April 24, 2008

Travel without moving: jacket from Djibouti please


Lucca Pizzaroni has been working for three years on building a sculpture which is made of garment clothing from every country in the world. For the artist, this this is a "mind travel escape" - and I know we have visitors from most countries at this blog - so I'm happy to pass on the fact that the labels project still needs an item of clothing each from: Angola, Azerbaijan, Central African Republic, Djibouti , Eritrea, Gabon, Iraq, Kazakstan, Kyrgyzstan, Liberia, Libya, Mauritania, Moldova, Mozambique, Niger, Rwanda, Sierra Leone, Somalia, Sudan, Tajikistan, Zambi.

Posted by John Thackara at 07:15 AM | Comments (0)

May 06, 2007

Beauty, mortality, presence.


I don't know about you but I'm off mapping today (and hope to see many of you there ). While I'm away, here's another of the Belsay projects, this one by Francesca Steele. Her work engages with beauty, mortality, and presence.

Posted by John Thackara at 09:33 AM | Comments (0)

May 05, 2007

Bluebells at Belsay


You missed a truly gorgeous day: The opening of Picture House at Belsay. Here is Dott's Beckie Darlington playing with the installation by UVA, which (the image) I borrowed from Pixelsumo (Chris O'Shea) who has posted a ton more on Flickr. Uber-blogger Regine Debatty was there, too, so you don't need any more from me. Regine's pix are here. The Picture House team worked three years to make the event happen and usually they'd now have to start work again on the laborious task of disseminating results. But in the age of Flickr, publishing the results of an event has become easy as..... this.

Posted by John Thackara at 07:27 AM | Comments (0)

May 02, 2007

The point of it all


This is a big week for Dott. The Picture House exhibition at Belsay Hall Mansion opens with a Digital Dinner on Thursday. The exhibition features three projects curated for Dott by Juha Huuskonen / Pixelache: a new work from Golan Levin; Adam Somlai-Fischer & Bengt Sjölén; and UVA. Adam-Somlai Fischer and Bengt Sjölén have documented the making of their installation at Belsay, a kinetic reflection display system called Aleph. The name Aleph comes from a fictional point of singularity by Jorge Luis Borges, "a point in space" (explain the artists) "that contains all other points. Anyone who gazes into it can see everything in the universe from every angle simultaneously, without distortion, overlapping or confusion".

Posted by John Thackara at 07:54 AM | Comments (0)

April 03, 2007

Digital dinner at Belsay

So you think you know what an English country house feels like? Well think again. Judith King for English Heritage and Dott 07 (with Juha Huuskonen) have invited experimental film directors, artists and designers to transform Belsay Hall in Northumberland with a series of cutting edge art and new media installations.The specially commissioned exhibition will feature fashion, sculpture, music, design, poetry and video filling Belsay's vast empty rooms, spare castle and Grade 1 listed gardens. On Thursday 03 May Dott's Explorers Club is organising a visit and dinner at the site for a maximum of 50 people. You need to book (and pay 16 euros) by Friday 20 April. It's first-come first served at this one-off event. contact: beckie.darlington@dott07.com

Posted by John Thackara at 07:08 PM | Comments (0)

March 14, 2007

Comment unfree

In response to spam attacks we've had to turn off the comment function here. Apologies for that: If you've had a comment blocked, please send it to desk at doorsofperception dot com com and we'll post it manually.

Posted by John Thackara at 07:52 AM | Comments (0)

October 23, 2006

Weakness in numbers?

Paul Hawken reckons that over 1 million organizations, populated by over 100 million people, are engaged in positive activity designed to address climate and other environmental issues. "Collectively this constitutes the single biggest movement on earth, but but it flies under the radar" he writes. Paul's new project, a book and tv project called Blessed Unrest , will reveal the depth and diversity of this worldwide ‘movement of movements’. For Hawken, "the power of this movement is that it is not directed". But therein, it seems to me, lies danger, too. It's proving hard to organise a decent database of all these enties - let alone for them to work easily together. Our experience in Designs of the time is that it takes an awful lot of time and energy to herd organisations together around a shared agenda. Some of our public commission projects involve ten, fifteen different partners - and that's just for a time-limited collaboration in a small European region. I have a strong feeling the dilemma of entropy will rise up the agenda in the coming period.

Posted by John Thackara at 09:51 AM | Comments (0)

July 15, 2006

Sonic allotments

The avant garde of music and sound art is a good early indicator of social change; sound is a fluid and rapidly changing medium. That's why this year's Futuresonic looks well worth a visit. In three days of talks, demos and chat, an international crowd will explore how mobile, locative and mapping technologies, often created by independent developers working collaboratively with open source tools, are opening up new cultural possibilities. A project called Tactical Sound Garden, for example, enables people to cultivate "sound gardens" within cities that are inspired by traditions of urban community gardening. The project uses mobile audio devices like the iPod to explore gradations of privacy in public space. In a session on Radio Frequency Identification Tags (RFID), Rob van Kranenburg is on a panel that explores strange alliances between fundamentalist Christians and left leaning artist-activists. There's a session on how models of behaviour derived from games, anthropology, sensors and mobile devices, can feed back into the design of buildings - real and virtual. The programme also asserts that an activity called scrobbling is "the basis of everything we do". Futuresonic runs Thursday 20 July to Saturday 22 July, Manchester, UK.

Posted by John Thackara at 06:18 AM | Comments (0)

February 22, 2006

Out of order?

Many of you probably know about Michael Darnell's website Bad Designs - but it's always growing, and always worth a re-visit. If there are other bad design collections out there, please let us know: we want to organise a Worst Design In The World Oscars. Meanwhile, because this blog likes to bring good news and not just whinge constantly about the iniquity of material things, my partner Kristi came across a glorious German mail-order catalogue called Manufactum whose English edition is now online. Their motto: "the good things in life still exist".

Posted by John Thackara at 07:14 AM | Comments (0)

December 10, 2005

Amazing minihompy moment

Now here's a tale to warm the heart. Mine, anyway. An email arrives from Emil Groh, in Seoul. Two nights ago Emil was on the subway there when a friend he was riding with took a book out of his bag and recommended Emil get it. It was "In The Bubble". Then, yesterday, another friend - unrelated to the first one - sent Emil the link to the story I wrote here about minihompies and Emil's work thereon. Amazing eh! Well, Emil and I think it is. "It's quite a different world here when it comes to people's relationship with communication tech. I love it!" Emil writes. And here, never before published anywhere in the world, is Emil's minihompy next to his real apartment.

Posted by John Thackara at 08:44 AM | Comments (0)

November 18, 2005

Re-mix of Psycho

How's this for a sublime location? A media arts festival in Huddersfield next week called Ultrasound takes place at Bates Mill. No, not motel: it's a traditional nineteenth century industrial complex. The performances of electronic music, software production, new technologies, and audiovisual stuff, take place in the Blending Shed.

Posted by John Thackara at 09:08 AM | Comments (1)

Shamanistic flying rats join Bavarian Pigeon Corps

I've received the following invitation from Marcus Kirsch and Jussi Ängeslevä and other friends at V2 in Rotterdam. The text is so well-crafted, and the project is so insane, that I'm simply reproducing it here as is.
"The urban rock dove (columba livia) is part of every cityscape. More hated than loved due to malnourishment based on fast food left-overs, the "flying rat" is very likely here to stay in our urban scenario. The urban pigeon population can be seen as an indicator of the city's atmosphere. Bottomline is, just as every other behaviour pattern and network in the city, we are connected to it as we share the same space. In a mixture of revived shamanism and panoptic view that might challenge the artificial network of CCTV cameras, the pigeon population's unpredictable movement patterns offer a set of eyes that could offer a unique view onto unknown places. Based on the Bavarian Pigeon Corps from 1903, where homing pigeons were equipped with tiny cameras to take aerial shots from behind enemy lines, Urban Eyes uses RFID and wireless technology to turn the once able urban pigeon into a chaotic agent and messenger of visual impressions from the road you never took.Perceived as a critical design concept and public art installation, Urban Eyes accesses the live network of pigeons to expand what you know about your own city and reclaim the exploring stage of citylife. In 2004 the project proposal of Urban Eyes won 3rd prize at Fusedspace, an international competition for innovative applications for new technology in the public domain.On Thursday 24 November at V2_, media artists Marcus Kirsch and Jussi Ängeslevä will present Urban Eyes with an introduction to the project's origins and concept and the findings of Kirsch' research during his V2_residency. The presentation includes an example run of the prototype built in and with the help of the V2_Lab over the last two months as well as perspectives on Urban Eyes' future".

Posted by John Thackara at 08:50 AM | Comments (0)

October 27, 2005

Decentralised power generation breakthrough

The nuclear lobby is trying to portray nuclear power as the inevitable solution to Britain's future power needs. But their campaign has been dealt a potentially lethal blow by a schoolboy called Peter Ash. The young inventor attached a generator to his hamster's exercise wheel and connected it to his phone charger - thereby meeeting the most important power need of a whole generation in an environmentally friendly way. Some sad adult examiners gave the teenage inventor a miserly C for this brilliant project when, by rights, he should be knighted for services to sustainability. (Thanks to Jennie Winhall for the lead).

Posted by John Thackara at 04:34 PM | Comments (3)

October 11, 2005

Doors backs another winner

The main prize of the UNESCO Digital Arts Award 2005 “City and Creative Media” goes to Indian artist Ashok Sukumaran, one of the featured presenters at Doors 8 in Delhi earlier this year. Sukamaran's “poetic yet pragmatic” project, Switch, was selected out of 242 project proposals by an international jury through an online selection process. The grand prize winner will receive 5000 US dollars and is invited to present his prize-winning project at the International Workshop on Urban Play and Locative Media (18-20 October 2005, Seoul, Republic of Korea), organized by Art Center Nabi , the co-organizers of this year’s edition of the Award.

Posted by John Thackara at 07:30 PM | Comments (0)

June 21, 2005

Silent sneeze

I like the sound of the Romanian pavilion at this year's Venice Biennale. The artist Daniel Knorr is responsible for an installation called European Influenza: the Pavilion is left empty, with only the traces of past exhibitions remaining. Sadly, not all critics have taken the hint: one burbles that Knorr's piece is about "the process of European acculturation ...the question is how new cultures of assimilation, liberated identities, and options for action can emerge in the prospect of Europe’s future self-definitions." And so on. One probably should not mock: Knorr specialises in invisible artworks that exist only as oral information and narration. Besides, art critics in Venice have huge expenses to justify to their editors; writing nothing is not an easy option.

Posted by John Thackara at 07:37 AM | Comments (0)

May 09, 2005

Hermetically hived-off homes

A group of artists in California called Heavy Trash has launched a guerrilla war against gated communities, the self-contained housing estates that are walled off from the outside world but ring more and more American cities. In a stealth operation, carried out at dawn, a group of 20 architects, designers and urban planners deposited 12ft bright orange viewing platforms at the gates of three of Los Angeles's most exclusive developments. Heavy Trash says that gated communities are the fastest growing type of housing development in the United States: more than eight million Americans now live in hermetically hived-off homes. The impact on the public domain is generally malign, of course - but remember this: the gates which keep us out also keep them, in.

Posted by John Thackara at 02:33 PM | Comments (1)

April 10, 2005

Gates memory project

Bob Stein writes to inform me of a fascinating experiment in creating a collective memory of an ephemeral event - albeit one which promises to be the most photographed art work ever. Christo and Jeanne-Claude's Gates project in Central Park was dismantled after a brief run of just sixteen days. "But during that time, millions of people experienced them, spending hours upon hours out of doors during the dark, frozen, improbable month of February. In the first four days alone, more than one million visitors passed underneath the billowing orange banners that wound like a ribbon through the park. Trips were planned, picnics were arranged, parties were thrown, days were unexpectedly re-routed. The Gates were as much an event, a happening, as they were a work of art". Now that the Gates are gone, says Stein, we begin the process of remembering them. "But it is not just the objects themselves that we recall. It is what happened while they were here: the conversations, the crowds, the impromptu visits, the unexpected snow, the long ambling walks, and the various artifacts - photographs, sketches, films, swatches of fabric - that were amassed. Memories often begin with an image, and the Gates project is almost certainly among the most photographed works of art in history. So it is with images that the Gates Memory Project will begin". It's a project of Flickr and the Institute for the Future of the Book.

Posted by John Thackara at 11:16 AM | Comments (0)

March 31, 2005

Re-mix as a design process

A personal "Aha!" moment in Delhi was the realisation that re-mix is not just about new music and vj-ing. Re:mix also signals a broader cultural shift away from the narcissistic obsession with individual authorship that have rendered everything from art to management so tiresome in recent times. (In architecture circles the concept of "recombinant design" has been doing the rounds, but re-mix is a much better word). Our visiting re-mixer at Doors 8, the modest but amazing Juhuu (Juha Huuskonen), ran a fantastic workshop on VJing in Delhi; he is also behind an event in Helsinki (14-17 April) called PixelACHE which is about this broader cultural shift. "Dot Org Boom (as the event is called) is the non-profit version of the Dot Com Boom (RIP) says the site. "The essential ingredients of this rapidly growing phenomenon are open source community, open content initiatives, media activist networks, and myriad NGOs around the world. PixelACHE Festival will bring together a diverse group of artists, engineers, activists, architects and designers to discuss and develop the future of Dot Org Boom". The four programme strands are: VJ Culture and Audiovisual Performances; Experimental Interaction and Electronics; Interactive & Participatory Cinema; and a Particle/Wave Hybrid Radio Workshop. The media art collective Juhu works with, katastro, has also helped produce a book called Demoscene: the art of real time which looks very interesting and yes I would like a copy.

Posted by John Thackara at 10:12 AM | Comments (0)

February 20, 2005

New media art at Doors 8

Bangalore Badarpur Border, curated by Pooja Sood at the Apeejay Media Gallery, explores the myths, landscape and imagery of Bombay. It features the work of Shaina Anand, (from Mumbai, trained in film in New York);Ashok Sukumaran (from Simla, trained in architecture in Delhi, and in Media Art in Los Angeles); Mukul Patel, sound artist and dj from London, and cofounder ofAmbienttv.net.. Then on the Wednesday (23 March) Mukul Patel curates the sound, Juha Huuskonen (aka Juhuu) from Helsinki, media theorist master vj, curates the light. Other Indian and international artists will participate. If you are not already raving after all the content of the previous days, you will, here.

Posted by John Thackara at 08:04 AM | Comments (0)

November 06, 2004

Message in a bottle

It's been a tough week. There's a lot of anguish about. Do something small, like

Posted by John Thackara at 09:46 AM | Comments (0)

June 17, 2003

Pros and cons of Dutch design

I was asked by the main Japanese design magazine, Axis, to write an 'afterword' for their special issue on Dutch design. I took the opportunity to reflect on trends in design policy in other countries.

Dutch design has enjoyed tremendous international success and prestige in recent years. Can it last?

One reason ifor its recent success is that The Netherlands is possibly the most intelligent market for design in the world. Sophisticated public and private sector clients know how to commission and manage design. And most cities and government agencies have procurement policies that enable projects to be awarded to the best design, not just to the cheapest proposal.

But profound changes, now happening in the world at large, raise an important question about the ability of Dutch design to respond to new challenges.

We are in the middle of a transition to an economy in which services are more significant than stand-alone products. Can thing-based designers, or for that matter architects, make this transition too - or are they doomed to be left behind?

In reflecting on these questions for design in The Netherlands, I draw positive - but also some negative - conclusions.

Dutch people take it for granted that they will redesign the landscape - and even nature itself. The whole country is a never-ending design project. Continuous and heavy investment in transport and logistics infrastructures has been part of an economic strategy nicknamed 'Holland Main Port'.

The big idea of the last 10 or 15 years was to make the entire country a transport and logistics hub for Europe. At Schiphol alone, tens of thousands of square metres of new buildings were developed to support the booming air-freight business.

But Schiphol is only one element of a bigger transformation. All over the country, enormous warehouses and freight interchanges have been built at the intersection between rail, road and water routes. The result: one of the busiest and most integrated - but also most congested - multi-modal transport networks in the world.

This enormous investment programme is a break with the country's cultural heritage as a trading nation that travels light.

This break with the country's mercantile tradition is not easy to reconcile with the promotion of a knowledge-based economy fuelled by higher levels of investment in software than in hardware.

The 'mainport Holland' strategy is controversial with environmentalists, too, who argue that the ecological impact of high-density and high-value mobility (such as air freight) is nearly always damaging.

Many architects and designers have benefited from these massive investments in buildings and infrastructure. But they, along with government policy makers, now have to change direction.

The Dutch are globally renowned experts in the development of physical infrastructure - from dykes to airports - but the challenge now is to design ‘knowledge infrastructure’ - and that won't be easy.

New times, new design policy

Around the world, new ways to think about, and do design are emerging.

Therere is growing poressure to understand natural, industrial and cultural systems - and the interactions between them - as the context for innovation. Clientrs – and regulators –are steadily forcing innovators to consider the sustainability of material and energy flows in all the product-service systems we design.

Tomorrow’s solutions will not be based on products on their own, in the old sense, but by product-service systems.

An example would be a car-sharing scheme, such as the Green Wheels service, that I use in Amsterdam. I do not own a car, but I subscribe to a mobility and car sharing service. When I need to use a vehicle, I locate one via a website and pay by the hour.

The design, integration, and operation of such product-service systems is where the greatest value will be created in the future. If a country does not make product-service systems the focus of its design policy, it runs the risk of falling behind.

Holland is well-placed to play a leading role in the development of product-service systems.

The situation in new media also remains positive.When CNN described Amsterdam as as ‘Europe's Cyber City’ during the mid-1990s, it was in response to the fact that many global players were making Amsterdam their European centre of operations. This was in part because of a lively multi-media and internet design scene. Despite the dot.com meltdown, the Amsterdam New Media Association has many hundreds of active members.

Dutch artistic and cultural practice is, by its very nature, diverse, independent, and interdisciplinary. Doors of Perception, for example, is a member of the so-called ‘Virtual Platform’ of organisations busy with design and artistic research in new media. Our fellow-members include a media arts lab, V2, which produces the Dutch Electronic Art Festival; Steim, a celebrated music and acoustics research lab; Montevideo, an archive and production centre for video art; deBalie, a centre for debate and discussion in the centre of Amsterdam; The Waag Society For Old and New Media; Paradiso, a famous rock-and-roll venue that also stages new media programmes; and so on.

None of the member organizations of the Virtual Platform has more than 10 or 12 staff, but we collaborate with each other on a regular basis. Later this year, for example, (October 2003), we will jointly organise the E-Culture Fair - a two-day ‘bazaar’ of experimental new media art and design projects.

Design research in Hollland is often initiated by small but collaborative groups. Eternally Yours, a Dutch foundation, is organising Time in Design, a round-the-clock, 24-hour event in October, to look at a crucial question: if the throw-away society is over, how do we design for longevity in products and services?

Important design innovation also takes place in the big universities. In the environmental domain, for example, Kathalys is a Centre for Sustainable Product Innovation run by TNO and Delft University of Technology. For more than ten years, Kathalys has led the way internationally in initiating and realising sustainable product innovations.

The need for institutional innovation

These positve developments - Kathalys, VIrtual Platform, and so on - exist on the edge of mainstream Dutch design. Edges are Dutch design's strong point.

But, as an institution, Dutch design - in common with many professions - has been slow to learn and adapt in a fast-changing world. I

Its schools and universities, its professional associations, and its specialist media, are still struggling to escape from an essentially nineteenth century understanding of design practice.

A persistent focus on what things look like in design academies is exacerbated by structural divisions between design disciplines - and between those disciplies, and other branches of knowledge.

Connectivity between people and ideas is further hindered by the turf-protecting way professional organizations, and design businesses, are organized. The result is that many designers lack the expertise to tackle the complex and multi-dimensional social questions that confront us.

The Netherlands’ Design Institute (1993-1999) was an impoitant attempt to promote institutional innovation in design. Its aim was to help the design profession evolve from a closed and inward-looking system, into an innovation support system within interlocking networks of people, companies and educational entities.

Sadly, the Design Institute closed at the end of 1999 following the arrival of a new chairman. But Doors of Perception emerged undamaged as an independent organization, and through Doors the spirit of innovation, and the international networks, created by the Design Institute have survived and continue to grow .

Also a new organization, the Premsela Foundation, has been set up as a platform for Dutch design policy on a national basis.

Some other aspects of the design situation in The Netherlands are not so rosy. The country's economic situation, for example, is weak today after a decade of seemingly effortless growth.

Government budgets are under severe pressure, and it inconceivable that more money will be made available for culture or research for the next few years at least.

Another problem is that Dutch professional design associations, although well-organised, remain conservative in their thinking and actions. Far more attention and investment is given to old-fashioned design prizes, for example, than to the renewal of design knowledge.

At a government level, too, there are worrying signs that some officials in the Ministry of Economic Affairs want to copy the UK and promote a ‘creative industries’ policy that will include design. This writer is resolutely opposed to the idea that design and advertising are ‘creative’ whereas all other industries, by implication, are not.

In other countries than Holland, more innovative design policy is emerging.

Sweden, for example, is way ahead of The Netherlands in the extent to which different ministries collaborate. A group of Swedish ministries recently allocated two million euros for the development of a new design policy that focuses on new concepts for care. In Holland, despite years of effort, different ministries hardly talk to each other about design policy.
"Sweden is finally about to approach a point where we can leave behind egocentric design," says Ulf Mannervik, an author of the new policy

Korea is also ahead of Holland in design policy. Korea's “Industrial Design Fundamental Project” of recent years supports systematic research, and enables 95,000 design students for a population of 45m - a high percentage by any standards.

The llevel of design research in Korea is aalso high. Korea has far more postgraduate design programmes – 66 - than The Netherlands. Samsung, alone, is hiring 100 interaction designers - a huge number.

The British Design Council has also developed innovative design policies in recent years. It proactively makes design proposals for unexpected domains, such as places of learning, or prisons. The Design Council has also developed innovation process tools that help high-tech companies turn technological inventions into profitable products.

Perhaps the most innovative design policy comes not from national governments but from the European Commission.The Intelligent Information Interfaces programme (:i3”) of 1999-2001 was more advanced - in terms both of content, and of project form - than anything supported by constituent EU members.

i3 - and its successor programme, The Disappearing Computer - delivered scenarios for people-centered services, enabled by interactive systems, that are rooted in European culture and tradition.

The EU has now launched a new network of excellence called Convivio. This European network of excellence for social computing gathers together research institutions and universities, of which Doors of Percepion is a member; we are responsible for vision building concerning the design of services to meet everyday life-needs in new ways.

Can Dutch design and architecture stay on top? The glory days of the 1990s are probably over – if only because spending in the coming years will be so much lower. Dutch design will prosper if now takes a “breather” to refresh its thinking and institutions. If it does not do that, the way ahead will be downhill.

Posted by John Thackara at 05:58 PM | Comments (0)

January 22, 2001

The new medicis

Those were the days. This text, which was written for Japan’s Hakuhodo advertising agency, is a reflection on the changing nature of sponsorship. At the time (1990) I was convinced I had invented a killer business concept - ‘cultural engineering’. Unfortunately, when Japan’s bubble economy abruptly collapsed in 1992, so, too, did my concept: it turned out that the ‘cultural imperative’ lauded in my text was not an imperative after all - it was an easily dispensed-with luxury. Japanese companies cancelled all such activities (which included 70 per cent of my then company, Design Analysis) in a matter of weeks when the economy went bad.

1 The cultural imperative

Passive, hands-off patronage of the arts is a modern invention. And a short-lived one, if you believe the signs. Profound changes to the nature of modern business - some of them dating back 40 years, some unfolding within the last five - have created a 'cultural imperative' for advanced organisations. For them, culture can so dramatically enrich business performance that cultural policy is moving to the centre stage in discussions of strategy; it is no longer segregated from other marketing or communications tactics.

It is a dramatic change. After all, the notion that 'culture' should operate in a privileged, protected realm, free from interference by state or business, is deeply rooted in 20th century industrial culture. A few years ago, imagine the outrage if John D Rockerfeller had commanded Jean Dubuffet to paint 'The Glorification of Standard Oil': such things simply are not done by modern patrons who claim to be motivated by notions of disinterested civic duty and public service. All mention of marketing, or corporate identity, is rigorously excluded from the traditional scenario.

But things were not always so clear-cut as the American critic Joseph Alsop recalls: "During the 17th century Cardinal Barberini, whose uncle was Pope Urban VIII, commissioned Pietro de Cortona to paint the ceiling of his new palazzo - a space the size of an (American) football field - with a vast narrative glorifying...Pope Urban VIII! 'Cortona did not flinch, nor hanker to paint something more relevant; instead, he cheerfully produced one of the most marvellous works of decorative art of the seventeenth century'. From the first Babylonian, Chinese, Greek and Roman civilisations, through to the Middle Ages and the industrial revolution, bankers, politicians and potentates have employed culture overtly as a weapon of policy: the arts were always involved intimately in the articulation and exercise of power.

It is in this context that the time has come to look critically at the contemporary myth of 'passive' patronage. We would argue that it is only with the modern concept of 'artistic license', and the growth of a market which derives value from the idea of artistic autonomy, that art entered its privileged realm, supposedly protected from the venal ambitions of the less enlightened patrons in earlier historical periods.

Various factors sustained the myth of passive patronage for much of the twentieth century: the decline of religion; the rise of the merchant classes; changes in the techniques and tools of artistic production; new patterns of consumption; the emergence of a museum culture; the rise of the curator, the dealer and the critic. Above all, the art marketing system has moved from the margins to the centre of society, and has successfully given artefacts the status of financial instruments, like banknotes, or gold bars. Critics have already noted that this superheated financial context questions the freedom of the artist: what price artistic autonomy when paintings sell for $40 million?

This much, many have observed already; the past 30 years have been punctuated by a number of important critiques of the 'art system.' Today, however, things are changing once again. Profound changes to the nature of competition in world markets, combined with the steady 'dematerialisation' of business, is changing, fundamentally, the relationship between patrons and artistic production. Cultural patronage has become a powerful weapon in competition between firms, cities, even states - and it is this business imperative, rather than the brickbats of critics, that, in our judgement, will destroy the myth of passive patronage.

Culture and commerce have been on convergent paths throughout the past 40 years, as a change in emphasis occured in the advanced economies - from production to information.

During the 1950s and 1960s, advertising emerged as a potent means of modifying consumer behaviour. With the growing sophistication of mass production systems, differences between products of functional performance diminished; even as cars, appliances, even washing powders became more technically sophisticated, the emphasis in marketing on their function decreased. In this sense, it was advertising that began the so-called 'softening' of the Western economies, as companies realised that managing perception, not just improved product performance, was the key to competitive success.

Then, during the 1970s, the development of marketing provided business with new tools - research and statistical skills by which it could analyse the composition and behaviour of consumer groups in ever greater detail, and with more subtlety. Marketing soon altered the parameters of discussions about business strategy: the convergence of information about the profile of consumer markets, with the growing flexibility and responsiveness of production, and the new tools of global communications, rapidly increased the 'dematerialization' of business. With marketing, information - in the form of data about consumers, or programmed production, or communications - became more important than matter.

After advertising and marketing, a third transformation occurred in business during the 1980s when design - which had, until then, been a specialised, technical activity, moved to centre stage as the new agent of perception management. In particular, one offshoot of old-style design, corporate identity, boomed: by 1990, it had become a $30 billion communications niche sector by itself. The explosion of interest in - and spending on - CI, reflected a move away from the marketing of individual products to a more global concept of 'branding' in which fashioning a company's image became as important as fine-tuning its products, or its product advertising.

During the late 1980s, the process of corporate identity management became steadily more sophisticated. For many years, corporate identity remained essentially a matter of visual identity - and in particular a company's logo or letterhead.

But steadily, our understanding of identity has broadened.

It is no longer enough to introduce a new visual identity - a complete combination of strategic, organisational and behavioural change is required. For example, management structures need to become less hierarchical and more 'horizontal' to improve the dissemination of know-how. 'Identity' also involves innovativeness, both within a company and between the company and outsiders. And 'identity' does not just influence a company's staff - it is also a powerful element in the attraction of new recruits, an important issue as labour shortages increase. For all these reasons , changes in accounting procedures in Europe and the USA led to the formal valuation of brand identities: thanks to the tax inspectors, and M&A boom, intangible concepts like the name of Coca Cola, or Sony, are now ranked on a world scale. With this objectification of their value has followed, inevitably, a further increase in investment.

Just as the value of a company's intangible assets, and in particular its corporate identity, has been reassessed, so, too, the tools and tactics available to manage and improve such intangible assets have multiplied. For two reasons - both technological. First, information technology has provided business with an ever more detailed and up-to-date picture about consumer behaviour - its the audience has become fragmented, but business has a clearer understanding of the fragments. With new database segmentation, for example, it is now possible to predict the performance of certain kinds of direct mail before it goes out. Secondly, the mediums of communication have become fragmented - with the result that mass communications, such as television advertising, are proving steadily less and less cost effective.

The phenomenon of 'niche markets' will be familiar to readers of this book, and does not require further detail here; but a note about the decline of mass communications is warranted. In the UK, for example, the total amount of television viewing declined by 6.5% between 1985-1990; among wealthier consumers, the decline was more pronounced - socio-economic AB consumers watched 9.3% less television during this period. In the words of The Independent, a London newspaper, 'television is simply becoming more peripheral to more people'.

The irony is that many business strategists thought the spread of mass communications would create a new class of 'global consumer', and the 1980s concept of the 'global product' was a direct result of this expectation. Unfortunately for this theory cost savings from economies of scale in manufacturing global products, even where they have been achieved, tend to be offset by the increased costs of the specialised marketing communications that have to be employed in different markets

Now, the trend is towards what I have called elsewhere (*) 'deep marketing' - a complex, multi-faceted, constantly changing strategy in which a wide variety of communications tactics are combined with a growing integration of research, design management, production and marketing processes.

Deep marketing addresses not only the outside world of consumers, but also the inside world of a company's own people. And the range of tactics to be used (see Table XX) grows longer by the day. Today, specialised marketing and communications are a $650 billion industry world-wide.

Deep marketing is a response to a shift from products to services which has transformed the nature of competition in the following way: firms now compete for the attention of consumers who are more visually literate, more sophisticated, more culturally aware, than at any time in history. In buying a car, a pension plan, a computer, or a box of muesli, consumers have come to assume that competing products will probably perform more or less equally well - where they discriminate is in the value added to a product, and a product's firm, by intangible factors such as its image and style, service, or perceived sophistication.

But if the 1980s were dominated by the sophisticated use of visual imagery to enhance the brand identity of whole companies, the 1990s and beyond will witness a new industrial culture based on learning and creativity within, and between, companies and their customers - the 'aestheticisation of business'.

As the business theorist Charles Hampden Turner explains, 'we are all, now, in an economic race to learn. The wealth-creating capacities of a nation are no longer contained in their physical resources, nor even in their comparative economic advantages, but in the innovativeness and learning of their culture...the more knowledge that is organised into a product, the less the likelihood of competition'.

Hence the cultural imperative. Companies - and the argument holds just as well for cities, or indeed states - can no longer compete only with products, or with their image: they must find another way to express their intelligence, their individuality, their sophistication. And their new tactic? It is cultural engineering, as this following sections explain.

2: Cultural strategy

A great deal of confusion has been caused by the failure to distinguish between three quite different uses of the words 'corporate' and 'culture': ONE: among management theorists during the mid-1980s, 'corporate culture' became a fashionable term to describe aspects of a company's socio-technical psychology; 'corporate culture' was a way of describing a whole company's 'state of mind'. Although an imprecise discussion at best, the content was important; the way in which managers related to each other, their ability to innovate, and the ability of a company's structure to support innovation, was seen to be as important as technological or marketing prowess in the battle for competitive advantage;

TWO: a second use of the word culture referred to sponsorship of arts events; as we described earlier, the concept of business funding artistic enterprise dates back centuries, but in the USA, in particular, the notion of strategic philanthropy was strong during the 1970s and 1980s. The traditional disinterested patron of grand cultural events still existed, with the great foundations - Carnegie, Mellon, Ford, Rockefeller, Getty - continuing to dominate the arts funding scene; but they were joined by hundreds of other corporate patrons, many of them operating at a local level, who helped expand the 'cultural economy' dramatically: in the USA, corporate donations to the arts broke the $1 billion a year mark in 1988. In recent years, the more savvy players (IBM, Mobil) have repackaged their philanthropy and patronage as social policy, creating quite detailed criteria for the distribution of funds not just to artists, but also to community groups, educational bodies and health. Strategic philanthropy produced a new breed of sponsorship consultant who matchmakes the Big Culture producers (opera, theatre, art shows) and corporate or private sponsors. Various techniques are employed to make sure the sponsor gets his or her money's worth - from the selection of appropriate events to minutiae of the opening night party. THREE: Now, a third interpretation of 'culture' and corporate strategy is emerging in which the internal 'state of mind' of the company is perceived to have entered a new, synergistic relationship with the 'outside' world of consumers, technological change and exploding communications. A new industrial culture of continuous innovation has been identified in which cultural projects are transformed into a medium for communication between the company and the external environment. In other words, because the concept of a learning organisation, described by Charles Hampden Turner, entails a constant relationship between staff, consumers, consultants, scientists, and so on, a new communications medium is needed to support that relationship. The medium is culture in both senses - internal behaviour, and external cultural event - but the combination is entirely new. Managing the creation of this new medium is a process we call cultural engineering.

In most business literature, the parameters of cultural engineering are drawn rather tightly around sponsorship of traditional categories of 'culture' - fine art, opera, theatre, music, and so on. Even within these traditional categories, spending on cultural projects has exploded. In Europe, for example, it is estimated that arts sponsorship in the UK, France, Germany, Belgium and the Netherlands has reached $400 million; this level of growth is attributed to the growth of arts sponsorship associations, and the introduction of fiscal incentives by national governments. But these figures tell only part of the story; the emphasis on financial contributions, donations in kind, and specialist advice, varies from country to country, with UK businesses giving mainly money, and West German companies concentrating on goods and advice. Given that professional sponsors usually spend up to three times as much on marketing support, as they spend on the art event itself, then the total sponsorship economy in these five European countries alone is probably nearer $2 billion.

Although reliable world-wide figures are not available, the world-wide sponsorship economy - the sum of cash grants, help in kind, and back-up marketing budgets - is probably $5-8 billion. Add in capital grants to infrastructure projects, such as museums, art galleries and theatres - many of which receive free land, or low-rent premises in otherwise commercial developments, and the figure rises to nearer $20 billion.

New categories of cultural engineering

Restricting the category of 'culture' to traditional art events - even when it produces a $5-8 billion niche marketing activity - grossly underestimates the real size of the investment by business in culturally-related programmes. For, if one accepts the lessons of the corporate identity movement that all a company's activities contribute to its image - from the state of the office interior, to the quality of its advertising - then the size of the cultural economy explodes.

Consider the advertising industry. According to the British marketing services conglomerate WPP, the world-wide fee income for the advertising sector is over $100bn - and according to many cultural critics of the 'post-modern world', advertising and mass communications have become so pervasive that they must be judged in part at least as cultural activity. In the UK, for example, more than 75% of art school graduates go on to work in advertising or the media. The most effective advertising not only exploits existing cultural references in its contents (pop songs, artists, famous designers, fashion concepts, are all regular subject matter for advertising).The best advertising creates new cultural forms of its own: one thinks of computer graphics wherein artists have created a whole new experimental aesthetic in the course of their work in advertising.

Of course, the theory that business is becoming more 'aesthetic', in the broadest sense, does not mean that these billions of dollars are perceived by the corporate business people who spend them as cultural expenditure. On the contrary, the great majority of companies still make a big effort to segregate sponsorship from other marketing activities - and in the whole world, there are probably no more than 30-40 companies that consciously integrate all these aspects of their business into a unified strategy. But this is not the point. In our view, these 30-40 companies are the most advanced in the world, and in many respects are useful models for the future.

Interestingly, the concept of a new industrial culture, in which producers, consumers and experts are united by a continuos process of innovation, is understood by meta-industrial organisations rather better than ordinary companies. One thinks, for example, of city governments which, in recent years, have found themselves forced into intense rivalry and competition with other cities around the world. Some of the ways in which these non-traditional cultural activities are managed are introduced in the following sections.

The Cultured Company

In this brief survey, we described a progression from advertising (1960s) , through marketing (1970s), to Corporate Identity (1980s) and 'Deep Marketing' (1990s); in Deep Marketing, wherein companies employ a constantly changing mixture of communication techniques, Cultural Engineering plays a central role as the medium for communication between the company and its external environment. We also explained the important way in which this definition of Cultural Engineering combines the two earlier uses of the words 'corporate' and 'culture': 1] corporate culture as 'corporate state-of-mind' or 'the way we do things around here'; 2] the hands-off, philanthropic of arts events by corporations. By combining the two ideas in Cultural Engineering, we proposed that a company's involvement in external cultural activities would, in itself, change the company's internal culture.

Despite our argument that 'hands-off' sponsorship is in decline, this model remains highly influential, particularly in Japan and in Europe; (in the USA, there are some indications that the recession is causing some big sponsors to question the value of these activities). But in Japan, in particular, the concept of disinterested philanthropy is strongly reinforced by a tradition of civic duty. Long before arts sponsorship was discovered in Japan, the owners and leaders of companies felt a collective responsibility to repay to the community some of the profits gained in their business lives - a concept more-or-less completely absent from most Western industries, in the 20th century at least.

Our argument is not that civic duty or social responsibility is wrong - but that, when applied to sponsorship of the arts, it cannot be 'hands-off'. The sheer scale and importance of corporate funding for the arts will influence culture, whether the donors wish it or not. In the 1990s, corporate leaders will have cultural responsibility forced upon them; they cannot escape it.

Some corporations solve this problem by refusing ever to donate large sums to a single cultural activity: in Britain, for example, companies like Shell, or the Midland Bank, donate large sums each year - but in small quantities to large numbers of recipients. This process requires considerable in-house management: selecting from among many thousands of applications each year takes a lot of expert work.

In the USA, corporations have solved the 'responsibility problem' by devolving the sponsorship to local branches, which often choose to concentrate on social or educational activities, such as schools, parks, and public amenities. This policy can be highly effective in helping a multi-national company integrate itself into local communities (and markets). This policy of distributed sponsorship', with a strong social emphasis, will certainly appeal to companies for whom the Cultural Engineering concept is unattractive.

But for many sophisticated, knowledge-based enterprises, the use of culture to create an innovative, creative and learning organism - the company of the future - offers tremendous opportunities. The question for them is this: how to manage the transition?

One must distinguish, here, between the American concept of Strategic Philanthropy - or the slightly different French concept of mecenat - and cultural engineering in the sense we have described it.

In the former situations, external cultural projects are selected on the basis that they meet clearly defined objectives set by the sponsoring company. So, a company may wish to develop its image as an intelligent company, in which case the choice or selection of event is crucial. So is the mechanism by which the identity of the sponsor is conveyed. In sports sponsorship, and increasingly in arts sponsorship, sponsors typically devote 300% more than the cash subsidy to promotion of their own role as sponsors. Increasingly, the French mecenat model emphasises the development of in-house expertise in cultural management, so that companies need not just react passively to proposals from outside producers, but may proactively develop projects, jointly with museums or theatres. Shiseido's new Culture Division offers an advanced model of this kind, with a Senior Manager reporting directly to the President. But in Europe, the opposite phenomenon may also be observed - the management of arts sponsorship drifting down the management hierarchy, away from the President and towards the Brand Managers who are better placed to target arts events at specific consumer groups. This phenomenon is paralleled by a decrease in the influence of the CEO on the choice of events: the President's personal preference for opera is giving way to the Brand Manager's more intimate knowledge of what turns on his customers.!

But there are two new challenges for top management: first, how to integrate external cultural events with the internal development of its own people - using external sponsorship to change inerenal 'state-of-mind'; and second, how to extend the management of culture from traditional arts events to the various components of Deep Marketing: architecture, design, advertising, corporate communications, training, and so on.

There are no simple answers to these two questions. Managing cultural policy is like managing change (another business buzzword of the 1990s): a complex process operating at different levels and changing through time. That said, certain components of a Cultural Engineering strategy may be listed:

A] Involve all levels of management: For an organisation to change its state-of-mind, it is not enough simply for the CEO or President to issue edicts: junior and middle managers need to be involved in commissioning, organising, and exploiting cultural projects - in collaboration with artists and cultural producers. This is not to say that managers should interfere with the artist's independence - but he should be intelligently involved as a partner in the creative process.

B] Develop in-house expertise: It follows that companies should not rely on sponsorship consultants to tell them what to do; consultants have a crucial role to play as 'brokers' or contact-points - but they should be used as support services for work rooted inside the organisation. Cultural training will be needed to help managers; at the moment, such training is almost non-existent (*) - companies will need to work with museums, universities and art schools to create the training systems needed.

C] Integrate traditional culture with other mediums: many of the managers who will be required to get involved in cultural work (art exhibitions, concerts, theatre and so on) will also be involved in design management, advertising campaigns, research policy, corporate communications, and so on. The whole essence of a 'learning company' is that these different subjects are connected. Practically, this means a company's management structure must promote interaction: * when a building is commissioned, the most culturally advanced managers should be involved in briefing the architect; * when an advertising campaign is developed, the company's involvement in an art exhibition should be included as part of the research phase * in new product development, designers would benefit from exposure to craftsmen, sculptors, or other artists; * when a company is developing training policies, it should include contact with cultural institutions, as well as universities and management schools, in the mix * art and technology can interact with each other in surprising and profitable ways - but such interactions need to be organised, and not left to chance, or to the initiative of artists. Research managers, in particular, will need to begin using artists as a new breed of researcher D] Treat cultural programmes as an investment, not an optional extra: The concept of '1% for art', in which companies promise to spend 1% of their gross profits on arts sponsorship - is good for artists and cultural producers - but it is not, in our opinion, a valid policy for business. The reason: if cultural engineering is to be taken seriously, some companies may need to spend more than 1% - and others might validly spend less. The problem with '1% for art' policies is such budgets are separated from central research, training or marketing programmes: '1% budgets', by their nature, tend not to be monitored, managed or evaluated. Cultural budgets should be included with research, marketing, training, or corporate identity, and not segregated as a special case. Cultural programmes create new knowledge, and new values - therefore they should be treated as an important investment.

E] Cultural engineering is only one of the answers: To repeat: in future, companies will develop Deep Marketing expertise, in which many skills and tactics will be used simultaneously. Cultural Engineering is a key element, but it is not the only one.

F] Every company's culture policy will be different. In today's most advanced companies, there is already considerable integration between Cultural Engineering, Design Management, Corporate Identity and so on. For companies such as Seibu Department Stores (retailing) Olivetti (information products) or Armani (fashion and merchandising), these different functions are already deeply 'cultural'. These companies possess a culturally advanced 'state of mind'; they are the prototypes of 'the cultured company'. But each one is also different: none of these companies has adopted an abstract model of cultural policy, but has exploited its history, and its existing skills, as well as new external opportunities, such as changing consumer tastes, new technologies, and so on.


Posted by John Thackara at 05:09 PM | Comments (0)

January 22, 2000

What are artists for?

(A comment for Cumulus, the European association of design schools).

In order to do things differently, we first need to see things differently; the imaginary can be extraordinarily powerful in shaping expectations.

In order to do things differently, we first need to see things differently; the imaginary can be extraordinarily powerful in shaping expectations. New services and systems will be needed to support new ways of living; we need to develop a shared vision of what an improved quality of life for Europe’s citizens would be like. The problem is that traditional visions of the future tend to be filled with gadgets and devices – with more artificial life than real life. Goethe warned us about this problem back in 1817 when, writing about technological visions of the future, he warned that "one faces the danger of seeing, and yet not seeing". New technology is the means to deliver services, not an end in itself. Technology requires the cultural imagination in order to emerge as economic and social success.

The artist’s critical intuition, and the designer’s powerful representations, can help us helps us shift our focus away from the material world and its artefacts, towards alternative future ways of living based on new concepts of culture and community. We know this from what happened during the last quarter of the nineteenth century, which was seething with possibilities. The motion picture industry is a vivid instance of how a nineteenth century technology simultaneously gave form to, and was shaped by, artist-driven conceptions of space and time and event. Cultural enthusiasm for speed and simultaneity pre-dated the technology of film, together with the telephone and phonograph, that later extended our perception of events and locations beyond their physical and temporal bounds. (William Uricchio).

Posted by John Thackara at 05:29 PM | Comments (0)