European Commission funded projects may seem one of the most distant things from art and serendipity, but actually they can successfully contemplate the two. It is the case for the just closed Coordination and Support Action FET-ART, which ran from June 2013 to May 2014.
Its aim has been to investigate new research avenues for ICT and Art together through consultation, matchmaking events and pilot projects. FET-ART has been widely known as ICT & Art Connect, because under this name since 2012 the FET (Future and Emerging Technologies) unit makes specific efforts to pave the way to this connection (https://ec.europa.eu/digital-agenda/en/comment/15928#comment-15928).
European funded projects are always carried on by a consortium of partners, which was made in this case of Sigma Orionis (coordinator, http://sigma-orionis.com/), Stromatolite (http://www.stromatolite.com/), Waag Society (http://waag.org/en), Black Cube Collective (http://www.blackcubecollective.org/) and Brunel University (http://www.brunel.ac.uk/), bringing a complementary range of expertise in Art, Technology and interdisciplinary collaboration into the project.
Inspired by initiatives like Rhizome’s “Seven on Seven” (http://rhizome.org/sevenonseven/) and pioneer projects like Bell Labs (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Bell_Labs), FET-ART can be considered a pilot itself within the European Commission. All the events included a consultation part, where attendees coming both from Art and Technology fields (even if for most of them it has been quite hard to categorise themselves only in one, which is – itself – an interesting result) were invited to express their views and needs for improving Technology and Art collaboration in Europe. Moreover, a matchmaking session was providing the participants with the opportunity to meet new project partners and apply for the pilot projects open call.
Hosting venues, working at the crossroad of Art and Technology, brought local audience and an additional layer of signification to the event: the Waag Society Theatre Anatomicum, the London Waterman’s Centre, Fabra I Coats Innovation factory in Barcelona, just to cite some. Many speakers, among which Mitch Altman (hacker, inventor of TV-B Gone), Gerfried Stocker (Ars Electronica Artistic Director) and Christiane Paul (Director of the Media Studies Graduate Programs and Associate Professor of Media Studies at The New School, NY) brought to the discussions their point of view on technological research, the economy of art and citizen engagement.
Other ‘VIP’ like Linda Candy (Co-founder of the Creativity and Cognition conference), Hugues Vinet (Scientific Director, IRCAM Paris) and William Latham (Former artist for IBM from 1987 to 1994 in their Advanced Computer Graphics and Visualisation Division) evaluated the received proposals. Funded pilot projects (here the full catalogue) go from gamification of learning to the use of data in healthcare, from interactive installations to toy hacking; some of them raised the interest of research centers like DFKI and others have been showcased in events like Future Everything (http://futureeverything.org/).
After an intensive year made of 11 events across Europe and 19 pilot residencies we feel we are… At the very beginning. The events took place mainly in the UK, in Belgium and in the Netherlands. This means that there’s still so much more to explore out there: further events and consultations in the South and East of Europe for instance would complete by far the picture and naturally lead to the definition of best practices and transnational programs.
Moreover, the systematisation of programs including artists as part of a scientific or technological research core team, questioning fundamentals and bringing their disruptive perspective to that more linear of researchers is clearly something that the European Commission should strongly consider in the future. As a first step, anybody can contribute on this very last point until June 15th, through FET open consultation on new topics.
… For new beginnings
From a bottom-up perspective, occasions like the ones provided by the FET-ART events, accessible funding and more infrastructures are the most widespread claims among practitioners. Residencies proved the need of open-ended research programs and forms of collaboration fitting with totally different ways to organise the work. Moving from these needs, a large European network connecting the (numerous) existing initiatives and structures, facilitating information exchange, mobility and in general constituting a network to move from, is the very first step for the creation of an efficient Art/Tech ecosystem.
However, this risks being only a superficial solution if it’s not moved by an underlying objective and ambition, which can be summarised in the idea of building innovation – in research and society – at the crossroad of different disciplines. In this respect the FET-ART project focused on cocreation and citizen engagement in ICT.
What is interesting is indeed not just artists communicating to a wider audience very sectorial research-oriented; it’s not even providing hi-tech solutions for pieces of Art. Artists are more and more keen to develop technical skills, and technology is increasingly becoming a creative business: all this is not innovative in the sense that has somehow always been part of history (artists have always employed contemporary technical innovations and these have always been guided by creative principles) and is evolving as a natural consequence of the improvement of our means. But what would happen if we put some disciplinary serendipity in the questioning underlying scientific, technical and artistic research and make it the norm?
The innovation potential relies in a third discipline, that is not Art, neither Technology nor Science, but comes up by their collaborative work, being a piece of art, a market ready technology or a new vaccine, whose characteristics would have never been achieved by a single discipline. An approach indeed far from being instrumental, requiring a balanced participation from the different disciplines. The discourse can consequently go beyond Art and Technology, and be centered on interdisciplinarity. Somehow it has to deal with magic, and fun, as every innovative pattern is.