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Workshop 2: Spaces of Innovation.

Workshop 2: Spaces of Innovation


3rd April 2014, 3:00pm ­- 5:00pm

RMIT Design Hub, Pavilion 1, Level 10

Kicking off the first of five workshops for Design + Ethnography + Futures program in 2014, we had Elisenda Ardèvol and Débora Lanzeni, from the Mediaccions Research Group at the UOC, Barcelona on the 3rd April.

Creative spaces driven by citizenship and institutions blossom all over around the world. Urban labs, City labs, FabLabs, Hackerspaces, Makerspaces, co-workings, hubs and so on, are the new centers where people converge to think, create, make, experience, participate and share knowledge in the cities that they dwell. This is a new setting where the dynamic of creation is much more intertwined with the social everyday life, thus unfolding non­traced innovation paths. A context in which, from relations in movement, emerge new qualities that are not defined so far. These qualities could be envisioned as a place/space from where we think up open futures.

In this workshop we aim to connect, reshape and rehearse different ways to draw a space revolving to make togetherness, innovation and permanence. We will explore this through playful practices with yarn, wires and mental networks. Because the lines are the trails along which life is lived and novelty occurs.

The workshop attracted a unique mix of people from various disciplines, from acoustics, media, architecture, business, design, anthropology, education, to name a few. At the beginning, without formal introductions of one another, the participants were asked to turn the room into their own ‘innovation spaces’, using the shared materials (thread, wire and things brought by the participants) that were there. What was once a sterile, white, impersonal meeting room suddenly turned into a chaos of coloured threads as people used any means possible to attach, hook, twist, tangle, wrap the furniture and walls with thread, wire and objects. In order to move around the room, we had to negotiate around chairs, duck under coat­hangers, shuffle along the wall, avoid tripping over objects – changing our movements, relationally and dynamically in the room. It seemed to release us from conforming to normative ways of behaving in a formal meeting room. This ‘disruptive’ or ‘deconstructive’ metaphor was further noticed when John left the room, yanking the tangled threads wrapped around the door handle and pulling them off the walls and ceiling. The process of creation also required a destructive means (cutting, ripping, tearing materials) and this could easily apply to our own boundaries of knowledge frameworks, attitudes and conceptualisations.

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Due to the spontaneous nature of this activity (ie, there was no discussion or collective idea / plan), there was little time to think or conceptualise, but just act. The materials at hand were relatively familiar and we instinctually knew its facility – to stick, to pin, to peg, to slot, so there wasn’t much need to talk but watch or follow each other’s movement to ‘make sense’ what was emerging, and to let that unfold. This emergent nature was hard to film. Sarah who was documenting the process via a video recorder spoke about her difficulty in not knowing what was interesting to follow, as there was no narrative where anything actually happened. This then led to a discussion about the need for ‘intention’ and ‘where was the innovation’? Sarah referred to Tim Ingold’s idea of innovation, that through on­going improvisations, we define what is innovative afterwards. That there was no definition of innovation meat that it could be defined by the group, perhaps through the process that was manifesting here.

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This ‘not­knowing­ness’ was deliberate, keeping with the spirit of D+E+F, though it also led many to become confused, confronted and frustrated (and some subsequently left the workshop early). Others said they surprised themselves in finding the unexpectedness refreshing, for example, not knowing who everyone was (their title, jobs, disciplinary expertise) and this gathering of ‘strangers’ somehow liberated them to create relationships with one another through the process of making, and enabled a ‘freer’ process to emerge since nothing really was at stake.

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The activity then moved from reducing the scales of innovation from the entire room > group / individual spaces > artefact. Again, the process of making seemed to have been led, not by intentionally making something ‘useful’, but by ‘riffing’ off each other’s ideas or allowing the materials to lead and shape the process, fortuitously turning a problem into an inspiration (eg. the head of the doll that was coming off > to secure it, wrapped the doll around the body with a cloth > became an idea for an amulet / talisman – see pic above). Whilst this open­ended nature was playful and often enjoyable (lots of laughter and silliness), it was also hard work and intensive. Nancy reflected how “we had to consider what others would think of the results and how to build on what had been done previously”, demonstrating the care and attention that often accompanied what was being made or re­made, like a cross­cultural machine, a hat that edits how we talk, a dream / future catcher … This ‘usefulness’ was interpreted broadly in many ways and Katya noticed that many of them were ‘allegorical’ because “creating something really useful for someone requires a lot of thinking, research and time.”

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In closing, the participants were asked to reflect as they cleaned up the ‘mess’ that was made. Melisa recalls, “The ‘waste’ or state of the materials that resulted from the workshop was in itself an interesting mix of threads mixed colours that serve as evidence and materialises the variety of dynamics, thoughts, movements and connections created. There were some materials easier to disentangle while others given their joints / knots created by the various directions, movements and intentions remained connected and mixed. These material results help [to see it as an] analogy [of] an understanding of the complexity of the discussions held, reflections created, ideas constructed: mixed, connected, colourful, messy, however, all materials/ideas were identifiable in their own right as well as part of the collective construction…”

In comparison to lectures, master classes or discussion sessions, the D+E+F workshops are deliberately experimental to avoid instrumental application / delivery of specific knowledge. It invited each participant to make of it what they want and take what they want, back to their own knowledge domains / practices. Its almost aggressively open­ended nature might appear either too decadent or a irresponsible use of time + resources, but behind it is a bold honesty (in admitting that no­one really knows what outcomes are) to explore what might come out of a process of putting a group of 25 people together for two­hours, seeded only with some provocative thoughts and every­day materials. In this way, D+E+F becomes a research methodology – a way of understanding by willingly entering into the unknown, uncertain, complex, relational, contextual and interpretive terrain, and through this immersion, be transformed by it. These ideas are salient for design and ethnography, and for any other fields (again, the metaphor of the + comes to mind).

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Some were kind enough to share their reflection of the workshop and what they took away as insights. This ranged from their view of collaboration in a team, ways to teach students, importance of trust and understanding, or how everyday life and routine conversations could become a ‘space for innovation’.

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