The Lab as an Autonomous Zone

On 15 March 2013 Arie Altena interviewed Boris Debackere, and asked him about the direction of the V2_lab in 2013.

Arie Altena: V2_ has defined Ecology as an overarching theme for its activities in 2013. How does the V2_lab fit in this theme?

Boris Debackere: We wanted to better integrate the various activities of V2_, and give them more of a thematic direction. In the V2_lab we also wanted to get rid of technology-driven themes. The lab is still about research in art and technology, but we redefined the methods that we are using. In the past the V2_lab worked with themes like wearables and Augmented Reality. They were rather technology-driven. In the last four years we also included Sustainability, but that was often the odd one out. The problem with technology-driven themes is that the cheap thrill of working with a new technology – new for only a short time – tends to become more important than the artistic motivation or concepts, and you then run the risk of sacrificing artistic rigor. What is most important to us is methodology. How do you achieve something? How do you become creative? How to kickstart a project? As the practice in the lab is about methodology, the theme is necessary to make connections between projects. We have now defined two methods: Extreme Scenarios/Design Fiction, and Re-enactment/Concepts Revisited, but they are just two possibilities, there can be more in the future.

AA: What is ecology for the V2_lab?

BDB: Ecological issues are very interesting, but applying them to art in a 1-to-1 manner usually leads to projects which are not so interesting. Ecology is about constantly projecting into the future. Those projections are mostly quite extreme – for instance melting ice caps and its consequences. The Extreme Scenarios as lab method is not about the extreme as such, it is about thinking out of the box, thinking outside the present situation, escaping the context which holds you captive. Thinking outside of the box is the primary characteristic of creativity. Why are people more creative in extreme situations? If you answer that question you are already quite close to finding out what creativity is. How can you stimulate creativity? That question feels really removed from ecology, but it is in fact very close to what is important in our current moments of crisis. It’s also central to the contemporary political agenda. How can we be innovative in extreme scenarios? Let’s trace what those extreme scenarios could be!

AA: You also use the term Design Fiction, which at the moment is quite a hip term within the creative industries...

BDB: You have to strip it of the hip connotations. I find it an interesting term in as far as it’s focused on the extreme and the unusual. I see Design Fiction and Extreme Scenarios as one method. Through taking an extreme perspective and exaggerating the parameters of the given situation you can develop a narrative by which you can really think through certain aspects of society. Design Fiction means that you engage with such a narrative, project it into the future, and then bring it back in the present context.

AA: The other methodology is Re-enactment...

BDB: What we mean by that is revisiting concepts. It is a misconception that electronic art which may make use of outmoded technology is also out of date conceptually. What is important is how you transform content in a medium. The themes and content of those older artworks are often still as relevant as they once were. You can take them up again, re-use and recycle them. Also this method is about prioritizing the content above technology, and about getting back to the core of what art is about. Through using such a method I hope to stimulate production processes. The practical processes in the lab are more important than endless mental reconsiderations of an idea. The lab is about practice, wherein making is thinking and the concept is translated into a work.

AA: Can you mention an example of an art project that does that well?

BDB: I think it is a good thing that I cannot give you an example off the top of my head. I do not want to cater for a certain idea, just like I do not want artists to cater to whatever theme we have in mind at V2_. I am looking for the unexpected. The mission of V2_Lab is not conceived with a certain type of art or project in mind.

AA: What are the developments that interest you most at the moment in the field in which V2_ is active?

: What I find most fascinating is that the line of thinking that has been central to V2_ for over thirty years is becoming embedded in society. It has become transparent, and almost seems to disappear. Therefore V2_ has to go back to the source, not talk about technology any more, but start to think again about what is happening at the intersection of technology, art and society. Back to square one.

AA: That’s why the lab mission mentions that the lab is an autonomous zone, not an embedded network, or something along that line.

BDB: What is really critical for the V2_Lab is to provide an autonomous zone for artists. The network is a story which I do not believe in -- at least not in the way it is put forward so often.  There are enough businesses in the creative industries that rearrange themselves constantly according to the prevailing forces in their disciplines. The creative industries do that, small businesses also do that. V2_ should not compete with those. But thinking of the network and V2_'s place in it: in the institutional art world the network also fails because there is hardly any headroom left for creating new connections. If you truly want to establish something with a new partner you need free time and space to define a middle ground to meet the other. Otherwise there simply cannot be a collaboration. So it is important to prioritize that, and then these new inputs can help with what we really should be focused on, which is creating the new software on which our society can run – and by software I mean something like ideology. That software can only be made by envisioning the bigger picture, but from within an autonomous zone.

Interview conducted on 15-03-2013 by Arie Altena.

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