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Innovation in Extreme Scenarios (Preamble)

Introduction to the Innovation in Extreme Scenarios e-book (2014)

From November 26 to 30, 2013, the Obel 2013 ArT Symposium on Innovation in Extreme Scenarios was held at Aalborg University, Denmark. This research symposium was held by the Aalborg University Art and Technology (ArT) programme in collaboration with V2_ Institute for Unstable Media, Rotterdam. The symposium was a five-day book sprint at Aalborg University. The research-writing sprint ended with the production of texts, which now comprise this book. Throughout the week, public lectures by Boris Debackere, Jurij Krpan, Andreas Eggertsen, and Elizabeth Jochum were held.

V2_Lab Research: Innovation in Extreme Scenarios

Habbakuk is a multi-strand research project incorporating expert meetings, interviews, artist commissions, and hands-on experimentation. This research project was triggered by the introduction of an innovation agenda for the arts as part of the Dutch government’s ambition to be “one of the world’s top five knowledge economies” by 2020. V2_, based in Rotterdam, NL, has a 30-year history of working at the intersection of art, design, culture, and technology, and last year became part of the “e-culture” grouping which is subject to this innovation agenda and its aims.

We became curious about the use and abuse of this term, and began exploring the notion of innovation not as an imperative from politicians but as a result of real-life extreme scenarios which compel innovation. Our starting point was the incredible World War II story of Project Habbakuk, the invention of a new material, a kind of “super ice” which can withstand bullets and takes a very long time to melt. This material was proposed to Winston Churchill as a substance from which to create an aircraft carrier to combat the German U-boat problem. As a result of a dramatic meeting of the Allies wherein a bullet ricocheting off this new super ice nearly killed one of the Americans, Churchill authorized the construction of a prototype in a then-remote location of Canada: Jasper, Alberta. Ultimately the war ended before the boat could be fully developed, and this material was largely forgotten. When considering the conditions for innovation today, we asked ourselves: what is the U-boat problem of today, and how can art and science innovation address it? How do new materials figure into this mix, and what are the risks and benefits involved?

Mission and Outputs

The Habbakuk story reveals that the pressure of an extreme scenario such as war inspires even no-nonsense statesmen such as Churchill to consider concepts that are eccentric, unconventional, and perhaps even impossible to execute.

The Habbakuk research project on innovation in extreme scenarios took the World War II story and the Dutch government’s agenda as starting points and is also considering other scenarios such as long-term storage of nuclear waste, the invention of new materials, covert communications, “black swan” events, emergency distribution of food assets, and evacuation plans for planet Earth. The project will utilize art, design, and science to critically examine the pathways of innovation and the advancement of human civilization by exploring alternate uses of the technologies of war and other extreme events. By examining these case studies through various methods, we aim to create knowledge around the true nature and popular myths of innovation; the power of joining the forces of science and creativity; the importance of prioritization and decision-making factors; and the roles of risk, failure, and prototyping.

The project will comprise a series of expert meetings, a publication including interviews and original essays, and newly commissioned artworks. At the end of 2014, a final touring exhibition and lecture series encompassing the project outputs (documentation, prototypes, material experiments, video documentation, etc.) will provide a method for the public to access this thinking on materials and technological innovation and ultimately generate new ideas in art-science research.

Context in Aalborg

For the expert meeting in Aalborg, we gathered a group with a diverse range of interests relating to the subject of innovation in extreme scenarios, ranging from a philosopher to PhD students in the university’s Art and Technology programme to practising architects to a researcher in robot aesthetics. Over the course of five days we compiled research and resources and wrote original material with the end goal of producing this eBook. At the end of each day a public presentation by one of the participants provided context on the project to the university community and general public.

 

 

Conclusion

This eBook traces the interest in innovation in extreme scenarios from the viewpoint of each participant in the Aalborg expert meeting. Philosopher Carsten Friberg wrote on the relation of our expert meeting topic to the notion of modernity; researcher Jakob Sabra tackled the issue of innovation generated through large-scale philanthropic acts; curator Jurij Krpan compiled case studies of artworks in the domain of innovation in extreme scenarios; researcher Elizabeth Jochum examined the notion of the “black swan” as it applies in robotics; artist Stahl Stenslie reflected on the role of 3D printing for the notion of innovation; and architect Andreas Eggertsen examined the case study of the Hexayurt, a type of architecture for extreme scenarios. Participants from V2_, Boris Debackere and Michelle Kasprzak, produced a visual bibliography of relevant literature and a short paper on the case study of a specific form of food aid for famine areas, respectively. Other participants in the workshop included Falk Heinrich, Christian Liljedahl, Esben Poulsen, Mette Thomsen, and Phil Ayres, whose thoughts, presentations, and notes informed the eBook as a whole.

 

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