by Maja Kuzmanovic
I'd like to welcome you on behalf of FoAM, a transdisciplinary research lab in Brussels and Amsterdam. Foam, the preparation, as well as FoAM, the organisation, consist of small bubbles and their connections, able to fill the interstitial spaces between materials, environments, people, disciplines and perhaps even cultures. Filling in the gaps is exactly what we'd like to do today…
Welcome to Luminous Green, one of FoAM's initiatives aiming to fill-in and bridge the gaps between the three forces that are shaping the world on both human and ecological scales: design, technology and agriculture (or in FoAM's case - permaculture). With Luminous Green and other initiatives, FoAM aims to facilitate a transition from wasteful consumer societies, to responsible participatory cultures.
Luminous Green is a series of gatherings about possible futures, about a human world that is enlightened, imaginative and electrified, and most importantly - living in a symbiosis with the rest of the planet. Today's workshop has two things to celebrate - the first one being that today is the 20th anniversary on the IPCC (intergovernmental panel on climate change). Happy birthday to them! The second special thing for today is that this workshop in Singapore is the first Luminous Green gathering in Asia. We hope many more will follow…
Luminous Green gatherings are designed to call out to the contemporary creatives to engage in current, worldchanging debates with out colleagues from other fields, as well as to apply our skills and expertise outside of the relatively narrow artistic and design contexts. You might ask yourself - what can we contribute? Creative people have a particularly good and integrated approach to complex problems (e.g IDEO's design thinking). Many new forms of cultural expression are participatory and interactive (e.g. games, mixed reality environments, collaborative authoring, etc.), which is a quality that is very much needed to get everyone to engage in creating more sustainable global cultures. We can design beautiful things and situations, which rarely features in environmental debates, but as Buckminster Fuller said: When I'm working on a problem, I rarely think about beauty, but when the solution is not beautiful, I know it's wrong. Finally, we claim to be able to imagine worlds and futures that can side-step current problems, turning problems into inspirations and alternatives - which is for example what the Bricolabs network is attempting to do.
Luminous Green is looking for such creative leaps, by creating a serendipitous environment in which people who care about the world, people from all walks of life can get a breath of fresh air (as Carole Collet, a participant in 2007 suggested) & connect with people they wouldn't usually connect to; spawn potential collaborations, as well as share things and ideas that we feel strongly about.
We would like the Luminous Green environment to be like a Temporary Autonomous Zone, in which a diverse group of people can find common ground, explore uncommon grounds and build (im)possible connections. A place for conversations among people who would otherwise rarely meet, but share a craving to improve the state of the world. Luminous Green should be a place to meet people as fellow humans, rather than 'activists', 'artists', 'managers', or 'policy makers'. A place where you can listen and engage with another person directly, leaving your own preconceptions at the door.
Also, welcome to ISEA, the International Symposium for Electronic Arts. For some of us, this is the last day of an intense week. For others it's a new environment, within the context of electronic arts. Many of you are ISEA delegates, operating in murky spaces between arts, technology and science. Yesterday we organised the Luminous Green panel, where we focused particularly on the role of electronic arts in turbulent environments. For the newcomers, I'd like to suggest that you find some of the ISEA veterans and get a sense of the discussions from yesterday.
Today, we'll broaden the scope to creative practices in general. We complemented the expertise of electronic artists with people from design, business, policy and academia and attempted to diversity the group, as much as we could through our existing contacts. We hope that with your help, our next gatherings will become even more diverse, including creative people from both grass-roots and institutional structures. Today we will also attempt to situate the discussions in the Singaporean context - what are the challenges and opportunities for a more luminous green world in Singapore and the region? We want to look at how trans-disciplinary approaches can help solving some local, but also trans-local problems. As we know, today's social, economic and ecological systems are so complex and interconnected that individual and local actions alone cannot meet these challenges. We think that the way forward is to look for planetary, trans-local and transdisciplinary visions & actions. Even though this might sound extremely ambitious, we suggest that we start very small today: by building bridges between the people in this room.
This is in fact the bottom line for today's workshop: to find a personal connection, with at least one other person in this room. A connection that can help you in your environmental and social endeavours, challenge your views to become more inclusive and inspire you to make the world a little more luminous green.
To provide a context for these connections, we have structured the day around two questions:
The first question suggests exercises in imagination, visioning, invoking possible worlds and making them tangible to each other. The second question is meant for the more pragmatic of us, asking us what are we as individuals and as a group willing to commit (today, tomorrow, next month, next year…) to make a luminous green world move from the realm of the possible to the realm of the probable…
Whichever question you decide to explore, keep in mind what is it that you personally need to help you actualise your visions and what can you offer to help the person next to you? However complex and overwhelming current turbulences and instabilities are, the only thing we can really do is change ourselves & share our experiences with others to help them change themselves (if needed).
Because we believe in personal connections are crucial when dealing with planetary issues, the Luminous Green in Singapore was organised with care for all involved. We are very thankful to all the locals who have made Luminous Green a reality, and who tried hard, together with us to make it as sustainable as possible. For example:
There is still much to improve, but we wanted to let you know that we have tried…
Another thing that we are trying out today is the format of the workshop, aiming to encourage more participatory, non-hierarchical learning and sharing between all of you. We have designed a container, but are asking you to fill it. You have already made a great start by contributing to the reader, for which many thanks!
Much of the 'container' for today is inspired by an eco-system gardening technique, also known as 'guild-planting'. Guild planting involves designing a system that can sustain and replenish itself. A guild-gardener begins by observing and analysing his/her environment, then moves to design a poly-culture of plants and animals that can help each other grow and thrive. Once planted, such a garden only needs gentle steering, rather than brute-force weeding & pest control. It might have been best to hold this workshop in a food forest, where we could be immersed in a self-sustaining system. However, due to various circumstances, we'll have to rely on your imagination to create this environment on the 5th floor, in the middle of Singapore.
We can start by imagining that this room today consists of seven layers, starting from the canopy, to low trees, shrubs, vines, herbs, ground cover and the 'rhizo-sphere' underground. Now imagine that throughout these layers, all of us together need to fulfil several functions:
If we imagine that each of us is a representative of an ecological guild able to perform a crucial function to sustain a system, which function would you choose? What would you do to sustain yourself, while supporting lower-level elements and serving a larger system? Perhaps it is too short to answer this in one day, but with this introduction I wanted to give you a glimpse into some of our visions behind the Luminous Green design. We approach it as a whole system - from people to food, to the space and the facilitation methods.
As for methods, we have chosen a participatory facilitation technique called Open Space. There are different variations on Open Space, which some of you might know as BarCamps or UnConferences, but the basic idea is that most interesting conversations and interventions at conferences and meetings happen in between panels and board-rooms. So why not focus on the most interesting, while omitting the formal talks and presentations? Open Space is about creating an environment that feels like a corridor, a cafe, a space in between - an interstitial space that we at FoAM are so fond of…
Open Space is supposed to deal with very complex questions, that have an element of urgency for all involved, and the people that are involved are passionate about the issues, and usually come from diverse, often even conflicting backgrounds. However, in order to solve the complexities at hand, they rely on people taking personal responsibility, but also needing each other to solve them.
My first encounter with open space was in a large scale conflict in ex Yugoslavia. Those days we were exploring questions like “how to stop a genocide in my village tomorrow?”. I hope you agree that today's tangled issues of social, economic and environmental imbalances are similarly urgent and that the people who are here today are willing to take personal responsibility to tackle them.
Before getting our teeth into Open Space & its 'market place', we would like to give you a chance to meet each other and have a dialogue with one person you've never met, or with whom you never got a chance to talk in depth. Maggie will explain how this 'ice-breaking' conversation, as well as the Open Space works in a few minutes. I will first give you an overview of the day. After the first conversation and introduction to Open Space, we will give all of you a chance to propose sessions and schedule them in different spaces and time-slots. After everyone had a chance to find sessions that they want to take part in (as hosts, or participants), we will have two morning sessions before lunch. Lunch will take place in the same space, so we will ask you to clean up the tables, just before 1PM. Note that lunch is also a session, including edible media that are worth conversing about… More on that later. After lunch, around 2PM we will look at the schedule again, and give you a chance to add / remove, or join sessions. Following this, we will have three time-slots of about 45 minutes, for various sessions. At 4:30 we will come together, to hear reports from hosts who are keen to share their findings with the group. We will close with feedback from all of you and suggestions for the future. The workshop should finish at 6:30PM at the latest. After that there is an opportunity to go for a walk in the Fort Canning park, or a break, before dinner, which is starting at 7:30PM in this space.
Before I hand over to Maggie, just a few words of advice: Make the space and the time of this workshop your own. In this process, please be aware and stay aware of the needs of others. Its success is your responsibility. We are here to help you through the day, so please don't hesitate to ask, suggest and take action to make the workshop a more fulfilling experience for yourself and others. Throughout the day, think about what it is that you will take away from the workshop. Note this down, take pictures, draw, or sonify it, so we can have a record to share with others. Please don't keep notes for yourself, as we cannot be in all sessions at the same time, we rely on your generous sharing of the materials with us, in order to document, remember and disseminate the information that has been generated on this workshop.
To conclude, I'd like to thank all the people who have made this workshop possible:
Singapore design council, Elaine, Eunice and Jacks; The European Commission and the Flemish Authorities supporting us from afar; ISEA, especially Swee Leng and Guna, for believing that we could pull this off; The many people at the SMU, and especially Shirley, Shermeen, Joshua, Chwan and his crew, Vincent and the other students from Screme, Anny and Pei Hua, the sound crew and many others; the caterers, Danny and Graeme from Enso Kitchen, Susan and Allan from Blue Ginger for working with us to adapt their menus to Luminous Green; Azril and Thomas for their generous documentation, all of you who contributed to the reader; to Maggie (who's working on her birthday!) and Nik, the man behind the curtain; and finally thanks to all of you for committing a whole day of your life to creating a Luminous Green world…