FoAM digest - Autumn 02015

As the autumnal darkening beckons, it’s time to preserve the harvest and move into a more reflective phase in our European studios. We invite you to join us in reminiscing and help us imagine what could grow out of the connections between robotics and wilderness, weaving and programming, oceans and people, food and rituals, present and future.

Technologies in the wild

The next UN Conference on Climate Change in Paris (COP21) is nearly upon us. We are pleased to be one of many contributors to ARTCOP21, a global festival of cultural activity on climate change. Our primary contribution is the Machine Wilderness programme, designed by FoAM Amsterdam to investigate hybrid ecologies where nature, technology and art intertwine. The programme began in November with a symposium held in the beautiful nineteenth century Artis building in Amsterdam. Its motto, Natura Artis Magistra (nature is the teacher of the arts and sciences), strongly resonates with the themes of the symposium, including augmented ecology, food forestry, landscape machines, reified nature and artificial evolution. The programme continues with a field robotics workshop at FoAM Kernow in Falmouth, where participants were guided through five distinct landscapes and design hypothetical machines to coexist and co-evolve in them. Exploring the interactions between human-made machines and the local environment, these design exercises and field explorations will contribute to the prototyping of robots adapted to natural systems.

Transdisciplinary literacy

Much of the work at FoAM Kernow and Brussels occupies the interstices between the arts, sciences and education. Naturally, we are concerned about the widening gaps between these fields, and how we might be able to bridge them. One issue that persistently arises is the accessibility of research findings and other specialist knowledge to broader communities.

In FoAM Kernow we’re experimenting with several practice-based approaches to connecting science and society, including the Yeastograms workshop (in collaboration with London Biohackspace) in which images are generated from yeast, fusing photography and microbiology, or Cricket Tales where we invite citizens to help scientists with the task of watching and identifying different events in the active lives of crickets.

In Brussels we are working on deciphering and translating the often arcane methods of futures studies into techniques suitable for non-specialist contexts. We design and facilitate experiential futures workshops, including the upcoming Futures of Unconditional Basic Income (with their Belgian network RBRB). In Marine CoLAB, a series of workshops with the Calouste Gulbenkian Foundation and NGOs involved in issues of marine conservation, we combine futures approaches and team coaching to discover ways of reconnecting people with the oceans. The knowledge gained and tested in these workshops has found its way into various publications: Enacting Futures in Postnormal Times is written for professional audiences, while our online publication A Futurist’s Fieldguide is a workbook and manual for anyone interested in experimenting with futures techniques in practice.

Coding and cooking

At FoAM in Falmouth and Brussels we have begun to connect programming skills with weaving and plumbing. In Weaving Codes, FoAM Kernow applies a five-thousand-year-long view of technology to programming, examining the computational nature of weaving and developing tangible programming hardware to investigate ways of coding without screens. Approaching coding from a different perspective, FoAM Brussels and Constant hosted the Promiscuous Pipelines workshop, which explored modular systems whose development goals move beyond efficiency and optimisation. The participants engineered beautiful accidents, unpredictable U-turns, lopsided loops and porous borders, all the while experiencing the pleasure of (imperfect) spaghetti code…

Speaking of spaghetti – we can’t help but include food in the mix, whether in the context of its pre-history, present or future; in technology, ecology or culture; with children, professionals or enthusiasts. While FoAM Amsterdam developed a piece of geological cuisine in the shape of mammoth soup, FoAM Brussels has worked with children combining food and photography, designed contemporary (food) rituals, as well as continue our ongoing explorations of the many flavours of food futures.

Rituals, musics, landscapes and other entangled entities

This year FoAM in Brussels has had the pleasure of hosting several stunning women in transience. Barbara Raes recently completed her transiency with a beautiful reflection on her experience of transition, where she underwent a transformation from artistic director into researcher of rituals for unacknowledged loss. We celebrated the conclusion of her liminal period of transition with a Samhain rite based on the universal structure and flow of funeral observances, which Barbara brought back from her celebrant training.

Along with Barbara, we shared our studio with two contemporary composers: Stevie Wishart and Kaffe Matthews. Stevie made FoAM her home and refuge while composing the demanding The Rough with the Smooth: Double Bass Concerto Grosso, which premiered in London with the Orchestra of the Age of Enlightenment. Kaffe flitted in and out of the studio while composing her site-specific work Finding Song Home and developing the new sonic bikes with Q-O2 and De Munt.

We continued our successful Family in Residence programme with a family of philosophers and storytellers who delved deep into animism and animation to untangle and re-tangle their disparate fields of enquiry. By the end of our short week together, Stacey Moran and Adam Nocek had devised an “attempt to animate the lab by giving voice to the spiritual practices that lie dormant within the de-animated space of modern scientific practice”, while the girls Ivy and Fiona created alternate narratives for adventurous urban spirits.

We will end our year in Brussels by welcoming back our first ever Family in Residence – artists and academics Alex Davies and Alexandra Crosby, with their now six-year-old son Luka. We expect lively exchanges on design futures and physical narratives, and many opportunities for tangential explorations of work and (family) life.

This family residency will mark the end of the programme in Brussels, at least for the time being. The torch now passes to FoAM Kernow with its new Human in Residence programme, which has already generated so much interest that there may be need for a larger studio.

Looking back, looking forward

Since March, when FoAM Brussels commemorated its fifteenth year of existence, we began a series of events and publications to celebrate the people, processes and works that emerged, evolved, appeared and disappeared in this time. It has been a bittersweet season, with quite a few melancholic, teary moments as well as ecstatic dancing, familiar laughter and quiet reminiscing. We reunited with Foton and Filastine to create a memorable FO[am]tones evening at the Beursschouwburg, a synaesthetic extravaganza steeped in sound, scent and textured light. We celebrated our most majestic failure during FuckUp Night. A FoAM family reunion marked the beginning of the harvest season in Brussels, where we take time to dig through our online and on-site archives, collecting and editing materials for the forthcoming Grow Your Own Worlds publication. Finally, we are concluding our coaching programme by looking at how to align and amplify the effects of individual coaching in changing the systems we live and work within.

While several activities and processes are reaching their natural conclusion at FoAM Brussels, we begin looking forward to a year of lying fallow: taking the organisation into a year-long transiency and finally deepening our research into Doing Nothing and the manifold uses of idleness as we endeavour to embrace the process of individual and collective transition. To reflect on the relevance of this process not just for FoAM but for the cultural sector and perhaps even society in general, we recently wrote Thriving in Uncertainty, an article outlining our views on this topic in greater depth which will be published in the Flemish cultural magazine Rekto:verso in December. The final event in our current shape and form will be a celebration of stillness – in sound, image and ethereal experience. We hope to see you wave us off, in silence…

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