in the Eastern Cape, South Africa.

Shirley was also one of the case studies presented in a recent film "Tide Marks" (2006) by Canadian filmmaker Sarah Abott. Ten years after the triumph over apartheid in South Africa, four former activists deal with the consequences of their dedication to human dignity with frustration, humour and hope. In her poignant and educational documentary, Sarah Abbott presents issues predominantly ignored by mainstream media as its focus on the brutalities of apartheid shifted to the successes of transforming the nation.

Humbiumbi – Maria Livia de Castro Andrade and Paulo de Castro Andrade (Brazil)

This organisation, based in Belo Horizonte, Brasil and working across several regions, focuses its attention of the development of protagonism among young people, drawing on its founder, Maria Livia de Castro's previous, formative, experience in Angola where she lived for several years. On return, she founded Humbiumbi and developed its metholodogy which has received substantial recognition within Brasil for its effectiveness in relation to arts education, social action and individual development. The organisation has already worked with thousands of young people using a variety of media including radio; their approach is very much 'from the ground', localised and collaborative - how do these processes scale and 'transfer' across various localities, communities and contexts in Brasil and beyond?

Media Shed-Mongrel

For more than two decades the internationally renowned media artists collective Mongrel have been working on the frontline of art, electronic media and street culture, not only in England but also as far a field as Jamaica and South Africa. a fusion of media art and community activism that has become a classic form, whose work can be summed up by Media Shed's simple slogan 'free media'. For the last three years Mongrel have been developing the MediaShed - a space promoting ‘free media’ in Southend-on-Sea, a traditional English working class, sea-side destination that since the advent of package holidays abroad has been in steady decline. In the MediaShed, Mongrel have created a space that reaches deep into the local community. It reaches beyond the cliques and hierarchies of power and knowledge to involve those normally excluded from the new freedoms of expression and collaboration that can be present once you embrace Mongrel’s conception of ‘free media’.Human Project – Saulo Barretto (Brazil)

The Human Project

The Humand Project is a project currently at research and development stage in an area of underdevelopment in social and economic terms in north east Brasil, in a region called Sergipe which is north of Bahia and the smallest region in the country. Sergipe's new regional government is one of the possible partners for this project which seeks over the next ten years to create a Research Institute, with educational/training/human development objectives, involving arts, science, technology, creative industries, design and business. The Directors of the Insitute also lead a private Research Institute in Sao Paulo, called IPTI. How can they bring together the appropriate people and partners to build this new initiative in an inclusive, cooperative way within a context of extreme underdevelopment in socio economic terms? What would appropriate cultural development look like in this area? How might this happen in a way that enhances rather than disturbs the fragile social and environmental ecology of the region of south east Sergipe earmarked for the creation of the Institute?

Atelier Zuidvleugel & Noordvleugel 2040

Two experimental approaches to large scale regional planning and development from the Netherlands in which policy is being developed working towards integration of a currently dislocated metropolitan development process. The two projects are both in different ways working with artists and designers to assist in radical and creative solutions.

Atelier Zuidvleugel (Atelier South Wing) deals with planning issues that are not (yet) part of the official planning agenda. (deals with planning issues that are not (yet) part of the official planning agenda for the urban conurbations which make up the south wing of the cities of Dordrecht, The Hague, Gouda and Leiden). For two years the Atelier Zuidvleugel project space has developed designs, programs and interventions to create more imaginative policy for evolving from a group of cities and towns into an interconnected network city, characterised by a growing exchange between its parts. The concept 'network city' is an ambiguous one though. In its work the Atelier has sought to create a greater awareness of where the spatial interconnectedness of the network city is to be found and in which way such an interconnectedness can become the breeding ground for stronger linkages to develop.

Noordvleugel 2040 is a series of conferences and expert meetings designed to formulate a metropolitan development vision for the Noordvleugel (the 'Northern Wing' of the Randstad conurbation) in 2040 is an exercise that involves conceptual thinking as well as actual design. Through a series of carefully designed meetings throughout 2007 – is an example of governance, in which the participating government bodies think 'outside the box' of their formal competencies. The participants have jointly pronounced their commitment to the outcome of this project, and will employ the findings and conclusions as the basis for their respective structural masterplans, ensuring that the new regional policy is properly embedded in formal government.

Crystal Palace Park- Johanna Gibbons (United Kingdom)

The redesign of Crystal Palace Park in London is a long-term and complex process of teamwork between designers and consultants from different backgrounds (e.g. landscape architects, historians, environmentalists), combined with a series of public consultations among a wide range of local communities. This process has been going on since 4 years and is currently in the final stage of design. The implementation of the design will be spread out over several years. Although the object of the design (Crystal Palace Park) and the re-design process itself are very large scale, the intimacy of communication on a human level is crucial to its success. This process demands a high level of personal involvement of the design team. Listening skills and flexibility are very important, but at the same time it is necessary to safe-guard the quality of the endresult and sometimes work towards changing the perspectives and ambitions of stakeholders in the project.

'Metareciclagem, Estudio Livre and other related networks – Felipe Fonseca and Jean Habib (Brazil)

Fonseca and Habib are leading players in the metareciclagem and other network based initiatives in Brasil which have emerged in the past six years. For (Un)common Ground 2 they will present and review aspects of these developments which have brought together people from many diverse backgrounds and skillsets, including hackers, government, artists, Vjs , programmers and researchers. The Brasilian networks are increasingly attracting critical attention both within Brasil and beyond, informing the bricolabs global phenomenon featured in the first (Un)common Ground. The metareciclagem initiative first developed in 2002 and has informed a number of related initiatives including the development of multimedia toolkits - funded by the Brasilian government - distributed to hundreds of community based Points of Culture (Pontos de Cultura) across the country.


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