DEAF04: Open Alliances

DEAF04Open Alliances: Transfer of Knowledge in Art, Media Technology and Education.
Rotterdam, Wednesday November 10, 2004.
By Kim van Haaster

As a layman in a world called ‘New Media’, guided by my colleague Sabine, I paid a visit to the DEAf04, a conference about digital art in the broadest sense of the word. We attended a series of lectures gathered under the name ‘open alliances’ organized by V2. This conference was held with the aim to discuss (and maybe stimulate)the upcoming collaboration between universities, professional universities, companies, research and knowledge institutes in art and media technology. Existing models for collaboration were presented and possible forms of knowledge exchange were proposed. In this the needs of the different parties appeared, as well as the degree of their involvement in existing institutional structures and possible consequences for education and research. Positive elements such as profiting from these collaborations, but also the problems that arise in these collaborations where highlighted at this educative seminar.
Several projects were presented in six lectures after which there was some more space left for discussion. The main focus of the seminar, moderated by Emilie Randoe (director of HvA Interactive Media), was collaboration in MA-programs, research programs and the creation of systems for knowledge building within companies.

Charles van der Mast – TU Delft spoke about several projects: MA ‘Media and Knowledge Engineering’ including a research program called VR Phobia (a collaboration with the Universities of Amsterdam and Leiden). They improve collaboration by working with get part-time professors that are funded by research institutes. Furthermore Van der Mast dreams of creating a ‘Smart Atelier’ to stimulate the sharing of knowledge between disciplines and arts. To him, a smart atelier means a physical space where researchers and developers of different disciplines and backgrounds can work together over a longer period.

Jeroen van Mastrigt – PSAU is part of the organisation of different MA – programes of the Professional School of the Arts (PSAU), in which the Hogeschool van de Kunsten in Utrecht and the Universiteit van Utrecht collaborate. Van Mastrigt argues that research and design go very well together, in spite of the institutional differences. The students don’t mind and are happy to work together and learn from eachother, and institutions need room to play. In this way a rich learning experience is created. The main weakness of this collaboration is the actual moderated chaos that is inherent in the project. In addition, the risk that projects might fail is apparent, although that risk is no bigger than it is for other professional project bureaus. Finally, the ‘weakness’ can be seen in the fact that the bureau is dependent on strong clients and projects.

A lot less positive was Bas Harings’ story about his ‘Wild Thinking’ project, an initiative that unites computerscience students and art students in a project where they are stimulated to think wildly in a scientific way. He spoke of lots of practical and structural problems such as unmotivated students, the fact that art schools are less dependant on student numbers than the university that provides the program (and which is paid by the number of students it delivers); these things cause tension. Other problems are the different ways of thinking: students mainly use technology to make aesthetic things. Furthermore it proves to be difficult to work with businesses, because they want students to define their own projects. Haring advocates the clearance of what both parties want in advance, which should help to improve collaboration.

The ANMI has, just like Haring, Mastrigt en Van der Mast, founded a MA. Han Gerrits (ANMI) argues that people should learn about other disciplines involved in a project from their own initiatives. A common language needs to be created. Reward systems should not be that influential as they are now. People that actually do something are needed he states.

Anne Nigten , director of the V2 Lab offers a forum and a network in which knowledge from various disciplines and professions can be collected and combined. Includes the v2-lab an artistic R&D called aRt&D) in the electronic arts. Theoretic discourse and knowledge transfer in an interdisciplinary setting. Aims: Research and dialogue into FLOSS (free/libre open source software) options, art-science research programs, practice or studio based PhD programs.

Jan Vogel of TNO spoke about what he calles ‘the art of knowledge transfer’. TNO has developed a new system to build up knowledge within the firms, government bodies and public organizations and not just inside knowledge institutions. TNO does so by applying scientific knowledge with the aim of strengthening the innovative power of industry and government. At this moment, the 4 most outstanding areas of Dutch economy on an international scale are: flowers & food, the creative industry(!), water (management) and high tech systems & materials.

: The main issues that arose during the discussion were as follows. Communication between the different parties seems to be the biggest problem; good collaboration needs powerful communication, which takes time. A shared vocabulary is very important but you have to watch out for ‘jip en janneke’-language said Henk van Zeijts ‘(you can check to learn more about this specific language, created by the Dutch writer Annie M.G. Schmidt). A lack of communication seems to cause the fact that companies often don’t have knowledge of what the R&D institutes are working on. The different parties should make their mutual goals clear first.
Then there is the problem with the quality standards of knowledge; for example universities add too much value to the written text in general (and more specifically: the article), which does not stroke with the more practical mentality of the professional universities. Reconsiderations of the rewarding systems are therefore needed. Both parties should be open for the skills of the other and use the best of every party involved to get improve good collaboration.

The afternoon ended with a short student presentation where their project, especially made for the DEAF festival was demonstrated. The students Brit Hopman, Mika Igarashi and Bart Thomée, made a project under the supervision of Dr. Bas Haring, in which they tried to challenge the fine line between open and closed systems.

This seminar to me was some sort of extensive ‘briefing’ on the subject of collacboration between art, technology, education, research and business. I took nearly six hours and left me left feeling confused and full of information, but wiser…
The main thing to remember is that we all have the practical need of good projects, assignments and clients to make good collaboration happen.

More information about the conference can be found in the Open Alliances Reader.
— Kim