During the premiere of ‘Entangled landscapes’ at Spiere-Helkijn’s old swimming pool, our co-founder and Managing Director Alexandra Vanhuyse explained the STARTS project as well as the role of the artwork in achieving its goals.
Enjoy reading her opening speech.
We are here today on a unique site, in a unique landscape, with a unique company. And we are here together today with a purpose. And that is not only to wonder and admire and marvel, which I wish may happen to you all, but we are, above all , here to take action. Not just any action, action that is extremely urgent and extremely necessary, action for you and me, for everyone around us and in this region: climate action.
And that is precisely what we from Snowball are going for and constantly striving for. As a Living Lab & Cleantech hub, Snowball aims to facilitate sustainable entrepreneurship and bring new green technology to the market faster. We do this by testing, validating and demonstrating high-tech and scalable prototypes, which can then be commercialized. To this end, we work continuously and systematically with various partners, often from multiple disciplines, because bringing about sustainable innovation at regional, national and international level is only possible by bringing together a broad set of people, expertise and ideas.
In spring 2020, amid the first covid-19 pandemic, Snowball was asked by Gluon to join the new call for Regional STARTS Centers. The STARTS program, the acronym for Science, Technology and The Arts, aims to increase Europe’s competitiveness. By establishing structural collaborations between the 3 disciplines of science, technology and the arts industry, based on the belief that the 3 work symbiotically, new perspectives and breakthrough innovations can be brought about. The STARTS program was launched in 2014 and is spreading throughout Europe. The Regional STARTS Centers are a specific pillar within the STARTS program. It aims to facilitate the same dynamics and the same symbiosis between science, technology and the arts, but from a local angle, with a view to structurally embed the STARTS principle in working methods, thought processes and structures at an accessible and nearby level. At Snowball, we were working as hosts for Gluon in the first round of Regional STARTS Centers in 2019, so we could already have a taste of this.
Under the title “Repairing the Present”, we submitted our dossier in November 2020, a dossier pulled by Snowball as coordinator with a European consortium of 12 partners of which 11 act as Regional STARTS Centers, including the MAXXI Museum in Rome, the Onassis Stegi Foundation in Athens, Ars Electronica in Linz and CCCB in Barcelona. The main goal of our project: to develop solutions for the challenges of the European Green Deal and the New European Bauhaus, the European Commission’s ambitious program to make Europe climate neutral by 2050. A goal close to Snowball’s heart, and in intent also a perfect match.
On 1 June 2021, just over a year ago, we officially launched the project. Soon after, Leiedal also came on board as a partner from the region. Thus, the partnership forms an ideal mix between Snowball, Gluon, Leiedal and BOZAR. From our expertise as a cleantech hub, we represent the technological and entrepreneurial side, Gluon provides the artistic interpretation and artistic reflections, Leiedal supports from its policy expertise and BOZAR strengthens its regional anchoring as a partner of European exhibitions. With the help of a diverse set of local & regional experts, we formulated 2 challenges within the context of the European Green Deal, which are burning topics here in this region:
● Interactive Productive Landscapes, and
● Built Spaces in a networked environment.
In October 2021, we published an open call through more than 50 channels for the entire consortium, which together had developed 21 challenges. In November 2021, we closed it with over 500 applications. From the finalists on the Belgian shortlist, the British duo Studio Above&Below, who are here and whose artwork will premiere today, and also the Belgian-Congolese duo Filip Van Dingenen and David Shongo, were chosen.
Studio Above&Below is the collective of Daria Jelonek and Perry James Sugden. In their artistic practice, they regularly collaborate with scientists, technologists and various communities. They aim to push the boundaries of digital media for a better future, depicting the relationships between humans, machines and nature. Their portfolio is powered by artificial intelligence and translates into Augmented Reality experiences. They have already exhibited at the Royal Academy, the Tate Modern, V&A London, at the Venice Biennale and many more. They also won several awards and recognitions, including the Near Now Fellowship, Collusion Art Funding, Bloomberg Bursary, the Communication Arts Award for Interactive Art and the Battersea Sculpture Prize, were longlisted for the Lumen Prize and finalist of the WIRED Creative HackAward. Today, they are also fellows at NEAR NOW Nottingham and BOM Birmingham and residents of Factory Berlin and Sonar+D Barcelona.
Filip Van Dingenen is a multidisciplinary artist, teacher and co-founder of the Ecole Mondiale in Brussels. He uses a wide range of methods and outputs, merging participatory strategies and social and ecological relevance, within the themes of recreation, heritage and education. For the STARTS residency titled “Suskewiet Visions”, he set up a collaboration with Congolese composer/computer scientist/music artist David Shongo, who is also a resident at HISK in Ghent, among others.
On 1 February this year, they both started their art-science-tech residency, a six-month course with a budget of 40,000 euros all in.
From Snowball we had also set a very explicit criterion for both artists when setting up the project and during the jury, namely, to create a prototype that is both scalable and duplicable, two elements intrinsic and inherent to Snowball’s DNA and inherent to entrepreneurship.
Studio Above & Below’s project was titled “Entangled Landscapes”, and the title speaks for itself. The work is about landscapes that are entangled, that are confused, that are barred. Our region’s heavy industry, building policies, concretization of nature, and intensive agriculture have meant that the region’s soil quality is one of the poorest in Europe. And the importance of soils is unfortunately still very much underestimated today. Soil can store a lot of CO2. A soil with a lot of organic matter handles pollution and, in cooperation with roots, and fungi and soil life, also retains water much better and dries out less quickly. Soils that are well maintained are crucial for achieving climate goals. Poorly maintained soils, on the other hand, make a negative climate contribution.
Studio Above & Below’s work brings attention to soil quality. From an Augmented and Mixed Reality experience, the landscape of Southwest Flanders is enriched with a virtual space. That virtual space is fed by real-time data from various publicly available data sources. In this way, the work is also based on one of Snowball’s basic principles: measuring is knowing, or in the variant certainly the past few months measuring is sweating, and here in this context it is also very explicit: making the invisible visible. By capturing, interpreting, and making visible all kinds of data sources on soil quality and biodiversity, such as soil temperature, water level and more, we are raising awareness about soil quality, inviting reflection on the topic and, above all, we hope to incite sustainable behavioral change. Because in the end, that is what it is all about: measurable impact. This project, this realization by Studio Above & Below, which you will soon experience, is therefore a first prototype with the aim of inciting sustainable behavioral change, a prototype that has been tested, validated and demonstrated in Southwest Flanders. And which can now be picked up in the market, bringing attention to soil quality here and there and raising awareness, thus creating a “snowball effect” for a healthier living environment.
This first prototype is part of a triptych of exhibitions that will take place this autumn at MEET in Milan, at MAXXI in Rome and ZKM in Karlsruhe, a triptych curated by Manuel Cirauqui.
Since 2016, Manuel Cirauqui has been the artistic director of the Guggenheim in Bilbao. He is also the director of EINA/IDEA, a think tank within EINA, the University of Design and Art of Barcelona. He has organized a number of leading exhibitions in recent years, is in charge of the Guggenheim’s Film & Video Program and has acted several times as guest curator, produced a series of art programs for radio in New York, published several articles including A Journal of Arts and Performance in Kaleidoscope, Frieze, was adjunct professor of critical curating at the Rhode Island School of Design in Providence, guest lecturer at the MICA Maryland Institute College of Art in Baltimore, the HEAD Haute Ecole d’art et de design Geneva, the Aalto University of Art Helsinki, and resident researcher at the Institut de Recherche et d’Innovation Centre Pompidou in Paris. You hear it, a true jack-of-all-trades and omnipresent. In recent years, he has also collaborated on several STARTS exhibitions. For Repairing the Present, he worked out the concept from A to Z, a triptych entitled REWORLD – REWILD – RETOOL.
The exhibitions :REWORLD :REWILD :RETOOL explore the productive tension between the urge to project and the urge to care, between the actuality of life and the futurity of technological development, between the immediacy of bricolage and the mediation of prototypes on the way to improved coexistence.
This tryptic, series of exhibitions will be launched with a discussion between Mariana Pestana and Manuel Cirauqui on the 9th of September during the S+T+ARTS Day conference at Ars Electronica Festival. A day-long event in early December will be held at CINQUANTENAIRE, in Brussels, as a closure to this series.
So, as you can hear, there is still a lot of work to do both for Repairing the Present as a project, but much more broadly, to repair the present. But back to the here and now for a moment, to today.
If a picture says more than a thousand words, Studio Above & Below’s artwork speaks volumes. Let this be the message you will be going home with here soon, and above all, the message you will carry forward. Climate action is urgently needed and raising awareness to this end is a first step. Everyone has a role to play. Or to put it succinctly: A person can make a difference, but together we can change the game, thank you!