Tomas Träskman, Degree Programme Director: Cultural Management, Department of Culture and Media, Arcada UAS.
Since many of the students of Cultural Management write their thesis immersed in practice I often arrange supervision in the environment where they actually do that practice. At times it can be really inspiring. In connection to one such supervision, I had the opportunity to take part in “Creative Mornings” an event all around the world. This time it was arranged at the Design Museum in Helsinki. The student works in the neighbouring building (The Museum of Architecture) and writes a thesis on the building and concept that are going to bridge the two museums. So we had the supervision session and then we attended the event.
The concept of Creative Mornings is simple: breakfast and a short talk one Friday morning a month. Every event is free of charge and open to anyone. During the breakfast you can network with the creative community.
This time the talk was by Julia Lohmann who is running “an open seaweed laboratory” at the museum until the end of October. Lohmann is a Professor of Practice in Contemporary Design. And according to the Creative Mornings website she “investigates and critiques the ethical and material value systems underpinning our relationship with flora and fauna.” (Mornings, 2019) She works at the Department of Seaweed, which “connects designers and makers, researchers and scientists interested in algae as a sustainable resource for making.”
“So,” one might ask, what has this to do with our institution of Culture and Media? The answer? Well, there are actually many answers to that question. Firstly, a number of the students, and colleagues are addressing anxiousness that relates to how their own actions affect the environment. For instance, one of our students volunteered for a project bridging art and planting trees. The student was however so overwhelmed with all the information she got, and how little such an action actually did in order to create real change that the end result was … paralysis. Now she is doing research on tools that could support Cultural Managers managing projects and events dealing with Climate Change. Secondly, how can art and culture contribute to a more sustainable world? Most, of what we do actually seems to contribute to a culture of consumption that is part of the problem. Fashion is an obvious example, visual art travel on planes from Dubai to Miami, and should we also stop watching Netflix, since it got a “D grade” from Greenpeace (Temperton, 2017) in terms of a “green internet?” Finally, what is a department of Seaweed? Should we also have one?
The Department of Seaweed (Dos) started from something personal: Lohmann’s’ own eco anxiety. She established the DoS as a community of practice around the development of seaweed as a material for making. Her research within DoS earned her a phd (not from DoS but from the Royal Society of Arts). Her approach connected making, practice-based research and generative material development with participatory methods and speculation “exploring perspectives from critical, speculative and transition design — and enabling multiple, interlinked forms of participation through dialogue, speculation, making and reflection, both on design practice and the museum (Lohmann, 2018).”
The museum, in the context of her PhD, is understood as a public place of sensemaking and knowledge sharing. Lohmann proposes using museum residencies as public research and development labs “for nonnormative practices, enabling participants to develop a field of visions, identify the inherent potentials of a project and link multiple projects up into an infrastructure by growing a community of practice.” (Ibid)
I am especially fond of her suggestion that spaces for “co-speculation” can help you as a researcher to grasp how others (not just you) speculate on the future. Nevertheless, at first, I am not that convinced by the products designed at DoS, however beautiful they are, and however many grand institutions have displayed them (RSA, The MoMa etc). When Lohmann presents spin-off projects from DoS I however change my mind. Mats made of human and animal hair and fur, wool and feathers, which absorb oil without further damaging the marine ecology, combine the actions of designers, activists, scientists and barbers. MARS, a Modular Artificial Reef Structure, is a ceramic surface designed to house transplanted corals. The structure of the coral reefs collapse, and even though, we could grow new corals they need the structure to grow on. I like the idea of building houses for corals.
In terms of transdisciplinary work, Lohmann sees the designer as a “facilitator of networks”. As an educator of Cultural Managers, I recognize that we have something here in common with design, since we also educate for the competencies required for such facilitation. In the face of eco anxiety, one should, according to Lohmann, ask “who owns your pain.” In her case the pain was the condition of the sea, which is something shared by everything from fishermen, marine biologists, designers to those who try to take a swim in what could turn out to be poisonous algae.
To sum up. My “Supervision +” with the student, 1) brought us one step further in her thesis project. 2) gave me some ideas on how our department could work along the lines of the vision of Arcada “We co-create relevant solutions for a sustainable society” (Arcada, 2019, 3). It gave me some new ideas on how our Campus spaces also should include nonnormative spaces of speculation (who knows, I might start a Department myself). And I got breakfast.
The works mentioned are on display at https://www.designmuseum.fi/en/exhibitions/design-club-open-call-2-critical-design/
Arcada. (2019). About Arcada. Retrieved from Arcada: https://www.arcada.fi/en/about-arcada
Lohmann, J. (2018). The Department of Seaweed: co-speculative design in a museum residency . Royal College of Arts (PhD thesis).
Mornings, C. (2019, September 25). Next Helsinki speaker. Retrieved from Creative Mornings: https://creativemornings.com/cities/hel
Temperton, J. (2017, January 11). Streaming shows online could be damaging the environment. Retrieved from Wired: https://www.wired.co.uk/article/amazon-apple-facebook-netflix-renewable-energy-greenpeace