Sharing Desired Soil Futures Assemblies

Three intense days of talking and listening, thinking and pondering. In Linz the Sharing Desired Futures conference, run by the Center for Future Design at the University of the Arts, was held over three days at the Tabakwerk. On Thursday the Soil Assemblies forum was held by CREAM at Westminster. Being part of both of these events leads to some strange and twisting thoughts.

The dichotomy of the (intended?) audiences at these events is immediately clear. The Soil Assembly forum is a network for people working with soil and place, artist-farmers and hackers, talk of trans-bioregionality, regenerative agri- and horticulture and zero carbon transport. The conference was a think fest for people in large scale energy systems, aerospace, data systems and experiential futures. As we know, things that are immediately clear are usually not. Some examples. Cory Doctorow talking about the dystopian vision of Neal Stephenson’s Snowcrash being taken seriously by Mark Zuckerberg and Metaverse while the Soil Assembly discussed translocal gatherings to avoid air travel. CREAM at Westminster includes another group called Ecological Futurisms. Change managers talk about business executives relying on intuition; the energy transition needs societal change; future artefacts as cultural objects empower change; a disavowal of solutionism, creating the future and improving (or even saving) the world. Perhaps there were more similarities than differences in the ideas, the people and the intentions of these events. Somehow the intertwining of these two events was at least present, if not clear.

Curiouser and Curiouser: Cynthia Selin sees similar ways into experiential futures as we do.

Listening to suggestions about how organisations change we begin to realise that these ideas might be just as good at creating the change we need in society. Martin Reeves is a classically blue shirted grey slacks wearing corporate consultant who reminded us that the tragic lone genius is a Romantic delusion; we are all geniuses in many ways, our work with groups creating imaginations of possible and preferred futures underlines this. Then he talked of some company in India who were stagnating. So they made a plan to double their sales. Which meant that they would have to sell in every village at rates that were, according to the ways that the company worked, impossible. The executive consciously broke the company’s focus and policy, demanding the impossible in order to create new structures and enable that the organisation could survive. The Situationists arose several times as a discussion point. We are reminded of their call, stolen from Che Guevara, “Be Realistic: Demand the Impossible.” If it works for giant corporations, maybe it needs to work for society.

Riel Miller re-iterated that immortality is the property of cancer cells, and that industrial society is bankrupt in many forms; financially, morally and ecologically. The regenerative farmers and food forest practitioners at the Soil Assembly would have enjoyed the call for compost, that we work out how to compost the resources in organisations to enable renewal, resilience in the sense of resistance to shocks and support for the collective. It is unclear how many of those present at the conference would appreciate the details of compost and getting their hands dirty. Alexander Mankowsky managed to rile a few participants with his note that the conflicts in group imaginations often fall by the wayside when the group starts to make things; the reason why management continues to bicker is that it is too long since they have gotten their hand dirty. Perhaps the next Sharing Desired Futures event needs to have a mushroom propagation workshop and a welding exercise instead of the gala dinner. And maybe the Soil Assembly needs a futuring exercise. Then we might be getting somewhere.

This reflection is part of 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. All Time’s Up activities are also kindly supported by Bundesministerium Kunst, Kultur, öffentlicher Dienst und Sport BMKOES, Linz Kultur, Land OÖ & Linz AG.

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