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Emerald Group Publishing Limited
Copyright © 2011, Emerald Group Publishing Limited
A world brought forth with others?
Article Type: News, conferences and technical reports From: Kybernetes, Volume 40, Issue 1/2
The Cybernetics, Art, Design and Mathematics (C:ADM) Conference 2010 from an advance a design perspective. A discussion about discussions. By Stefan Wiltschnig and Michael Hohl.
C:ADM 2010 brought together around 80 people interested in the borderlands between C:ADM at the new Experimental Media and Performing Arts Center (EMPAC) of Rensselaer Polytechnic in Troy (New York) between 29 July and 2 August 2010. EMPAC is dedicated to time-based art forms such as music, theatre, film and multimedia performances. Great attention was paid to the architectural details of the center, “built for the human senses”, and equipped with the latest technologies for staging and recording. The space provides extraordinary acoustics, treating silence equally to sound and the human voice. Situated on a hillside, the venue allows spectacular views over Troy and the Hudson River Valley and thereby invites to search for new perspectives and horizons. Being the first conference at EMPAC and building on those qualities, C:ADM 2010 aimed at prototyping an innovative conference format structured around conversations rather than paper presentations with the purpose to create powerful questions that were able to generate inspiring novel avenues of enquiry.
How can we describe an extraordinary experience? This one was definitely intense and a clash of extremes for us. The event was characterised by discussions, organized in small, interdisciplinary groups around the themes of “trans-, inter-, multi- and meta-disciplines” and the tension between “actual and abstract”. The encounters within and around discussions were full of provocative arguments, passionate opinions and occasional frustration about individuals trying to dominate a discussion. At the same time, they were full of depth, surprise, erudition, wit and beauty. This was not only a result of the chosen format, but also of the diverse personalities of the individuals attending. We believe everybody was aware of participating in a very special gathering. Both of us are still busy digesting our experiences and trying to arrange and integrate them. The conversations with our fellow attendees are continuing in various modes and media even after the event.
What did we learn from the conference? First, we learned how constraining disciplinary views can be. Evidently, certain mastery of a discipline can give rise to great confidence and certitude projected onto the rest of the world, which bears the danger of closing the mind to other perspectives. Second, discussions across disciplines are not only a matter of language, but of disciplinary cultures. It takes great effort and good will, to listen and speak with genuine intent to understand. Most joyful were the moments of true and vivid dialogue, especially in smaller groups towards the end of the conference and in the workshop afterwards. It was rewarding to experience the creative tensions between thinking along cybernetic theories, their verbal reflection and our (in)abilities to integrate them into our personal lives. At the same time, it was sad to realise how difficult it is to keep dialogical qualities alive in larger groups.
Did the proposed design of the processes live up to the goal of opening up for something new? We would claim that it was a big experiment and became a success. This would not have been possible without the tireless work of all the people involved in organizing and hosting the event. The challenging task of keeping 80 “non-trivial machines” on schedule and actively pursuing a common direction without limiting the possibilities for self-organization was accomplished by Ranulph Glanville. We thank Ranulph together with his team for following the vision towards this “conference to confer” through months of preparation. When background organization runs smoothly, we usually do not become aware of it. In that spirit, we would like to thank Johannes Goebel and Ted Krueger for their leadership and hospitality, and all the people on site for making things happen.
What about outputs and sharing the knowledge gained? This challenging work is taking place at the moment. Several groups are currently compiling the material generated so far with the aim to publish it in a creative format in 2011. The conference web site plays an important role in all this. It has facilitated virtual exchange and discussions even before the conference and became a vibrant hub where people created profiles, listed their interests, uploaded papers and commented on other participants’ interests and papers. At the moment, it is a place to upload images, share videos and reflect the event. Thomas Fischer deserves a big “thank you” for continuously making sure the web site is up to date and having been ceaselessly documenting our discussions in text and images during the conference. C:ADM 2010 became such a rewarding and exhilarating experience due to the interesting individuals attending and their active participation. Thank you all for attending. It was a pleasure conferring together in Troy.