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During my visit to SFMOMA on 15 Nov 2019, I was standing on the terrace of the 7th Floor looking North-East into Natoma Street, and wondering what the curved-walled building on the left was about.

SFMOMA

I did not pay much attention until I was reminded of this view in this article about floating utopias in The New-Yorker of 11 Dec 2019. Below is a view from the other side, probably taken from the Providian Financial rooftop on Beale Street, looking South-West. At the far end, you may recognize the SFMOMA building. The building in the front is Salesforce Park, a lush rooftop arcadia of rolling meadows.

Salesforce Park

Salesforce Park.Photograph by Karl Mondon / The Mercury News / Getty

The article in The New-Yorker is about the utopian, surveilled and orchestrated architecture in the middle of the astonishing inequality of homeless people in all the other streets of San Francisco:

Taxpayer-funded, corporately branded, suspended above the homeless, the park is an irresistible metaphor for the city’s socioeconomic tensions. It also feels like a bid, or a prayer, for a certain vision of its future.

Salesforce Park as a model for the rest of San Francisco—vertical, expansive, ecologically minded, expensive, sponsored, and surveilled.

“I feel totally orchestrated,” Cranz said, placing her hand on the railing separating us from the plant life. “I’m acutely aware of how managed everything is.”

Shuttle Constant

Two days later, I bumped on-line into the magical world of the Dutch artist Constant Nieuwenhuis and especially his Magnus opus “New Babylon”, another utopia, a city designed to respond to Homo Ludens’ need for playing, for adventure, and for mobility.

 

In New Babylon there are no single houses

The whole city is one immense covered collective house

A house with countless rooms, halls and corridors,

In which one can roam for days or weeks,

But where one can also find

Small spaces for privacy

New Babylon is a labyrinth

Inexhaustible in its variations

A palace with a thousand rooms

timeline art

Constant was one of the founders of Cobra, an avant-garde art movement established on 8 Nov 1948. The movement only existed for three years, but forever changed the landscape of postwar European art. Cobra was perhaps the last avant-garde movement of the twentieth century. Constant was the author and co-signee of the initial COBRA Manifesto “La Cause était entendue” – “The Case was Settled”.

Les représentants belges, danois et hollandais à la conférence du Centre Internatiopnal de Documentation sur l’Art d’Avant-Garde à Paris jugent que celle-ci n’a mené à rien.

La résolution qui a été votée à la séance de cloture ne fait qu’exprimer le manque total d’un accord suffisant pour justifier le fait même de la réunion.

Nous voyons comme le seul chemin pour continuer l’activité internationale une collaboration organique expérimentale qui évite toute théorie stérile et dogmatique.

Aussi décidons-nous de ne plus assister aux conférences dont le programme et l’atmosphère ne sont pas favorable à un développement de notre travail.

Nous avons pu constater, nous, que nos façons de vivre, de travailler, de sentir étaient communes ; nous nous entendons sur le plan pratique et nous refusons de nous embrigader dans une unité théorique artificielle. Nous travaillons ensemble, nous travaillerons ensemble.

C’est dans un esprit d’efficacité que nous ajoutons à nos expériences nationales une expérience dialectique entre nos groupes. Si, actuellement, nous ne voyons pas ailleurs qu’entre nous d’activité internationale, nous faisons appel cependant aux artistes de n’importe quel pays qui puissent travailler – qui puissent travailler dans notre sens.

Paris, le 8 novembre 48.

Cobra Manifesto page-1

Cobra Manifesto - Image from Beinecke Digital Collections

After reading “Homo Ludens – A Study of the Play-Element in Culture” by Johan Huizinga, Constant develops the idea for a futuristic city. He develops this idea by drawing maps, writing texts, building constructions, and models.

Homo Ludens

Constant worked for almost 20 years on New Babylon (1959-1974). Today, there is a foundation to preserve and promote the art collection and intellectual legacy of the artist.

From Wikipedia:

The goal was the creating of alternative life experiences, called ‘situations’

Perched above ground, Constant’s megastructures would literally leave the bourgeois metropolis below and would be populated by homo ludens–man at play.

In the New Babylon, the bourgeois shackles of work, family life, and civic responsibility would be discarded. The post-revolutionary individual would wander from one leisure environment to another in search of new sensations. Beholden to no one, he would sleep, eat, recreate, and procreate where and when he wanted. Self-fulfillment and self-satisfaction were Constant’s social goals. Deductive reasoning, goal-oriented production, the construction and betterment of a political community–all these were eschewed.

It is obvious that a person free to use his time for the whole of his life, free to go where he wants, when he wants, cannot make the greatest use of his freedom in a world ruled by the clock and the imperative of a fixed abode. As a way of life Homo Ludens will demand, firstly, that he responds to his need for playing, for adventure, for mobility, as well as all the conditions that facilitate the free creation of his own life.

Some of the constructs in Constant’s vision reminded me of the sketches and models of Buckminster Fuller’s Dimaxyon House of 30 years earlier).

Dymaxion House

Buckminster Fuller, Dimaxyon House, Chicago, USA, 1927

Constant passes away in Utrecht on August 1st, 2005, at home with his wife Trudy van der Horst. He is buried at Zorgvlied in Amstelveen on August 6th. On his grave:

In art freedom manifests itself in its highest form.
The creative imagination.
Art creates an image of the world that didn’t exist before.
No. More than that.
An image that was unthinkable before.

I’d love to see a 21st-century version of Cobra, a collective of artists, thinkers, creators, tinkerers, and experimentalists, leading into a movement of fresh thinking. Not necessarily and exclusively an art-movement, but an all-encompassing societal-movement, with more time and air and oxygen for our children to play, where they naturally can grow into what they are best at, with a renewed freshness and renaissance, a new corporate and societal spring, celebrating the power of imagination and creativity, as a response to our dull political landscape of non-zero games.

A new New Babylon, a new city to play, a new avant-garde propelling us into the highest forms of freedom.

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I am still reflecting on some feedback regarding an event that I recently designed and facilitated. One of the comments was that “there was too much ebb and flow”, and that we should create more “pressure” to keep the highs at maximum volume at all times.

But is ebb and flow such a bad thing? I don’t think so. On the contrary, the tension between ebb and flow is a requirement for growth and creativity. Adding more pressure will not keep the flow on, it could create exhaustion and fractures and breakages.

Instead of pressure, I believe we need to design opportunities for expansion, probably in the form of silence or more in general, reflection moments in the absence of inputs and triggers.

Like in Jan Chipchase’s expeditions: “Long trekking days were spent in meditative solitude or long conversations depending on personal preference, as energies ebbed and flowed

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Sometimes, the orchestra metaphor is used in leadership contexts, representing the leader as the conductor, steering/leading the orchestra. I believe the asymmetric relationship of the “leader” with his/her “followers” is a flawed metaphor. 

Orchestra conductor

The more interesting and critical question is “Who wrote the score?”. In other words, “Who is the composer?”. I already alluded to this in my good/bad-change-post.

"Heroes" and others by Ozark Henry and National Orchestra of Belgium

Quote by Robert Fritz

“In an orchestra, it is not the conductor or individual musicians who are in control.  It is the composer.  The composer’s job is to make sure that the parts fit together. Too often, no one is actually composing the organisation, and it leaves one of two bad choices: command and control or organising systems. Much has been made in the last 20 years, glorifying organising systems, but, what happens over time is that these systems self-organise into structural conflicts, which lead to oscillating patterns.”

“That’s why a “composed” system can lead to advancement and forward movement toward building the company but the other alternatives do not live up to their promise.”

The composer creates an immersion. A good example in music is Ozark Henry, who now spends his days creating immersive soundscapes. He got into this 360° sound experience when setting the bar for his immersive album “Paramount”recorded with the Philharmonic Orchestra of Belgium. The full documentary of the making of this album also shows Ozark Henry in his role as “Composer” working with the Orchestra.

Ozark is NOT the conductor. He hired the conductor. He hired the director. He hired the musicians. He is the composer.

What are the qualities of the composer? Also here, Ian Cheng comes to our help.

Emissary

Ian Cheng - from the book "Emissary's Guide to Worlding"

As can be seen from the diagrams above, the stretch for most artists is to become “composers” rather than problem solvers or conductors. The composer is an artist/alchemist, trying to create harmony between four internal forces/roles:

  • The Director at work, focused on “What is the story/narrative?”
  • The Emissary at work, focused on “A future you can believe in”
  • The Cartoonist at work, focused on a uniting Cartoon/Mascot metaphor
  • The Hacker at work, focused on iterating hacks “It might not be science but it works”

All roles need to be present in the composer. In my opinion, this model does not only apply to artistic endeavors but works very well in a business context. Most businesses struggle to get to the right side of the graphic; in seeking surprise and going into unknown territory, and imagining alive worlds that they believe in. That’s where the future innovative opportunities are.

I suggest the composer is the ideal archetype for dealing with ambiguity

Have a great day!

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As mentioned in my August 2019 update, I am helping a client with an immersive leadership offsite. I am starting to label this sort of work “Artistic interventions, interruptions, and provocations that lead to higher states of alertness and aliveness.”

15-properties-leitner-1024x768

Coincidently, Sarah Perry just posted her swan song essay on “Meaning as Ambiguity”, referring to the work of Christopher Alexander (one of my all-time heroes) and coiner of “The Quality Without a Name” and “The Fifteen Geometric Properties of Wholeness” from Chapter-22 of his fantastic book “The Battle for the Life and Beauty of the Earth

beauty

Back to meaning and ambiguity. In the design of this off-site, we confront the participants with increasing levels of ambiguity in the BANI worldIn their responses, we expect the participants to progress from learning into problem-solving into “Worlding”. See also my post on “The Tyranny of the Problem Solver”.

I first came across the term “Worlding” in the book “Emissary’s Guide to Worlding” by Artist Ian Cheng http://iancheng.com/

EGTW_1-0_cover_webres

It is one of those books where one makes annotations on every page, a big eye-opener and page-turner. Highly recommended.

Worlding is about imagining a future world you can believe in.

Some inspirational quotes from Ian Cheng’s book:

A World is a future you can believe in: One that promises to survive its creator, and continue generating drama.  

A World is a future you can believe in by promising to become an infinite game

A World evokes a place. 

A World has borders.

A World has laws. 

A World has values. 

A World has a language. 

A World can grow. 

A World can collapse. 

A World has mythic figures. 

A World has visitors. 

A World has members who live in it. 

A World looks arbitrary to a person outside of it. 

A World satisfies both the selfish and collective interests of its members. 

A World grants magic powers, especially the power to filter what matters to it. 

A World gives permission to live differently than the wild outside. 

A World creates an agreement about what is relevant. 

A World counts certain actions inside it as meaningful. 

A World undergoes reformations and disruptions. 

A World incentivizes its members to keep it alive. 

A World is a container for stories of itself. 

A World expresses itself in many forms, but is always something more.

For us humans, life is filled with the familiar contests of finite games: Deadlines. Deals. Rankings. Dating. Elections. Sports. College. War. Poker. Lotteries. 

When our finite games are won and done, what is strange is that we don’t exit back into base Reality. We wake up in a field of infinite games that perpetually mediate our contact with base Reality. 

We choose to live in these infinite games because they give us leverage, structure, and meaning over a base Reality that is indifferent to our physical or psychological health. 

We have many names for these infinite games: Families, Institutions, Religions, Nations, Subcultures, Cultures, Social Realities 

Let’s call them WORLDS

When a World can “survive its creator,” that means it has achieved sufficient stability to regulate and safeguard its potentiality without authorial intervention. 

This is a World’s requirement for Autonomy. 

When a World can “continue generating drama,” a World is sufficiently interesting for people to care about and want to explore. 

This is a World’s requirement for Aliveness. 

When a World is keeping its promise, it continues to be a future you can believe in

All the credits for the quotes above go of course to Ian Cheng. Great book.

Hope you enjoy it too!

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Ambiguity is often related to “uncertainty”. Uncertainty is the “U” and Ambiguity is the “A” of the VUCA world (Velocity, Uncertainty, Complexity, Ambiguity). VUCA is a term that dates from 1987, and almost 30 years old.

jamais Cascio

Jamais Cascio

Already end 2018, Jamais Cascio (Institute For The Future) coined a new acronym that in my opinion better captures today’s “ambiguity”: “BANI”. The term kept on simmering in my brain. My summary:

BANI stands for:

  • B = BRITTLE = strong systems breaking down, hard but likable to break easily
  • A = ANXIOUS = feeling there are no good options
  • N = NON-LINEARITY = strong differential cause-effect
  • I = INCOMPREHENSIBLE = too complex for the human to understand, at least at the present or without augmentation

“Being geared for ambiguity” is about being able to develop “hints and responses”, “pathways” for dealing with the new environment. Pathways, not necessarily firm answers/solutions to specific problems.

Moving beyond problem-solving and developing these “responses” is what it is all about in reaching more mature levels of leadership. See also my post on “The Tyranny of the Problem Solver”

What are those responses?

  • BRITTLENESS is dealt with by RESILIENCE
  • ANXIETY is dealt with by  EMPATHY/AGENCY
  • NON-LINEARITY is dealt with by FLEXIBILITY
  • INCOMPREHENSIBILITY is dealt with by INTUITION

We need to create another narrative to make ourselves comfortable with the new reality of BANI worlds. The Kayaker in white water is a good metaphor for how one feels in ambiguous environments.

kayaker

The BANI environment (the white water) is what it is. It “is” like the weather. One can complain and lament about it (ruminate), but that won’t change anything. It is difficult or impossible to change.

Brittleness and Non-linearity are characteristics of the humans and the organizations, of the general conditions and situations of the individuals and the environment. Anxiety and Incomprehensibility are “feelings”, human traits of understanding and are NOT qualities of the general conditions and situations.

The stability of the kayaker (her response to instability) comes from her body sensory experiences.

The more experience (practice), the better the body reacts automatically and sensory to instability.

Great kayaking is based on a lot of immersive experiences.

In an abstract environment, the “body” is a metaphor for authenticity, integrity and personal agency. 

Agency is our ability to act with effect in the world.

The artistic interventions, interruptions, and provocations that I try to create lead to higher states of alertness and aliveness of our personal agency in ambiguous worlds.

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An overview on what happened the last couple of months, some new insights, some updated plans.

The Artschool Project

Artschool started again in Sep 2018, and begin Jan 2019 we already had our mid-year review: time flies. I had a good production during Q4 of 2018. Check out my art page on my blog.

At the time of writing this post, I am practicing painting of birds, in preparation for a bigger painting with a swarm of 250 birds. Internalising the shape of the bird.

one bird

One bird in hand...

I did a lot of pieces on labyrinths & mazes, experimented with techniques as washing and spray, and created an installation with shaped canvasses.

shaped canvas

Shaped Canvasses

On the topic of the labyrinth, the plan is to create a big land-art-labyrinth of about 140 meters diameter that would be created with my uncle Hubert’s tractor on a field in Flanders. Probably when there is snow. Here is the sketch on a 1/500 scale

landart

Land-art-labyrinth scale 1/500

The paths are 4 meters wide, and 1 meter in-between each path. Total diameter is 140 meters. I contacted a surveyor and some friends who are willing to do a drone recording of the build-up and end result. It may cost some money, so I will have to find a sponsor to pay the production bill before we go ahead. Anybody?

Prison cell performance

In my previous update, I already shared some screenshots from my Sep 2018 performance in Mexico. The whole thing was recorded and ready to go on YouTube. Although most of the soundscapes used were self-created, there was one 20 second snippet from Rammstein’s “Heirate Mich” that got captured by the YouTube licensing algorithms, so the organisers of the event were unable to upload the performance video to YouTube.

performance

Rebel Sequence Performance Petervan

But I do have the full video on my HD, and I’ll put it on a private shared drive. If you are interested, send me a message and I will send you a link to the full video.

Lesson learned: next time, ALL soundscapes will be mine ;-).

There are also a bunch of pictures taken, check out the gallery at The Futures Agency.

Time Capsules Project

I continued working with my cousin Joost on the Time Capsules Project (see my previous update), and especially on the Beyoncé one. We now had two detailed viewing and commenting sessions in my studio, and we made transcripts of everything.

me and joost

Joost and Petervan in the studio
preparing Time Capsules

We are literally dissecting the Beyoncé-Apeshit video, and coming with alternative imagery and narratives.

As an example: in the beginning of the video, there is a crouching man with wings. In our re-make, we will inject for example imagery from Wim Mertens’ “Wings of Desire / Der Himmel über Berlin

crouching man

wings-of-desire

Fairytale

Something I started writing in 2007, but never finished, until now. I published my first fairytale on my blog here. All illustrations are mine too. There is pattern here 😉

helicon

Helicon

Silence-is-Broken Project

The Silence-is-Broken Project (see previous update) resulted in some more silence-scapes.

Video is a bit shaky, so I got myself a new toy for the studio, the DJI Osmo Mobile 2 Gimbal . Will use it a lot for the other Time Capsules as well.

gimbal

Little Drops

I have started planning on longer term, using an alternative calendar.

  • A year starts on 27 April
  • A week is 11 days
  • The 11th day is a rest day
  • A month has 7 weeks
  • And we have 17 months in a year

The planning now looks at a 10-year period, till Dec 2027, when I – if still alive – will be 70, my wife 59 and my daughter 22. Puts things into perspective. Also, the week-calendar is organised in big chunks of activities, and open slots that are unplanned. And I am doing planning along phases of 20 (Gregorian) months.

For example, by week-11 of Year-1, I plan to organise my own exhibition of my own artwork. In the Gregorian Calendar, that is June 2020. And my 70th birthday will be on day-11 of week-1 of Month-12 of Year-3, and it’s phase-6 of my planning.

Somebody is having fun…

Exhibitions

I visited a lot of art exhibitions. About thirteen or so. Here are some impressions:

pieter jennes

Pieter Jennes in The White House Gallery, Lovenjoel

cindy wright

Cindy Wright in Castle of Gaasbeek

klimt

Franz Lerch – Mädchen mit Hut – 1929
Part of Klimt Expo

Finding interesting work

I am happy to report that end Jan 2019, I joined @gleonhard’s The Future Agency, as a part-time researcher and curator on Digital Ethics, and as a speaker/performer. See my announcement post here.

We think we are at a critical inflection point in the exponential growth of technology and we need a renewed focus on humanity and ethics. Listen to Gerd below on his ambition to create a Digital Ethics Council:

Digital Gerd suggesting a Digital Ethics Council

What’s next?

The plan for Feb – April 2019 is to work on:

  • Rocking the Digital Ethics boat
  • Private community test V1 of “Time Capsules” on Beyoncé
  • A landscape art version of the labyrinth of 140 meters in diameter
  • Paint, Paint, Paint

So, that’s it for this edition. If there is something worth reporting, next update is for Apr-May 2019.

Warmest,

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I am super excited to let you know I have joined Gerd Leonhard‘s The Futures Agency as a speaker and as a part-time researcher and curator.

Gerd is Futurist and Humanist, Keynote Speaker, Author, Film Maker. His latest book “Technology vs. Humanity” – published in 2016 – is a best-seller and has been translated in ten different languages.

I first met Gerd when curating the program for Innotribe@Sibos 2016 in Geneva, where we experimented with a new format for his keynotes, labelled “The Future Show Live”. After lots of rehearsals this resulted into a stunning presentation using the full real estate of a huge HD wall.

Gerd Leonhard speaking at Innotribe@Sibos 2016 in Geneva

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