What art can do?

Lucas Evers

STARTS Talks @ We Make The City Festival 2018

On 22 June, during the WeMakeThe.City festival in Amsterdam, another STARTS Talk was organised. A STARTS Talk related to changing urban environments and the role the arts can take in how we make cities.

The 2018 STARTS Prize innovative collaboration winner MX3D and Joris Laarman Lab — the 3-D robot welded bridge — was honoured the night before by the Amsterdam city alderperson of economy Udo Kock at the Stedelijk Museum.

The STARTS Talk, organised to share the importance of Science, Technology and Arts collaborations, took place at the innovative cradle-to-cradle Circl pavillion of the Amsterdam financial district.

Guests were STARTS Prize winner artistic exploration Giulia Tomasello with her work Future Flora, STARTS Prize honorary mention project collaborator Ivonne Jansen Dings of Making Sense and Sharon Oldenkotte Vrolijk, director of the art collection and culture fund of BPD, a leading area developer in Europe.

Photos of this event can be found here.

What art can do?

Main question of this STARTS Talk was "What can art do?", a question that due to the context of WeMakeThe.City festival and the background of Sharon Oldenkotte of BPD went beyond art as catalyser in technological innovation. It also touched art as a societal catalyser, a catalyser that can provoke, that can connect, can experiment, can create inclusiveness and can make citizens relate in a meaningful way to urban changes: cities becoming more diverse, cities becoming larger, becoming digitised, cities in need to become more sustainable and more interwoven with the ecology surrounding them.

Future Flora

It was interesting to listen to Giulia Tomasello’s who sees her Future Flora work — a DIY biology kit to re-balance ones vaginal micro biome — not only as design research but also as a provocation to create another understanding of how we can address innovations in personal care of the female body, innovation that are still much surrounded by taboos. Her work clearly shows where connected to industrial innovation there is a need for complementary research cultures in innovation, from the arts, from design: technological change still has quite a gender bias.

Citizen Sensing

Ivonne Jansen-Dings of Waag showed the audience how much we need to include public research in urban innovation contexts, and here public research is understood as research with, by and for the public, looking at society as research community. Especially where it comes to creating a better citizen understanding of pollution and pollutants the Citizen Sensing labs the Making Sense project among others has organised allows citizens to make their own sensor technology and apply it. An artist like Pavel van Houten was able to make a subjective water quality measurement kit enabling citizen’s measurements by smart statistical data analysis.

Urban area development

For BPD the arts are always a catalyser and all the more while thinking about challenges such as climate change and energy transition that are accute in the Netherlands delta region. BPD having an art collection and having its head office in the Structuralism architecture monument Burgerweeshuis of Aldo van Eyck, also observes the way in which art practices are moving from object to process. This orientation towards process-based practice makes the arts more 'useful' in the context of urban area development wherein new inhabitants, users, must land and adapt to. More than once Sharon Oldenkotte made a plea for involving the arts in the innovation processes of BPD’s projects at stage zero, the drawing table. A new approach they are experimenting with currently at a development area in the Amsterdam Zeeburg urban renewal area.

Clearly we can conclude here that when learning from the arts in a science, technology and innovation context, we do not only observe that society and technology are so much entangled, but that engaging the arts provokes innovation that goes beyond technology, necessary making a perspective that demands technologies to be more human-centred and responsible.

N.B. During the Q&A it appeared there is an initiative in development named after the question of the STARTS Talk: whatartcando.org was present at the panel showing adherence of the STARTS Initiative.

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