Reflections on Creative Industries
— What is the role of creative industries on properties, relationships and transgeneratoins? Reflections by Rob van Kranenburg.
Creative Industries: From properties to Relationships
If you are a scientist you believe that it is good to find out how the world works, that it is good to find out what the realities are, that it is good to turn over to mankind at large the greatest possible power to control the world... It is not possible to be a scientist unless you believe that the knowledge of the world, and the power which this gives, is a thing which is of intrinsic value to humanity, and that you are using it to help in the spread of knowledge, and are willing to take the consequences.-- J. Robert Oppenheimer (1904-1967)
One of the most intriguing aspects of Bauhaus is that the most successful unit, — the unit coming ‘closest to Bauhaus intentions’, as Gropius stated, the pottery workshop — was located 25 kilometers from Weimar, in Dornburg. It was hard to reach by train, and hard to reach by car. The workshop master Max Krehan owned the workshop, so there was a business interest from the start. The relationship with Marcks , the Master of Form, was not contaminated with formalized roundtable discussions, but was a productive twoway (abstract-concrete) interrelationship.
“More important still, in terms of what Gropius hoped for the entire Bauhaus, was the way in which the pottery workshop operated in close co-operation with the local community in which it found itself. It made pots for the community and the town of Dornburg leased the workshop a plot of land which the students used for vegetables and on which, it was hoped, they would build.â€? Whitford, Frank, Bauhaus, Thames & Hudson, 1984, p. 73-4
So what can we learn from this? That we must not aim to define, alter or transform practices, processes, places or people. The aim should be to define a vision. A vision that should be able to inspire and empower people in their concrete experience of agency in this seemingly undesignerly new world, towards a humanistic and optimistic positive attitude in the role, function and leadership of the creative individual in his and her capability to make sense, to work within an uncertain framework of unforeseen consequences, unintended uses, and procedural breakdown.
One of the key elements in the nurturing of a climate in which small entrepreneurs, corporate structures, smart citizens (as in wired citizens) and buying and or exporting power, create an overtone that one might call a cultural economy, is the kind and quality of the relationship between formal and informal structures.
This explains why it is so very hard to ‘script’ or to top down dictate the appearance of a creative industry. The history of the two most successful and indepent Dutch media labs, V2 and Waag Society for Old and New Media show traces of oppositional groups, organic growth, strong personal networks, deep theoretical roots and very little planning in the sense of what is recognized as planning in the big projects that are hosted and developed by the Dutch Ministery of Economy.
The decisive factor in the development of a successful creative industry in a western European context will be the development of a new economic agency, tools to operate within an ultra connected environment (ubicomp, RFID, biometrics), tools that have to compete with a vital individual agency to act and become more independent from state and corporate institutions (do it yourself, get your medication online, bypass the middlemen).
These new tools need to be informed by the realization that we have moved from an economy of properties to an economy of relationships. Any object that is standalone nowadays, is simply not visible. It is not the individual properties of an object that have value, no, it is the kind and quality of the relationships that it has with other objects that determines its value.
It is therefore that the IP battles fought at this moment are so irrelevant for 21th century possibilities of economic policy agency. Winners are those who can move away from the ideas of property rights and patents over things and licenses to adapt specific modules for services, as money making models. At the Contested Commons Conference (Sarai/CSDS, Delhi, January 2005) an impressive number of voices argued to go beyond Creative (some rights reserved) Commons, as this way of operating leaves the fundamental notions of individual ownership and individual rights to specific ideas a person might conjure up, intact. Apart from the facts that the notion of ‘originality’ is a specific historic constellation — for in a networked world all nodes draw upon the same published data -, that this idea of being ‘the first’ in or with something is a specific western historic sociocultural constellation as if this is of any matter in our over mediatized globally networked environment.
That these notions should underly a vision of trade in an age of ubicomp and locative persavise computing in which any businessmodel (from Microsoft to Nokia to the iPod) is vulnerable, seems not only very unproductive, but also extremely unwise.
The default in vibrant cities like Bangalore and New Delhi is the unplanned, the illegal, and the pirated. The majority of architecture is unplanned, creole, and organically tuned to doing business because of the clustering of business interest. Directly against western economic policies of spreading business interest so as to avoid direct competition, in Bangalore and Delhi we find “the old clustering storyâ€?but now with realization that customized infrastructure seems fundamental:
As the system of patent and intellectual property rights is crumbling in high tech western countries, corporations such as Philips sponsor IP Faculties in China.
Instead of regressing back into an untenable situation that cripples creativity and the kind of link management that is required for a creative cultural sustainable economy, China and India both would do well to take a leap forward away from licenses and individual property rights to new forms of scripting solidarity between producers and consumers, citizens and policy, money and power.
A design for commoning, for living together locally in a globally connected world, that seems to be the new challenge and agency in a cultural economy policy. For this to happen, policy needs to find new ways of presenting its data and information. Instead of talking about solidarity, it should talk about friendship. Instead of talking about profit, it should talk about sustainability. Instead of talking about sustainability, it should talk about the trades and the quality of work of artisans and small entrepreneurs. It should get rid of the essay, the report, the document and start cross media content in visual, narrative documentary productions. It should reduce the cycle of producing clear information for SME and lone entrepreneurs by adopting rapid prototyping and demo or die research strategies. It should plan, provide and pay for the infrastructure as broadband and wireless have become basic human rights, not outsource infrastructural demands to an open market.
This cripples progress and a creative industry. It should plan only the outlines of the wildest vision imaginable, all else is letting go.
When Cook's Endeavour sailed into the bay that we know now as Cape Everard on April 22 1770, touching upon Australian shore for the first time, the British saw Aboriginals fishing in small canoes. Whereas the native population of Tahiti had responded with loud chanting and the Maori had thrown stones, the Aboriginals, neither afraid nor curious, simply went on fishing (Hughes:1986).
That afternoon two heterogeneous discourses met.
Only until Cook had lowered a small boat and a small party rowed to the shore did the Aboriginals react. A number of men rowing in a small boat was a practice they could interpret: to them it signified a raid and they responded accordingly. Undoubtedly the Aboriginals must have `seen' something and even if they could not see it as a ship, they must have felt the waves it produced in their canoes. However, as its form and height was so alien, so contrary to anything they had ever observed or produced, they simply chose to ignore it since they had no procedures of response for something they could not work with..
De Certeau (1984:171) argues that it is the operation of encoding, which is articulated on signifiers, that produces meaning. This extraordinary story perfectly narrates the steps that are required in this operation of encoding; what is essential in this reflexive process is a procedure of translation.
Making sense or producing meaning always requires the possession of procedures of translation.
Creative Industries and transgeneration
Ways of seeing: transgenerations: digikids and the first and second generation internet
In the Dutch policy document ‘van Internet naar E-cultuur’ the transition towards a culture that is characterized and determined by digital processes is described as e-culture:
“E-culture is not just ‘something to do with computers.’ The cultural implications of digitalisation are far greater than the mere instrumental exploitation of technical opportunities. E-culture is all about a new, digital dimension; a new and - until recently - undreamt-of medium with which existing culture must seek to interact and in which new culture is being generated. But e-culture is also more than just a new medium. Digital technologies and the Internet are opening the door to new forms of expression, changing the roles played by cultural institutions, and placing the audience and user increasingly centre stage.*
These new forms of expression, changing roles of institutions, these new mobile media make their mark on every aspect of our culture, mostly on our educational systems, ways of disseminating data, and ways of teaching. This means that we see a shift in the Netherlands towards hybrid it/multimedia departments. These new courses — Communication, MultiMedia & Design — are very successful in the numbers of students that they draw. In all, with six different institutions there are about 2000- 2500 students that do not go to the classical IT, interaction design or multimedia courses at the Arts Academies.
For the past three years I have been teaching theory at one such particular CMD in Breda, one day a week, mainly to get an idea of the kind of students that will form our it/media backbone in the next decade. The first observation is the difference in the nature of the visible manifestations of politics. There is no new Waag Society (www.waag.org) or V2 (www.v2.nl) in sight, nor emerging.
De Waag and V2 are our Dutch most successful medialabs. In less than 15 years they have grown into academic nodes on SURFNET, the Dutch academic network. This is unprecedented. Never before has a group of autonomous, critical individuals been able to get their ideas, narrative, theories and projects accepted as credible in terms of the existing academic discourse in such a short time span. How was this possible? Because of the liberal climate in the eighties and early nineties in the Netherlands that did allow for bottom-up creative initiatives. De Waag grew out of the non profit Digital City that was supposed to last for six weeks, the first Digital City in Amsterdam in 1993. Young idealists, hackers, ‘hippies from hell’ as they are called in Ine Poppe’s documentary, provided free email and started the digital revolution with their internet provider xs4all. We are only eleven years later and the analogue world is becoming more hybrid as we speak with digital connectivity. Xs4all has become a part of corporate KPN.
V2 was the name of a squat building in Den Bosch, the Director Alex Adriaansens was there in 1981. He is still Director now in 2004. V2 participates in numerous European networks, is focussing on their own kind of R&D that is rapidly drawing attention from the regular and corporate research labs, hosts its own V2 publishing and V2 Archive. The young people that started these digital connectivities in spaces and actual places were concerned for more then their own particular work, products or living, their concern was for the public domain; xs4all.
This is no longer a concern for my students in 2004. No Logo, culture jamming, public domain, open source networks stem from political strategies of a 80s and 90s generation for which the idea of politics is very much influencd by Gramscian notions on hegemony. Gramsci's notes on hegemony in his prison writings are spread out throughout his text, deeply imbedded not infrequently within concrete historial situations and events as his was no disinterested academic exercise but a genuine attempt to understand the elements of a triumphant Italian fascism. We would however, not misrepresent him if we take his notion of hegemony to mean that in between forced consent and active dissent we find passive consent, that cultural change precedes political change, and that changes must connect to an audience that is ready to respond. As Gramsci notes, "the supremacy of a social group manifests itself in two ways, as 'domination' and as 'intellectual and moral leadership'. A social group dominates antagonistic groups, which it tends to 'liquidate', or to subjugate perhaps even by armed force; it leads kindred and allied groups. A social group can, and indeed must, already exercise 'leadership' * before winning governmental power (this indeed is one of the principal conditions for the winning of such power); it subsequently becomes dominant when it exercises power, but even if it holds it firmly in its grasp, it must continue to 'lead' as well.
This idea of politics of scheming tactically (in time) to reach a particular location by an overall strategy (place) informed politics before and during the first decade of the internet. For the digikids, young people who have grown up with digital technology and connectivity, the network is not something to either reach for or fight off. It simply is. Because of this network default of a flat web structural surface of things, the very idea of strategy as it is intrinsically tied to the idea of place, makes no sense for why should you scheme towards reaching a particular place, when that place might not be there tomorrow? Or might be somewhere else? ‘Just’ a node in the network.
This situation much resembles the Aboriginal response to Captain Cook’s Endeauvour. They simply could not see each other, even if they were right in front of each other, in full view. For the past three years I have been wondering why the clear individual talent that I spot in my CMD students does not show itself when they are in class, either in groups of twenty, thirty or fifty. An awful lot of communication is going on in this group, but it is of the communal kind. It is either text messaging one on one, or chatting one on one, or phoning, or emailing, one on one. In class there is a silent agreement that is cool to seem uninterested, to not voice that poignant comment or that brilliant remark. Interestingly enough, for them the situation is the same, but in reverse. Christiaan Fruneaux, a young programmer in the Balie, an important centre for cultural and political debate (www.balie.nl) in Amsterdam writes to me that ‘we’, the young culturally active generation is experiencing a complete lack of inspiration, enthusiasm, self irony and joy in the current political and cultural sector, that is- basically, in me:
“Actually, that goes for the entire ‘grown up’ world. People are building on coarse, outdated, old-fashioned social-political 18th and 19th discourses and turn their backs of the rest of the post MTV world. In contrast, we find in our personal lives the exact opposite. A lot of young, energetic and above all creative people are engaged in a broad range of cultural and political activities from a comfortable, chaotic, global, culturally diverse, subjective, digital post ‘Jackass and Pimp my Car’ self challenging en inspiring worldview.â€?
It is clear that we can not see each other’s work, cannot recognize each other’s position as a political position.
Culture and economy: creative industries
Our sons and daughters will not hew, forge, mine, plough or weld.They will serve, design, advise, create, compose, analyse, judge and write. — Charles Leadbeater The future of this country is not call-centres - but its creativity, said Tony Hall. All of us are on a crusade to make a difference to people's skills.
Our current intellectual climate both stimulates top-down creative industrial initiatives and highlights unsafety and insecurity as the best strategy to confront a public environment. This is a recipe for long-term economic disaster. If we agree that it is foremost the creative minds that companies need to keep at hand- that programming and management maybe outsourced to India or China - then we will have to face up to the fact that such creative young minds are no longer there for companies to keep.
As a result of aiming for the safe default, the key themes and cultural and political views that are shaping our environment at the moment are fear, insecurity, and lack of safety. And this undermines other messages the public is getting. For instance, in communicating with the public mobile industries use the image of a person surrounded by power stations, with connecting nodes that give the person “agencyâ€? or power. Security industries use exactly the same image, but in their case the “agencyâ€? lies with the nodes rather than the person. Yet in both cases the underlying idea is the same: you need to distribute yourself - or your data - into the environment. Pervasive computing, location based services, RFID are the necessary and logical next step in connectivity. From the pencil onwards technology has been about distributing data in an environment. But who is going to distribute themselves into an environment that is, as you are constantly being reminded, unsafe?
The fear policy goes directly against the call for more and more innovation, innovation needs a risk friendly environment. If you scare your population, very few risks will be taken.
And interestingly enough, all the axiomatic requirements of a good case scenario are present as well. Never before have the demands of economy and creative practices of making run so parallel.
“Culture is moving to the heart of the way we make our living, how we learn, take leisure and express our identitiesâ€?, Charles Leadbeater writes:
“In the UK the creative industries as a whole account for more than 5% of GDP. They have been growing at twice the rate of the economy as a whole over the last decade. Compared with 1991 there are 60% more artists, 55% more musicians, 40% more actors and more than 400% more people working in digital media. Our music and computer games industries, for example, earn as much in exports as our steel and textile industries.â€?
“Creative and cultural industries do not matter just because they are a large and growing part of the economy. They matter because they also provide benefits to the rest of the economy and society.They have a multiplier effect. We increasingly live in an economy in which value comes from those who have ideas and who can apply them commercially through manufacturing and services. Competitiveness depends on having assets that your competitors cannot copy, buy or imitate.The most important of those assets resides in us: our creativity to devise novel products, services, experiences and processes. Our sons and daughters will not hew, forge,mine, plough or weld.They will serve, design, advise, create, compose, analyse, judge and write. Their skills will be applied to all industries and services, not just the high-tech. “
This latter is an important prerequisite towards an inclusive creative industry. Two third of the Dutch population and rising takes their secondary education at vmbo level, lower technical schools. Embracing a Creole Europe can and will be skill based, or it will not be at all.