Inspiration for a Digital Bauhaus.
One word: Bauhaus. One more word: digital. Two days at the end of June 2014, the place is Weimar, home of the original Bauhaus. A summit organized by Berlin’s ZIA gathered a group of people from the creative industries to ponder about what a Digital Bauhaus could or should be today. I was invited to take a rather personal perspective on stage.
Photo: Matthias Weber
The Digital Bauhaus is more than collaboration.
Collaboration, especially in the creative sector, is a given. It is of great importance for sure- but from my point of view the 1919 Bauhaus group could facilitate collaboration between its peers pretty much the same way we do today. Only the tools have changed. The notion of collaboration that the Bauhaus idea has repeatedly been credited for is even under dispute as Lukas Imhof from ETH Zürich pointed out.
The Digital Bauhaus is an educational concept.
The historical Bauhaus came up with ideas to reform artistic education in a time of industrial revolution. In the same way we need to think about how we want to educate Digital Bauhaus designers in a time of groundbreaking social, cultural and technological transformation. We should not forget that the Digital Bauhaus Summit took place in Weimar, where high profile architecture, media and design faculties educate the designers of tomorrow.
How should Digital Bauhaus designers be educated? In which environment? Which values do we want to educate by?
The Digital Bauhaus is a critical mindset.
During my studies of Media Arts and Design in Weimar and Interaction Design in Malmö I realized the great importance of forming a critical mindset towards the ever changing media landscape I would later work in. Both its advancements and risks need to be carefully evaluated, discussed, critiqued and challenged. It is this critical mindset that makes the designer a responsible creator and not just a facilitator of technological novelties.
The Digital Bauhaus is already here.
The good news is: we do not have to start from scratch. Others have already thought about how to bring the Bauhaus idea into the 21st century. While the Weimar approach of a Digital Bauhaus in 1996/97 was obviously influenced by the local Bauhaus heritage, K3 even developed aManifesto for a Digital Bauhaus in 1998.
It all begins with a vision.
Pelle Ehn and his co-creators of the Malmö manifesto had a strong vision. They agreed to create:
„An arena, a meeting place, a school and a resesarch centre for creative and socially useful meetings between art & technology.“
– Digital Bauhaus Manifesto (1998)
They were very lucky to be able to build the school’s architecture around the values and ideas in the manifesto. Most of the time universities need to deal and improvise around the spaces they are provided with. I found two aspects to be unique at K3: the idea of studio based supervision and a central third culture café.
Studio based supervision means that students would sit together with their professors and PhD researchers in the same room. This led to a very high level of openness and communication.
The third culture café, basically a cafeteria, was strategically placed in the heart of the building. A very different concept to German university cafeterias that are usually not situated where you work but in a rather remote area.
Merging both created a space that had a huge potential for unpredicted meetings and also created an atmosphere of informality that supported the creative work. K3 had its serendipity built in, a concept that Sebastian Olma described during a workshop the day before in his lecture as a creative process between accident and sagacity.
Idealism vs. commercial pressure.
“It’s not a dance on roses.”
– Pelle Ehn on Living Labs in ServDes 2014 Keynote
Manifestos are a great way to lay out a vision or utopia but the everyday constraints can be challenging. While things started to happen, Pelle Ehn saw the humanistic approach and user orientation as “maybe too idealistic”. Down the line initiatives such as the Interactive Institute or MEDEA had (or still have) to shut their doors due to external pressures.
K3 flourished and educated many students with a Digital Bauhaus mindset, but it also saw the rise and fall of different research facilities that were aligned around interaction design.
Digital Bauhaus as foundation for a creative Malmö.
Even though K3′s Digital Bauhaus may have had its flaws, it set the foundation for the creative hub that Malmö is today. Open spirit and collaboration across different disciplines have seeded around the harbour area where K3 is located.
Be it 6 free months of workspace at MINC or the creative hub Media Evolution City where residents “move around instead of move out” show a deep sensitivity for creating and running contemporary creative workspaces. The Conference has been established as a gathering of creative minds enabling many more meetings between “accident and sagacity”.
A new Bauhaus Moment.
Sebastian Olma was one of the few speakers emphasizing the opportunity of “a new Bauhaus moment”: a “time of economic crisis, disorientation in art and design” and a rather challenging technological framework.
I strongly believe that we have to regain a “critical difference to the present” as Philipp Oswalt put it in his lecture “The Bauhaus Today”.
Heart Bleeds and mass surveillance, whistleblowing and privacy in demise, corporates that are creating new cultural practices and the promise of singularity. Boundless communication, the mass amateurization of creative practice, information at our fingertips.
These are just a few themes that should be worth to reflect on. We still need to enable future Digital Bauhaus students to develop their own proper Haltung (the German word for attitude appears to be much more of a fit) towards current and especially future developments in media, artistic practice and technology.
Beyond the Blue Horizon.
It might be a good idea to get back to Gesa Ziemer‘s introduction of the accomplice as a mode of collaboration. We also might want to involve those who have previously been working with the idea of a Digital Bauhaus into our discourse. Since the Bauhaus-University was literally next door to the summit, it would be great to learn from their perspective as well as their colleagues in Malmö.
We could even start a new school.
A new manifesto?
I am not sure whether simply “writing a new manifesto” will do the trick as envisioned by Thuringias Minister for Economic Affairs in his opening speech at the summit. We should try to understand more about the actual education in Weimar before anyone cries out for a new Manifesto. This would be pretty much the top-down approach that everyone seemed to reject when Harun Farocki’s movie Ein neues Produkt entsteht was screened.
Besides, what is the point of a commissioned manifesto?
Getting together again, more focussed seems to be a a good idea to me. I think Pelle Ehn would approve:
“Digital Bauhaus Designers of all countries unite!”
– Pelle Ehn in Digital Bauhaus Manifesto 1998