Small scale tests of an idea…

In an earlier post we have been mentioning the Mutant Futures Program (MFP) – established and continuously developed by José Ramos – which we have been participating in twice as well as having the opportunity to co-facilitate a variation of it as a prelude of our “Futures Brought to Life” Symposium, in May 2022.

One of the emergent ideas from the online cohort MFP that we undertook developed from the question “how to remain positive and visionary in times like these?” This question, which emerged in an artist’s talk last year during our engagement at “Work Upside Down” in Cluj, has been a constant accompaniment since our reflections upon it started.

Taking on the Anticipatory Experimentation Method (AEM) approach (a method for bringing the preferred future into the present through experiments that can scale for impact) we looked at what we could easily implement, as ways to undertake “5 S” experiments. We realised that we had a number of futuring exercises in the near futures and, as none of them are ever cast in stone, we could adapt them. We could build in experimental parts of the process in order to test some new ideas emerging from the question.

Presentation slide from José Ramos / Action Foresight

In order to be “Safe” we knew we needed a solid framework, by manipulating only one phase of a futuring exercise we would keep “Small” and “Short“. Even if everything went wrong, we, and our participants, were not going to lose days of work. The changes were “Simple” in that they did not reverberate too far out into the whole Exercise structure, allowing us to focus on the change and not the implications within the structure. And “Shareable” meant that we could talk about them afterwards. Which we could.

The first experiment was within the workshop Temporary School for the Development of Beautiful Gestures at “im_Flieger“, a group in Vienna. For this Exercise, we decided to take the “Times like these” part of the phrase most strongly. We did not skim over any of the emerging disasters at the times, which included the war in Ukraine, new Covid variants, food supply issues, weather changes resulting from climate change and whatever else was happening at the time. For the participants, we felt that we were pushing some boundaries, ones that perhaps are not meant to be pushed in a process like this. Boundaries that are close. As they say in car racing, we scraped our way around the corner without losing any passengers, as we leveled out into a discussion of the merging of positive and negative visions, utopias and dystopias intertwined. The ensuing discussions were all the more energised, perhaps as a result of flirting with the negative.

This experience gave us some resolution to carry on. Clearly our participants (this group was no more or less special than any other group) were up for such a ride. However the ride is bumpy and there is the danger of not making all the corners safely. We undertook a few more experiments in this vein, happy with the results that emerged, as were the participants.

After the “Futures Brought to Life” Symposium, we talked with colleagues and were encouraged to look at this problem further in the Arts Based research realm. What could be developed in order to use insights from arts based processes in order to look at these issues, what developments in the arts based processes could we undertake that worked with, against and around questions of hope, positive visions and the situation in which we find ourselves. How can we use the Stockdale Paradox, the idea that you must maintain unwavering faith that you can and will prevail in the end, while at the same time, have the discipline to confront the most brutal facts of your current reality in arts based futuring? What else can arts based futuring learn, borrow, interpret and steal from the world of business, the military, activism and psychology? What can we return? What are the forms of valid and active hope that emerge and contribute to powerful arts based futuring processes? What can Arts Thinking bring to this table?

So many questions and approaches, that we, together with a wonderful group of potential collaborators, brought together into a proposal “How Dare You” that looked at the ways in which we can dare, in spite of, but in full awareness of, the futility, enormity and gravity of the situation, to maintain positive visions, develop culture and arts processes and not give up. Sad news here is that a simple external administrative failure can torpedo an application. Almost a bit cynical that in particular an application meandering around the idea of „How to maintain active hope“ experiences such a bad start. Still, we confront the brutal facts while maintaining our faith that we shall prevail, keep our optimism up and will do a re-run of the submission next year, by which time we will have continued to refine our processes and understandings and we will be more ready to dare.

Everything learned during the ongoing engagement with Anticipatory Experimentation and similar approaches is feeding Curiouser and Curiouser, cried Alice: Rebuilding Janus from Cassandra and Pollyanna (CCA), an art-based research project of Design Investigations (ID2) at the University of Applied Arts Vienna and Time’s Up supported by the Programme for Arts-based Research (PEEK) on the part of the Austrian Science Fund (FWF): AR561.

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