ST InnovationCUP is one of the most interesting incubation and research projects in relation with art, culture and innovation that is present in Italy. Even if I should say more precisely, what captured my interest is the fact that it’s a project operating effectively on the Open Research concept, and on open and common dynamics of artistic production.
We have to live with it, because this is the future. Who doesn’t understand it seems to be lost. The helpful models of cultural production in 20th century are dying out; so this generation has not even had time to try them, and it has found itself with nothing for their efforts. In our country, and more generally in western countries, the state support to culture, as well as the funds provided by knowledgeable (and interested) sponsors, are even more rarefied, limited and concentrated in the hands of a few individuals who represent the economic and social elite that controls, and occupies essentially roles, positions and funds. For more than a decade, the economies necessary to set processes of cultural production have come from banks, private entrepreneurs, external sponsorships on markets that are apparently virgin but obviously ready for commercial contamination just to guarantee their own survival.
The common sensation is that even these models are shortly destined to failure. We have to give place to more virtuous processes which correlate closely the research field with the production sector. I am speaking about “production” in a wide sense, and I am advocating to pay close attention to what is rather defined “cultural production”. Of course, we can discuss (in separate context) if the world of technological Start Ups and that of the Makers – two often-overlapping universes which have monopolized for two years any public or private investment in the field of Innovation Technology – are really producing culture, but what is interesting for the Digicult team is maybe different.
For people dealing with the impact of new technologies and sciences on art like us, contemporary design and culture represent an interesting analytic area. For years we have been destined to produce culture, artistic objects and work without receiving attention from institutions, private citizens, and mass media, so the impression is that we have found the opportunity of being of any entrepreneurial interest at least for someone.
The reasoning is that: if your company is involved in the production of technology or in the use of technological productive processes, and if it wants to find sustainable research models, we are able to employ the same technologies produced – or used – by your company in order to start Open Research projects which are useful for the realisation of a “cultural object”. If, in the course of this process, we can therefore provide guarantees at the cultural level by relating your company with a network of universities and institutes of excellence; if we create mechanisms of exchange between artists, professionals and probationers coming from the same institutes, and if we are good at setting dynamics of diffusion and circulation of the “cultural object” produced within exhibition and museum itineraries which you would probably have no access to, it may be that the interest of an entire productive sector to invest in art and culture will be greater than it was in the past.
Of sure, not everybody can set processes of this type: a network of contacts are needed; it is necessary to be integrated in the right professional circuits and, above all, it is necessary to know all the underworld of artists and designers who have taken an active part in our country for about twenty years. Just a few investors have noticed them, and appreciated their work and research. Of course, it should be activated a real path to literacy, focused on the complex universe of MediaArt. Then, the whole process should be deeply comprehensible, and also appraised in terms of research, image and prestige, by means of knowledges and case studies at national and international levels. But the outcome is already determined.
So ST InnovationCUP – that can be consulted at http://www.st-innovationcup.com/ – is a good example to understand how things could change in our country and, more generally, in the world of media art production. In our opinion, the whole thing can work not only (but also) because the manager who launched the project in the world of artistic production is Francesco Monico, founder and director of the School of Media design & New Media Art at NABA. Two weeks ago the release of the new project Spinning the Planet was made by IOCOSE, a collective born in Bologna from culture jamming in media art that is hard to define. The group is friend of Digicult since 2010 (http://www.digicult.it/it/digimag/issue-053/a-surreal-doubt-iocose-groups-works/), and the work of IOCOSE has been produced and realised in the range of the project.
I wanted to interview Francesco in order to give prominence to ST InnovationCUP after having read a comment on the project itself. In part it summarizes many doubts that still remain in me, and in many people that are critically interested in culture and new technologies. The comment is: “Hereby this work wants to convey the very essence of Open Research, that is to say the reason why research – to be really innovative – must be research in itself, free from any predetermined or prearranged goal, otherwise the research effort may be void.”
How to combine therefore investment, research and artistic production will certainly be one of the crucial points of the debate about new media in the next years. I hope that this small talk with Francesco Monico will contribute to a better understanding of the situation…
Marco Mancuso: Hi Francesco, could you please speak more deeply about the ST InnovationCUP project? For example, when it is born, what sort of needs it fulfils, to whom it addresses, and how you are personally involved in this project.
Francesco Monico: The project has grown in the heart of STMicroelectronics and especially thanks to the work of Catia Rocca, that developed this ambitious Open Research model. The first edition was launched in 2011, and it was related to sport and new technologies; this year it is about “werable technologies”. I want to mention years because the entire process is more than one-year-long, by taking into account project design and research results. That is the reason why Open Innovation has to be responsive to the demands of companies which must necessarily consider contemporary innovation with short development times. The aim is to develop projects with a time-limited cluster without undermining the seriousness of the process.
The project is addressed to students with academic, Master’s and PhD degree, but also to ex-students from universities that are part of the Innovationcup network.
I have been personally involved in it with my own company, the Ars Academy Research, which is specialized in Research and Development. The aim is to implement and develop the Open and Disruptive Research practice in a transmodal and transcultural logic. In other words, I have to support the project and contribute to its development. I have accepted enthusiastically because the project is very complex and sophisticated; furthermore, an high-class company like STMicroelectronics guarantees success.
Marco Mancuso: On 12th July you launched the project Spinning the planet, a new work by the group IOCOSE. The project has been financed by ST InnovationCUP. Could you describe the kind of work you did, and illustrate the reasons that induced you to finance this project or, more generally, to collaborate with such an unique group of artists like IOCOSE?
Francesco Monico: As said above, InnovationCUP was born in 2011, so its second edition aimed to be just an upgrade, in order to carry on a second-level research on the same project. In this sense, my contribution has been directed to the implementation of the OpenResearch model developed by Catia Rocca, and particularly to its progression in the field of contemporary art, used as a device capable of hybridizing scientific, technological and humanistic culture. Nowadays innovation needs to go beyond the classic division of the “Two cultures” elaborated by Percy Snow. We live in that world which John Brockman, a literary agent, called the world of“Digerati”; which the scientist Edward Wilson defined “Consilience”, by adopting Roy Ascott’s concept of syncretism, and Edgar Morin and Bruno Latour’s complexity theory.
In order to do that, we have hypothesized to use some physical workshops as “Hub”: a contemporary art museum, or even a contemporary art research centre like the Pecci Centre for Contemporary Art of Prato, was perfect even and above all because it is located in Prato, Tuscany, and in Milan, Lombardy, two very interesting areas. The idea of contemporary art is bound to the traditional idea of modernism, so to say that the artist is the one who observes the present because the social subject, both an engineer, or a designer in general, and a manager, is always a subject integrated in the cultural community and, for this, tied to observe the present with eyes turned to the past. A person is necessarily included in the age of meanings, which are always connected to a notion of past that is determined by the time necessary for an idea to be identified by a majority who can validate it and make it true. This mechanism invalidates innovation and especially the Open Research. The information technology revolution has hugely speeded up innovation. Radio took 36 years to reach 50 millions of users, thus becoming a mass medium and a social attitude. Television took 16 years, mobile phone 10 years, internet 5 years, and facebook 6 months. According to these rhythms, meanings are no more in the dimension of time, so we must work with eyes turned to the present. And to do this, we have recovered the modernist attitude of using artists.
We looked around us, and we decided to search for young, valuable and critical artists that could be able to talk with structured persons such as engineers, computer technicians, managers, and designers. For this reason, we wanted them to have a serious cultural background, like the IOCOSE: one of the members of the student union teaches at the university, and another one is finishing his PhD. The idea was to create “another territory”, a neutral space where there were the conditions for the consilience mentioned above, that is a concordance of purposes, intents, methods and results, seen as essential conditions for a good and ambitious high-quality Open Research. The artistic space is conceived as a Disruptive space in itself (and it was obligatory), but also as a symbolic space. I interpret this symbolic space as a space that dictates procedures, norms and rules, necessary to any cultural and exploratory design process. In this way we have considered the same communicative space, and we committed to IOCOSE the project and realization of the 2013 InnovationCup website, as well as the video promoting the competition, which was meant not to be direct or clear. I will explain the concept hereinafter.
Marco Mancuso: In the launch announcement of Spinning the Planet, you declared that the work wants to convey the very essence of Open Research, that is the reason why research – in order to be innovative – must be research-in-itself, free from any predetermined or prearranged goal, otherwise the research effort may be void. By taking into account that I broadly agree with you when you say artistic research and practise shall be released from any type of marketing, could you explain better what you mean by speaking of “predetermined and prearranged goals”?
Francesco Monico: The problem of innovation is that we project the future with eyes turned to the past. It is the same problem exposed by Antonio Caronia towards science fiction; at mid-twentieth century he said that science fiction was dead because information technology started to influence innovation in general, and the human unconscious was already defined and written. Now we are aiming at open innovation, and we have to face the question of the science fiction writer, in order not to make innovation die like science fiction. Marketing is a relevant example: it lives on communications that define predetermined spaces; it communicates the already said, the already seen, the already planned. So innovation is not the equivalent but the opposite of science fiction. If we consider the artwork called Spinning the Planet (IOCOSE; 2013), it focuses on the attempt to change the earth’s rotation axis by means of rockets. However, they do not take off; they cause the sensation that they do not work ,and the attempt is vain. Like this they symbolize the possible fallacy of many attempts and human experiments that, though not apparently successful, prove to be winning just for the fact to have tried. Hereby this work wants to convey the very essence of Open Research, that is to say the reason why research – to be really innovative – must be research in itself, free from any predetermined or prearranged goal, otherwise the research effort may be void. The message of the artists is strong and final; it turns out to be the effort to try, to believe and to go beyond in the direction of something similar to imagination that corresponds to the essence of an experiment even if seemingly absurd.
The message wants to be open; it is a strong message that demands an interpretation, an hermeneutics from the user, especially when everything is marketing, ready-made communication, stated and established guide lines, simple instructions of and for use, immediate comprehension, so all already said, comprehensible and obsolete. The IOCOSE for STMICROELECTRONICS use the forms of contemporary art to force and oblige young talents, recent graduates, and researchers of the most prestigious national and international high training education institutes to leave the ways already announced and told to deal with those “interrupted paths” of imagination which had been prefigured by some philosophers of technology who tried to go through the twentieth century. All that is thinkable and already said, all that we see has already existed. Nowadays innovation must proceed on another scale, the cosmic and worldwide scale of Open Research and art research. The artistic process becomes a device, an antenna that receives new human relations and possibilities induced by technology. But this type of receiving alters forms: the process becomes interpretation, sensation, or rather hermeneutics of the contemporary subject, that is necessarily thrown on an experimental, experienced and not yet imagined space.
A secondary problem is that innovation always clashes with well-established and tested practices which are valid and efficient, but collapse easily with change because of their ìnnate stability. Innovation brings problems in the relationship between the ones who make new things and those who make old, though proper and necessary, things. This is the traditional problem in the relationship between engineers and designers, or creative producers. Therefore, that is the relationship between different worlds to be one of the main problems of Open Innovation, since there is no innovation without change, and there is no change without conflict. So in the second edition of STMircroelectronics InnovationCup, art is conceived as a device that tries to reduce and modulate the natural and physiological conflict between disciplines to turn it into creative power. Art creates a symbolic space where a conflicting dialectics of sense can act. It has an enormous value today, since society has to develop models of intercultural translation between different practices, disciplines and knowledges.
Marco Mancuso: How does the Spinning the Planet project interact with education in terms of Network of academies and institutes listed on the project’s website? In other words, how does your experience as the director of NABA’s Multimedia Arts School flood into this project? How can artists and creative talents take real profit from it?
Francesco Monico: The network of universities meets the need of having a multiplicity of points of view on an unique question of innovation. Each athenaeum has its own culture, both deriving from the learning field (there are clear differences between the way of reasoning of an engineer, or a computer expert, and the one of an interactive designer, or a media maker), and from the culture of the territory that the athenaeum reflects. The University of Florence is culturally different from the Politecnico of Milan, as well as Isia and Hochschule in Karlsruhe or, more obviously, from Istituto Superiore Sant’Anna of Pisa. The key-word that permeates across the entire project is capacitation, one of my favourite words which I borrow from that important master of maieutics like Danilo Dolci. Here I refer to the second part of the question: the NABA School of Media Design & New Media Art that I founded is structurally based on the grounds of the complexity theories developed by Morin and Latour. Then I undertook a PhD research project on high education intended as hermeneutics of complexity.
I always adopt this theory even in research and development. Elena Lamberti said that Marshall McLuhan’s work had given one of the best definition of postmodernism, but I would like to move on to speak about one of the best definition of complexity. So my job has ever been so immersed in this complexity that I do not see any difference between research and formation. And for this reason, the InnovationCUP is being developed in those areas that Catia Rocca called “Contamination Workshops”. It is to everyone’s benefit: to the designers of the success, to teachers and project supervisors who enrich them with the disruptive visions of students, to students who get used to attaching value to their visions and to managing the issue of integration in the time of human imagination, the main issue in any contemporary theoretical activity.
Marco Mancuso: In general, what is your opinion about the recent Italian phenomenon of start-ups, conceived as enterprise incubators? And about the relationship between culture and innovation? We are speaking about the necessity of financing new cultural projects that will work with private investors, industries of the world of technological and scientific research. But, as usual, I have the impression that in this country we are underestimating the various realities of our territory, where there are people who make research and others who work with artistic, creative realities, to the detriment of a general marketing phenomenon involving culture, that is obviously very dangerous in terms of far-sightedness. In other words it seems that European and American models, which guided the media culture development in the last 20 years, are still a long way off. What is the difference of the ST InnovationCUP project in these terms?
Francesco Monico: Innovation can be called transformation, change, or as you want; however, it is something ongoing that can have positive or negative results, and we can participate or not to it in different ways. It will be very interesting to see the impact of “Social Innovation” on the phenomenon. But this remains a complex problem: innovation and start-ups are two sets that intersect only partially, so I am afraid it is a big mess. First of all, start-ups can be distinguished on two levels: the first one corresponds to the “way of life”, that is a sort of new subculture with typical traits of yuppism, and elements derived from the “Californian Ideology” of Cameron and Barbrook; nowadays it is already showing its own limits.
This kind of approach is not interesting, but of sure it will leave traces not so predictable in our society. The second level analyses the aspect of “New enterprises”, that is interesting on the contrary because it has to deal with the adaptation of the productive system to the challenges imposed by Castells information society. There will be much ado for nothing, but some trends are worthy of being followed. The problem is that the catalyst should be a system of assets capable of sustaining more investment rounds, and/or the world of accelerators and incubators. And for a real business based on the concept of “power” created by Waldo Emerson and Thoreau, we could claim that we should be cowboys to do business seriously. Today it is a limit, but fortunately it is not the case with ST Innovationcup considering the high quality of the designer brand. Innovationcup is a STM project where STM is an excellence firm located in Switzerland with a multinational dimension. It is a project with Italian roots but bearer of an international culture which has indeed that power of vision and thought, essential for real innovation but also for enterprise innovation as start-ups.
Marco Mancuso: How do you think cultural and artistic production is going to change? Which perspectives are there for the future? Generally speaking, how do you consider the happy road already taken by so many artists and creative people that work with new technologies? Do you really believe in their capacity and immediateness to relate with various types of market like art, culture, mass production, and media?
Francesco Monico: The twentieth century is over, but the categories we use today come from the twentieth century. Maybe we should effect a paradigm shift, but it must proceed from a new vocabulary. The figure of the artist is obsolete: he has never been so visible, but just in virtue of this visibility, he does not need to produce art. That’s a new artist the one who could be in tune with the new millennium, so an artist creating the sense of the present, implicit in every conscious individual. That’s a critical person using art as an essential part of a complex system of awareness of the contemporary, where the becoming process is the paradigm. According to recent researches, we will spend 70% of our time in keeping up-to-date in future jobs, so we can suppose that the rest of time will be occupied in building dynamic models to interpret reality around us, and products that will be produced by generating value.