We are launching an exciting series of Innovation Labs in 2016 – a new way for artists to make work with young creatives
In the coming months, 1215.today will be working closely with Digital Identity specialist, Abhay Adhikari, to develop a prototype Digital Art Innovation Lab. This promises to be a new way for artists and creatives to work in collaboration with up-and-coming digital technologists and the next generation of influencers, makers and crafters.
As I had never heard of an Innovation Lab before, at least not when talking about art, I asked Sarah Gillett, Digital Director at Cultureshock Media, and Abhay to sit down together and discuss what an Innovation Lab is, and why it’s a valuable, and exciting, way of making art.
As we’ll hear, the Innovation Lab promises to provide a stimulating environment for artists to engage in new critical conversations with their audience and to collaborate on their work without any preconceived idea of the outcome. There is a risk to this way of working, but that’s precisely the point.
What is the 1215.today Innovation Lab, and when will it take place?
Sarah Gillett The first Innovation Lab will be an intensive one-day event held in Leeds on Saturday 16 January 2016, led by an artist commissioned by 1215.today to create a new digital artwork. We hope that, in this environment, serious concepts will be explored through playful experimentation and collaboration between the artist and a team of ethical hackers, game developers, data scientists, programmers, coders and, crucially, young makers, writers, vloggers and mentors.
Abhay Adhikari Over the next few months, we’re going to be putting together the right team to work in the Lab, asking people to get in touch who would be interested in thinking and working in this open, collaborative way. We hope that the Innovation Lab will include a wide range of creative young people who can each bring their perspective to the table.
Where does the idea of an Innovation Lab come from?
AA Innovation Labs are a fairly recent phenomenon that have developed in technology circles out of the ‘smart city’ movement, in which people have been trying to re-imagine what their cities can be in light of advanced technology’s ability to enhance their productivity and sustainability. Very early on, however, people realised that taking a solely technology-oriented approach was never going to be enough to tackle the sorts of issues that affect people on a day-to-day basis.
So the model of an Innovation Lab comes from the idea of taking an interdisciplinary approach towards addressing the key issues that face us every day, from personal health and wellbeing to social isolation, transport and the environment.
What makes it a ‘lab’, though? What does this apparently scientific term have to do with making art?
SG In essence, a lab is something very different to a classroom. When I think about a typical science lab, I think of everyone wearing the same white lab coats and working together as equals in the same space. So it’s about translating this idea of a lab being an environment in which people can work and collaborate as equals into a model for creating art.
AA Because labs are a shared space they’re also about building empathy. In an Innovation Lab, whether you are a technologist, an artist, a student, an office-worker – or all of these things at the same time – the idea is that everyone should take into account what the other is thinking, building everyone’s considerations into the final work.
SG Also, Innovation Labs – like all other labs – are sites to experiment in, encouraging participants to explore different ways of approaching issues, to break them down into their constituent parts and to re-examine them through different lenses. With no clear end result, Innovation Labs are active spaces for experimentation.
AA Despite the scientific connotations of the word ‘lab’, then, it’s much more about an interdisciplinary approach to finding solutions. To me, a lab is a space where people with various skills and different backgrounds can take time to think about an issue critically rather than opting for the most immediate solution to a problem.
The 1215.today project and the Innovation Lab are aimed at 14-24 year-olds, but why is this? Is it just because we’re supposed to be ‘good at digital’?
AA There are many assumptions about the relationship between digital and young people. From the outside we would describe 14–24 year olds as digital natives, perhaps. But there are many tribes of young people emerging in this space. We are aware our ‘audience’ see themselves as makers, creators, bloggers, influencers. And these are the people we want to engage with the project.
SG It seems that everyone is talking about how to engage with a ‘younger’ audience right now, and the arts sector is no exception. For us this means trying to renegotiate what the social contract is between the arts and society, regardless of age, class, gender or background. This social contract means we will go and find young people and find new ways to look at the world together.
Why might an artist want to work in this way?
SG One obvious advantage is that it allows them to connect directly with an audience from the very beginning of a project. Being in a space and thinking about their work with a group of people with different perspectives is a unique and valuable experience, and one that it is unlikely an artist will have the opportunity to experience again in the future – it’s different from discussing ideas with peers or working on a community project, I think. Ideally, this empathetic and critical approach might even be a turning point in the way that an artist makes work, suggesting new routes for critical thinking and adding to the internal voices that determine the direction their work takes in the future.
AA When working with an Innovation Lab, artists will have the opportunity to set the agenda for everyone involved, guiding discussion through the key issues around which they will be basing their work. But the model also gives artists the chance to be playful – to think, ‘what if this were all a game?’ Innovation Labs are traditionally run to find solutions to very serious issues – social isolation, funeral planning or debt – but the best results arguably come about when people are allowed to approach problems playfully, from many different angles.
SG An Innovation Lab is an active and collaborative space in which everyone is a maker. For many artists making is the best way of thinking – you can generate and work through ideas more quickly and physically. Working in this ‘haptic thinking’ environment might be a way of tapping into a kind of maker culture, turning other people’s making into part of their creative process too. Working with others and being open to their insights and reactions, however, obviously also adds another element of uncertainty – none of us know exactly what’s going to happen.
AA It’s important to acknowledge that there is an element of risk to this open-ended approach, but also that it might be precisely this unknown quantity that is so appealing to artists wanting to explore working in a new way. So it’ll be a really interesting place to see what happens.
And what about the challenges of creating a digital art project, especially if the artist has never worked in this way before?
AA To me, this is part of what makes the Innovation Lab model so interesting. It means bringing in a lot of different people with different areas of expertise, and bringing in a lot of technologies and associated working methods too – agile, iterative methods of working, for instance.
SG I actually think that artists already work in this way – not-knowing is integral to art, otherwise what would be the point? – and that the Innovation Lab will be a great opportunity for them to translate their working methods into a digital form.
How does the Innovation Lab model relate to the aims of 1215.today more generally?
AA While the Magna Carta’s principles of justice, personal rights and freedoms have been debated since the document’s sealing 800 years ago, they are being questioned all over again in light of the digital age. We now have access to many different interpretations of these concerns at multiple levels: the international, national and hyperlocal.
We wanted to introduce a model that would allow something to be created out of these topical issues, while taking on polar opposite opinions and bringing them into a common space, asking: What can be done? What happens next?
SG The aims of the 1215.today project are to offer a creative, common space for artistic expression and debate, so the Innovation Lab is a clear extension of this.
At a deeper level, it’s interesting to think about the structures of our society today, and how much this has changed in the past 10 years. Most societies, in the past, were built on a hierarchy of a few important voices broadcasting to many receivers, without much two-way dialogue, but now social media and digital publishing have exploded that model. We find ourselves in a many-to-many space where everyone is equal, everyone has a voice. When the many get together, real change happens – just as in 1215.
What do you hope the outcomes will be?
SG As Abhay said before, there’s an element of risk in what we’re doing – in the questioning, the collaboration, the mix of participants. But we also feel that the Innovation Lab model recognises and embraces this to make living work that is relevant, speaking to, and through, real people. By the end of the project, we will have run Innovation Labs in three different locations, and it will be really interesting to compare the results from each.
AA Definitely – will the creative results from our three Innovation Labs complement each other, joining up like a puzzle that reveals what the principles of the Magna Carta mean to our societies and communities today? Or will they reflect an increasingly fragmented picture of what these ideals mean now for a society facing unique pressures, many of which are driven by technology?
SG Given that 1215.today’s goal is to take a fresh look at the principles instigated by the Magna Carta through the lens of the arts, then we also ought to ask whether there might be a way for the arts to genuinely engage new audiences. We hope the Innovation Lab will be one way of doing this, and that our example will encourage other people to take it up as a way of making and debating in the future.
AA The Innovation Lab will hopefully show us what we need to let go of as artists, creators, makers and technologists to create a new kind of positive social impact through collective action.
SG We also hope that the process inspires some of our younger participants to contribute to a lasting piece of work and go on to develop their own ideas, contributing to a new Magna Carta for today’s digital age. The stage is set for social entrepreneurs who want to use technology and the arts, together, to do good.
1215.today’s first Digital Identity Innovation Lab will take place in Leeds on Saturday 16 January 2016. A further two Innovation Labs are planned for Lincoln and London over the course of the year.
If you are a school or university student and would like to participate in one of our prototype Innovation Labs, you can contact 1215.today through any of our social media channels, or you can drop us an email at firstname.lastname@example.org.
If you are a creative technologist and would like to participate, offering your skills and insights to the development of a new digital artwork, please contact Abhay Adhikari on email@example.com.
If you are an artist interested in the development of a new digital commission, are open to new ways of working and interested in critical conversation and collaboration, then please refer to the 1215.today Artistic Commission Opportunity, here: http://cultureshockmedia.co.uk/detail/330/1215.today-new-artistic-commission-opportunity/