“Apart from inquiry, apart from praxis, individuals cannot be truly human. Knowledge emerges only through invention and re-invention, through the restless, impatient, continuing, hopeful inquiry human beings pursue in the world, with the world, and with each other.”
— Paulo Freire
How would our world be different if every president and prime minister’s action and speech were defined through a direct and collective contribution from every community member?
How would our world be different if houses of worship and sacred spaces had multitudes of doors, welcoming humanity across different religions to enter with their own prayers?
Do our future children have to cross oceans and climb walls in search of a place to call home?
These, and many more pressing inquiries were the invisible ropes that connected 20 strangers across oceans and geographical boundaries in the midst of global pandemic. With quarantines and lockdowns forcing everyone to the solitude of their home, the connections were made visible through technologies and Zoom grids flickering on our computer screens. This was the launch of American Arts Incubator — Austria 2020: The Future of Inclusion Lab.
The Future of Inclusion Lab is an experimental laboratory to incubate ideas and project prototypes that aim for collective and radical imaginations of our social systems; a virtual program and an ongoing incubator centred on art, emerging technology, and community co-creation as collective tools to address local and global social justice challenges.
Due to the COVID-19 pandemic, rather than spending a month in Linz to lead workshops at the Ars Electronica Center, we swiftly moved to launch a cross-continental collaboration online that transcended beyond the boundaries of our physical locations, beyond the initial incubator participants, and into the communities of collaborators in different localities.
The challenges brought by the pandemic put forward this query for our incubator: how could emerging technologies and platforms offer us new languages to form meaningful connections for critical inquiries, inclusive relations, and future speculations, where real and virtual, analogue and digital co-exist to expand our terrains of access and storytelling?
We are here today because of the power of collective wisdom, the magic of technology, and human resilience.
Our practice centered community co-creation, art, and emerging media as powerful tools and processes to investigate social systems and to address social inclusion. We centered on community co-creation to disrupt established power dynamics, to move beyond single authorship, and to blur the boundaries between those who are traditionally considered creators, subjects, and audiences; we ideated the processes of creation to embody the changes we envisioned.
There were fundamental questions that shaped the framework of our collective actions. We as humans are creations of the systems we critique. We recognized the need to reframe and reinvent our vocabulary when speaking to social injustices because our language often reinforced the power structures we wished to change.
How could we imagine processes that embodied the changes we envisioned?
What processes could disrupt established power dynamics and allow for new norms of justice and equity to emerge?
How could we reconsider our methodologies to respond to the ethical questions of media production regarding who has access to the platforms and technology to create?
Our first encounter was a virtual dinner, where everyone prepared a dish that carried childhood memories, family sentiment, or a sense of nostalgia. Through our collective oral histories, we shared spaces of vulnerability, love, care, and generosity paired with deep listening pivoting around the power of collective memories.
In our field research, we used open source platform tools to extend these processes with a wider community, inviting them to document their experiences and their intimate personal histories, while envisioning a future of inclusion.
“Future Inclusion” is an open platform allowing everyone from around the world to document their experiences, intimate personal histories, and memories to envision futures of inclusion. Everyone is invited to record their own voice to add to the project, creating a living document of futures based on past and present. The map creates a sonic representation of memories, visions, and desires, co-creating collective social memories of our futures.
We engaged with guest speakers and panelists who each brought tremendous insight on collective space-making, the ethics of community co-creation, and emerging technology. Our connections with new technological platforms were through human connections where the founders of Artivive and Roundware provided participants with their personal history and philosophical approach to building new platforms, from open sourced platforms to full profit with social impact. We discussed sustainability as essential steps to create meaningful change.
During the one-month incubator, four projects emerged from our collective critical inquiries. All of the projects used multiple platforms to create different access points and various modes of engagement, participation, and community co-creation at the center of their inquiry.
The projects brought to life powerful collective stories using various technologies such as photogrammetry, 3D modeling, location-based augmented reality, web VR, musical composition, audio documentary, deep fake, and artificial intelligence.
Project “(Un)Seen Sacred Spaces” speaks to public erasure of marginalized communities. The collective action of community members who shared their family pictures, video recordings, and oral histories gave presence to these hidden spaces, creating new forms of realities and public encounters using virtual space.
In project “Harmony,” the co-creation of jam sessions is reimagined in virtual space where collaborations can happen synchronously or asynchronously; where everyone is invited to contribute their music based on a beat; their aural traces remain in the universe, creating a musical history of our human experiences.
“Project Home” is the collective action to re-envision the definition of home and its multiplicity of narratives based on the current world reality where 1.6 billion people lack adequate housing, 150 million people are homeless, the number of international migrants has reached roughy 272 million.
“VirtualPolitik” is a new vision for democracy where presidents’ and prime ministers’ speeches are written from the collective writings and wishes of community members using deep fake and machine learning.
Despite the quarantine and lack of physical connections, the teams expanded beyond their initial reach, connecting to their wider local communities for collaboration. Teams sustained their collaborations beyond the month-long virtual incubator and in September, all four projects were showcased at the 2020 Ars Electronica Festival, “In Kepler’s Gardens.” Teams created web VR prototypes that made all projects available to experience worldwide.
How can artistic and poetic interventions shape new communities of love and consideration that hold these stories at the center of our understanding of systemic inequities?
How can the process of artmaking become a giving space, creating educational programs in which you work and co-create together?
How can we ground our efforts in the expertise of the lived experiences of community members?
I am grateful for this collective journey and the new communities we shaped. Collaborative relations formed and matured in a virtual space that will last beyond our incubation period. I powerfully witnessed our growth individually and collectively. I cherish our time together and I am thankful for the dedication, thoughtfulness, and enthusiasm that everyone brought to our collective space, from participants to partner organizations, navigating this historically challenging time with care. Our collective energies were connected through a strong invisible rope: to create impact beyond our closed circles, to consider inclusion as a form of expansion, that human society’s maturity cannot be achieved without its full realization.
I am looking forward to witnessing the sustainability and the rippling impact of these collective efforts in near and far futures!
And yes, the magic of arts and creative speculation have the power to transcend the boundaries of human limitations and cultivate imaginations to change our current realities.
American Arts Incubator — Austria participants: Asma Aiad, Parisa Ayati, Esma Bosnjakovic, Patricia Cadavid, Neo Christopher Chung, Rebekka Grüner, Max Haarich, Barbora Horská, Robbie Ierubino, Maria Kallionpää, Ines Mahmoud, Rebecca Merlic, Florian Nitsch, Nika Pfeifer, Mateja Rot, Clara Roth, Peter Sauleda, Nicole Schanzmeyer, Kathi Schulz, Monica Vlad
American Arts Incubator — Austria team: Rashin Fahandej (Lead Artist), Shamsher Virk (Executive Director, ZERO1), Maya Holm (Program and Communication Manager, ZERO1), Veronika Krenn (Producer, Ars Electronica), Veronika Liebl (Director, Ars Electronica, Festival-Prix-Exhibitions), Amanda Augustin (Project Coordination, Ars Electronica), Amy Liu (Research Assistant), Nils Gallist (Mozilla Hubs Developer)
Special thanks to:
Sergiu Ardelean (ArtiviveXR), Halsey Burgund (Roundware), Reanne Leuning (Advantage Austria), Gabriella Chihan Stanley and Axel Dietrich (Vienna | vrisch) , Katerina Cizek and William Uricchio from COLLECTIVE WISDOM, Media Co-creation Field Study and External Partners: Muslimische Jugend Österreich, Open Austria, St. Pölten University of Applied Sciences
Guest panel speakers: Daniel Bacchieri (Music Street Map), Anandana Kapur (Filmmaker), L’Merchie Frazier (Artist), Alvaro Morales (Immersive media creator), Sandra Rodriguez (Director/XR/AI content producer), Sarah Wolozin (MIT Open Documentary Lab).
Project panel reviewers: Wendy Levy (The Alliance for Media Arts), Manuela Naveau (artist and curator), Lukas Jakob Löcker (multimedia composer/filmmaker), Eva Bischof and Gerald Herlbauer (4youreyes)
PARTICIPATE IN THIS LOCATION-BASED AUDIO DOCUMENTARY TO ENVISION AND SPECULATE FUTURES OF INCLUSION: https://futureinclusionlab.org
Future of Inclusion Lab at Ars Electronica Festival 2020, “In Kepler’s Gardens.”