The earth’s unstoppable orbit around the sun, combined with the obliquity of the ecliptic, are two astronomical facts that we at FoAM Brussels find impossible to ignore. It is due to their combined effects that we now experience “summer” in the northern hemisphere, and we very much hope you agree that this is an excellent excuse to bring you our latest, summer newsletter. In the following digital pages we’d like to share some updates about our intensive explorations of futures and interstitial cultures, our cultivation of the edges between food and the environment, and everything that’s been happening on the home front as we continue to develop our unique hosting culture. We invite you kick back with your beverage of choice and enjoy this update – irrespective of the precession of the equinoxes or nutation of the earth’s axis.
Terwijl de FoAM-studio in Brussel onder (naar Belgische normen) hittegolftemperaturen zijn zomerreces ingaat, leek het ons een goed moment om een overzicht te maken van onze activiteiten gedurende het laatste half jaar. Naar goede gewoonte zijn dat er nogal wat geweest. We hebben ze onder vier hoofdingen geplaatst, zo’n beetje onze belangrijke huidige actie- en denkterreinen. In het Nederlands heten ze iets als: toekomsten, culturen in de tussenruimte, eetbaar groen, de kunst van gasten te ontvangen. In het Engels klinkt dat allemaal een stuk beter.
Onze interesse voor toekomstmogelijkheden vindt haar oorsprong in vroeger werk waarin de notie van ‚onzekerheid’ al voorop stond. Het deed ons beseffen dat met onzekerheid kunnen omgaan een zekere gevoeligheid vergt, een waarin je helemaal in het heden leeft maar met oog voor wat aan de horizon verschijnt, en het vermogen om je daaraan aan te passen. We gingen ons een laboratorium voor speculatieve cultuur noemen. Sinds begin 2014 zijn toekomsten een centraal aandachtspunt van onze activiteiten in Brussel geworden. We deden aan literatuuronderzoek, spraken met bekende futurologen, hielden verschillende workshops en evenementen, schreven in groep in vier dagen een boek, bereiden een gids voor toekomstreizigers voor en zijn uitgenodigd door Z33 om in de herfst mee te werken aan een toekomstlab.
In our guise as a speculative culture laboratory we've been circling around the field of futures for several years now, but it was only from the beginning of 2014 that it became a central focus for FoAM in Brussels. Our interest in futures has been steadily growing through earlier works (such as Resilients or Luminous Green) that explored what it might mean to live with uncertainty – be it environmental, economic or cultural. We believe that dealing with uncertainty requires a particular kind of sensibility – one in which we live firmly in the present while remaining fully aware of what emerges on the horizon, and adapting accordingly. In our current project, Future Fabulators, we investigate how to “extend” the present, embracing an awareness of emerging futures. We are less interested in predictions and more in uncovering situations, assumptions and behaviours that might help us live with uncertainty.
Attempting to comprehend the field(s) variously known as futures studies, strategic foresight, or futurology, and our place on its fringes, we embarked on a research expedition into the depths of foresight and experiential futures early this year. Realising just how vast and fragmented the field is, we gleaned information from a wide range of sources including the military, commercial and design contexts, along with digressions into critical studies and action research. Conversations with some maverick futurists, including Stuart Candy, Scott Smith and Justin Pickard greatly helped us in finding our way through this tangled field. The results of our work are publicly accessible on the Future Fabulators wiki and have formed the basis and inspiration for a range of workshops and events during the spring, including the Data Ecologies seminar in Austria, an “edible futures” Open Sauces dinner at a science festival in Scotland, our contributions to the xCoAx conference in Portugal and the Adhocracy residency in Australia.
We poured some of our background research into “Futurish”, a book that we began developing in a four-day Booksprint with Time's Up and other Future Fabulators. We are currently discussing the evolution of this book, so updates here are likely (in one of the many possible futures before us). The more pragmatic elements of our futures research – techniques and processes to make futures less expert-driven and more tangible and experiential – will end up in the “Futurist Fieldguide”, a manual of sorts for people without a “futurological” background who are keen to get their hands dirty with futures. We will be developing the fieldguide in public during the Future Fictions exhibition at Z33 in Hasselt, Belgium. The curator Karen Verschoren has invited FoAM to co-create a Futures Lab, where we will be spending much of our autumn.
Read more about our work with futures here…
Van in den beginne heeft FoAM zich opgehouden in de tussenruimtes van disciplines en culturen - tussen kunst, wetenschap en technologie in, maar gaandeweg ook met andere onverwachte allianties. We bleven ook dit jaar een veelgevraagde partner als het gaat om de verkenning van zulke tussengebieden, bv. door een onderzoeksinstelling die zich afvraagt waarom onderzoeksinstellingen überhaupt bestaan en, nog in Portugal, op een conferentie waar de vraag werd gesteld wat ‚de derde cultuur’ precies betekent. Van die ‚derde cultuur’ is FoAM Kernow op verschillende manieren het levende voorbeeld. Ook onze residenten zijn typisch mensen die zich in zo’n tussenruimte ophouden.
From its early beginnings as a cultural department in scientific research institute, FoAM has positioned itself as a refuge for edge-dwellers, people living and working at the interstices between disciplines and cultures. The edges between art, culture, science and technology continue to be our main focus, although we remain curious about any unexpected alliances. Our long and visceral experience at the interstices has come to the fore on several occasions this year. In our collaboration with the Madeira Interactive Technologies Institute (M-ITI) we explored a fundamental question for any university: “Why should research institutes exist?” We guided the M-ITI team in distilling their research core, with the outcome that they now see their purpose as fostering transformative experiences through the fusion of creativity and technology. Quite in line with FoAM’s mission, but in an academic context. We’re curious to see how this new direction for M-ITI evolves, and wish them all the best!
A few months later in Porto (this time on mainland Portugal) we explored another interstitial topic – the elusive “Third Culture”. In a scenario workshop and pre-enactment at the xCoAx conference we hosted a group of artists, designers, theorists and technologists while asking ourselves, “What does the Third Culture look like?” The resulting speculation provoked considerable intrigue, personal insights, bemusement, and several interesting conversations, and we hope some of this energy will continue to resonate with participants long after our departure.
Across l'Arc Manche the newly incorporated FoAM Kernow is a living example of an interstitial or Third Culture lab where they have a whole series of citizen science projects on the boil. From developing algorithmic literacy in schoolchildren in Code Club to designing a flurry of science-based games like Easter Robot Nightjar and Bumper Crop, Dave Griffiths is putting his creative and programming skills to use in a range of contexts and cultures, from the UK to India. He recently also co-authored with Till Bovermann the article “Computation as Material in Live Coding,” published in the spring issue of MIT’s Computer Music Journal and following up several longstanding interests in the areas of live coding, algorithmic composition, and genetic programming. While acknowledging that academic papers are valuable contributions to knowledge, we were at the same time enthused to read Amber Griffiths's recent article in The Guardian, a plea for breaking down boundaries between disciplines and a call for non-academic, practice-based research labs.
At FoAM we have more than a decade of experience in such boundary-crossing, hands-on exploration, and if there are any bibliometrics refugees out there looking for a home, feel free to contact us. In fact, we have one such “refugee” from the mainstream biotechnological research currently in transience at FoAM in Brussels. Michka Mélo is spending a year at FoAM reconfiguring his life and conducting a range of experiments at the interstices of bioengineering and gardening. At the other end of the bioengineering spectrum, we recently hosted speculative designer Lisa Ma, whom we assisted in her creation of a speculative movement she calls the Bioluddites…
Read more about FoAM’s interstitial expeditions here…
Foodscapes, today and tomorrow
Voedsel, gezondheid en milieu gaan ons nauw aan het hart. Ook op dat vlak werkten we verschillende activiteiten uit, zoals een Open Sauces-avond over voedsel en welzijn vanuit systemisch oogpunt en het perspectief van het milieu. Met Kunst in de Keuken kregen we een kleine vijftig kinderen over de vloer, met wie we samen kookten en filosofeerden over eten. In dezelfde geest zet Theun Karelse van FoAM Amsterdam proefstations op en is Anna Maria Orru van FoAM Nordica actief op het terrein van urban farming.
It’s no secret that the relationship between food, health and the environment is close to FoAM’s heart. We could say that this relationship is rather healthy within the microcosm of our studios – but looking beyond our front doors and gardens, it seems clear that there is still a lot of work to be done. So we were pleasantly surprised when curator Amanda McDonald Crowley approached FoAM in Brussels to design an Open Sauces evening about food and wellness from a systemic and environmental perspective. Together with Amanda we created a food futures dinner at the Edinburgh Science Festival. The result was a tasting menu in six courses, with dishes “beamed over” from four archetypal futures – including a vegetarian shepherd’s pie from a “disciplined” future and seaweed-flavoured potato peel chips from a world where most food systems had collapsed. Our experiments might continue in the coming years in a longer-form workshop and edible futures dinner that we’re currently exploring with Amanda. Until then, we are collating all the recipes on our wiki and soon on the generative recipe website that Nik Gaffney and Dave Griffiths are in the process of developing.
We cannot but include children in any discussion about food futures. With Kunst in de Keuken (Art in the Kitchen), Rasa Alksnyte in collaboration with MUS-e masterfully translated the craft and science of fermentation into playful and co-creative experiments with school children. At their final gathering in FoAM Brussels, Rasa and Lies Declerck hosted a record 47 children who cooked, ate and philosophised about multiculturalism and food systems from a uniquely transdisciplinary perspective. Both the class and the teachers have booked Rasa to come back next year, when they will continue their (literally) fruitful collaboration.
A socio-environmental project in a similar spirit is being developed by Theun Karelse of FoAM Amsterdam. He is cultivating a set of proefstations or test gardens inspired by historical field experiments where horticultural research was conducted and the results spread through farming and gardening communities. Most recently, Theun began planting an orchard to practice his guerilla grafting techniques in the Amsterdam Midwest, a gathering spot for people engaged in social innovation and community development. Approaching urban farming from a different vantage point, Anna Maria Orru of FoAM Nordica has been working with crowd-sourced urban mapping and planning initiatives, linked with her PhD research, in which gardens come to be “acupuncture points” in the city. She recently led an “urban safari” along a metro line in Stockholm and mapped the green potential in the city using the Urban CoMapper app (and other online sources) for the Gröna Linjen project. And she has been invited to speak about her research and practice at the AESOP International Sustainable Food Planning Conference in November. Congratulations for this well-deserved recognition of her work!
Read more about our green and edible initiatives here…
Gastvrijheid, gasten ontvangen en ze te eten geven, daar worden we door onze residenten en gasten vaak om gelauwerd. Om die attitude en ervaring door te geven, werkten we hosting craft-sessies uit. Conversaties in goede banen leiden en cocreaties in groep faciliteren, dat is iets wat onder andere in praktijk werd gebracht op de visiedagen van PULSE Cutuurnetwerk Transitie. We gingen ook van start met informele, maar steeds verrassende librabry salons, waarin alle aanwezigen een stukje voorlazen uit een boek uit de bibliotheek en zo samen een nieuw verhaal maakten, waarin de grote en grootste vragen niet zelden aan de orde werden gesteld en met elkaar in verband gebracht.
Hosting, hospitality and nourishing are just a few words that our visitors and residents tend to use when describing what makes the culture of the FoAM network unique. The most obvious expression of FoAM’s hosting culture are our residencies, but over the years this culture has spilled across most if not all of our activities. Luea Ritter is one such resident who has fully connected with and embraced our hosting culture. A host herself (among many other things), Luea recently drew her year-long transiency at FoAM to a close with a meditative research gathering on Midsummer Night. Although this concluded her official transiency, Luea has since become a full member of FoAM and will continue gracing our Brussels studio with her presence.
Even though hosting comes naturally to most of us at FoAM, we realised that it’s not something widely shared (or even understood) in the worlds we spend most of our professional lives in. And yet we also found out that there was a strong desire among many in our network to make up for this lack. In response, we initiated Hosting Craft sessions at FoAM in Brussels, where we share our practical and theoretical knowledge about how to host conversations and co-creation in a group. So far the sessions have been led by Maja Kuzmanovic, but from September onwards the format will be less oriented towards training and more of a support group for hosts of all denominations. We will be practicing different techniques, helping each other design processes and even co-creating hosting projects together. In fact, a couple of months ago several Hosting Craft participants embarked on their first facilitation spree with the PULSE Cultuurnetwerk Transitie. Lead by Maja, the trainee facilitators – Kathleen Melis, Rasa Alksnyte, Eva de Groote and Lies Declerck – host three visioning days with the members of PULSE, tackling the question of what it would be like if the cultural sector became an engine of transition to sustainability.
Aside from formal hosting sessions, we continue to welcome people in our studio in Brussels for informal gatherings. In the spring we began hosting library salons, which have seen a diverse and highly entertaining crowd make an appearance who have never failed to surprise in their selection of reading matter. These salons are low-key public events where each of us choose a passage to read from one of the books in our library. The unplanned connections and parallels that have emerged from these sessions often made them feel like serendipitous study groups on life, the universe and everything in-between. Our next salon will be held in September, with Rebecca Conroy of The Librarium as a special guest. We are looking forward…
Read more about hosting here…
We can’t wrap up the theme of hosting culture without mentioning our (by now well-known) Friday apéros. Over quite a few years now we’ve hosted hundreds of people who have come to visit the studio for a drink and a chat, sometimes to get to know FoAM better or talk about a project. But the best conversations happen when people arrive without expectations, simply to share food and drinks in good company. We will restart Friday apéros in September after our summer recess. And so in the spirit of hosting culture we welcome you to come to one of these apéros, or become involved in other ways. We look forward to meeting you!
Vanaf september houden we weer onze wekelijkse apéro’s op vrijdag, om 17u. We hopen van harte je daar te ontmoeten. Dan zullen onze reizen en experimenten vast weer vele nieuwe gedaanten aangenomen hebben, waar we je graag over zullen vertellen.