What new forms of knowledge transfer and creative exchange could we still conceive?
How to teach and mediate innovative digital media as a ‘stretching of the senses?’
What do we perceive now as an educational format and what may it become?
Expanding the Workflow
InKüLe meets Stretching Senses School
Presentation during the InKüLe Fachtag: Arts/ Digital/ Scenarios (2022)
Collaboration between the InKüLe Project & the Cluster of Excellence, Matters of Activity (HU, Berlin)
08. December 22, Winter semester 2022–23
Transdisciplinary workshops, Cross-institute collaboration, Anthropotechniques, Hybridity, Cross-media experiments 3D scanning, VR sketching, Unity 3D
This article offers a thorough insight to the collaboration that the InKüLe project has initiated with the Cluster of Excellence, Matters of Activity (MoA), and specifically the 'Stretching Senses School' (SSSchool). Initially, the SSSchool is introduced as an informal learning community, that has emerged through the practices of the cluster. Mutually inspired from the fields of Art Science and Anthropology, this initiative is actively building a hybrid learning 'rhizome' of transdisciplinary practitioners and learners. Situating their approach, the article shows how this initiative subverts the current technological fascination with emerging digital media - like 3D scanning and virtual reality - towards deeper and more complex narratives. In the context of the imminent environmental crisis, this focuses on forming affective connections with 'more-than-human' agents, as well as a multi-sensorial and cross-media attunement with the natural phenomena that surround us.
For the collaboration with InKüLe, this conceptual approach to emerging digital media was transcribed into an educational process and took the shape of two transdisciplinary workshops during the WiSe 2022-23. The first workshop, 'Capturing Leakage,' explored how conceptual mind-mapping can inspire a structured creative research that blends together the analogue and digital realm. The second workshop, 'Mycelium & neuronal forests,' stemmed from a combination of different research projects that are currently active in the MoA cluster, with different researchers and artists visiting the process as guest-tutors. Orchestrated by the initiators of the SSSchool, the workshop focused on the concept of 'anthropotechniques' and the power of performative practices of expanding our perception of immersive digital media.
Finally, the article discusses the learnings of such a process for our project. These are considered both internally for our mediation of emerging media and their practices in the Berlin University of the Arts, as well as externally, by reflecting on the impact of such cross-disciplinary collaborations on our overall understanding of what an innovative learning format may be.
Introducing a Collaboration
This article offers an overview of an external collaboration that the InKüLe project initiated with the Cluster of Excellence, Matters of Activity (MoA), and specifically, the Stretching Senses School. The ideas and media-didactic reflections behind this collaboration were originally presented in the context of the InKüLe Fachtag Arts/ Digital/ Scenarios in December 2022. The collaboration itself took place in the winter semester 2022-23 in the form of transdisciplinary workshops.
What is the Stretching Senses School?
As a start, let’s take a moment to explore what the ‘Stretching Senses School’ is: this initiative emerged from within the context of the MoA Cluster and is situated in a long process of testing out the possibilities and potentials of how one may apply exhibition-, practice- and artistic-led research.
Orchestrated by its curators, Maxime Le Calve and Yoonha Kim, the Stretching Senses School is an active learning community around art science and speculative ethnography. Weaving a diverse network of actors, it aims to explore more-than-human perceptions through making practices, while bringing them into conversation with movement, social experiments, creative coding, and immersive media. Like a live organism, the initiative has had different life phases, during which its form and function have evolved. It first evolved out of a continuation of the exhibition Stretching Materialities, where through a series of workshop-based teaching experiments, it sought to explore and expand on the exhibition’s theme.
If this is where the term ”school” comes from, how about the stretching of the senses?
Right from the start, the project expanded on the exhibition in a way that was not neutral, but thematized climate emergency. Here the formation of VR-Worldings was an experiment in the affective communication of the imminent disaster, which the multiple worlds around us are facing. Quoting the clusters co-director Claudia Mareis, this project “is not only for the human experience that is mediated technologically or medially...It is rather about a playful but nevertheless serious attempt of a sensory regime that transcends the human senses also towards a more-than-human register.”
Inscribed in this constellation of teaching experiments and mediated reflections, the Stretching Senses School in collaboration with InKüLe offered two workshops for UdK students and Alumni at the beginning of November 2022. Both of them are documented in detail in this website, so this article will only provide an outline of their overall process.
Instead of a description, let’s share a distillation process of these learning experiments. This is the ‘alchemic’ formula we are about explore: In the first part, we examine how a step-by-step process was applied to navigate the spectrum between narratives, material explorations and digital media. We will then focus on how the second workshop stretched this procedural format further - on the one hand, by corelating immersive media to the framework of ‘anthropotechniques,’ and on the other hand, by crafting modular workflows, which the students were able to reassemble and interpret.
Workshop 1: Capturing Leakage
And without further ado, let’s dive into the first workshop: ‘Leaking Bodies’ is an artist-collective that was formed during a residency program of the ‘Stretching Senses School’. Two of its members, Charlotte Roschka and Karolina Żyniewicz, transcribed their artistic approach into a hybrid educational format and led the first workshop of this collaboration. Under the title Capturing Leakage: body flows and material investigations the workshop focused on digital archiving and hybrid expressions of materiality. In parallel, the tutors' core aim was to decode the abstract process of transdisciplinary creative research. Therefore, the workshop was structured in three clear steps, namely a conceptual, an exploratory, and a translatory phase.
The first phase analysed the main concepts associated with “leakage” and material “flow.” Gravitating around 10 main concepts, tutors and participants created together an expansive network of qualities and notions. The students were then invited to break and re-link the concepts, forming in this way individual stories and combined group narratives. The students acknowledged this initial, collective brainstorming as the most impactful phase of the workshop, because it helped them process and relate to the workshop’s theme.
During the exploratory phase, these narratives gradually acquired form. Working in transdisciplinary teams, the students observed and documented elements of the urban space surrounding the workshop’s location - the Bundesallee building of the Berlin University of the Arts. This formed a first archive, which included photographs, 3D scans of found objects, as well as sound and video recordings. It was at this point that the translation of analogue observations to digital assets slowly started to take place.
This transition from analogue to digital was paved through diverse recording media, inspired by the tutors’ backgrounds and art science practice. For example, an endoscope, normally used to view the interior of the human body, was used to explore the interior of a hollow tree instead. A clip microscope was attached to mobile phones, revealing the micro-texture of stones and dry leaves. Each of these tools was easily portable and simple in its use. As a result, each group could intuitively adapt the tools to their own creative exploration, producing diverse and surprising results.
In the last, translatory phase of the workshop, each team combined the digital assets of their initial collection into one multimedia element. For one team this meant a collection of animated autumn leaves, which were found and 3D-scanned right outside the building. For another team, this was the interior of a tree trunk, where hidden stories on free speech were narrated, and captured off Instagram before they disappeared. Each of these elements was then integrated into one common Virtual Reality (VR) installation. Sharing the same scene, this VR application formed the common, final archive of the workshop, where the different group projects were consciously combined and interweaved.
This gradual process was communicated to the students through two modes of thinking, namely “expanding” and “limiting,” which were a consistent part of all three phases of the workshop and organized their transitions. Together with the clarity of the overall structure, the mindset of “expanding & limiting” helped students to navigate and filter their ideas, and to maintain an overview of their creative choices.
But what does it mean to stretch and expand such a workflow further?
Workshop 2: Mycelium & neuronal forests
The next workshop was composed as an experiment in praxis as much as in theory:
It was taught by the initiators of the Stretching Senses School’, Yoonha Kim and Maxime Le Calvé, together with artist and research fellow, Paulina Greta Stefanović. Seeking to explore an intimate relationship with more-than-human agents, the workshop’s theme formed a connection between two different research topics of the cluster, namely mycelium feeding behaviour and its ‘digital twin,’ neuronal forests. Associated researchers of the cluster that work on these topics were also present at different phases of the workshop, providing inspiration and feedback.
In parallel, the format of the workshop explored the potential of artistic education to change our relation to the environment through an engagement at the level of anthropotechniques. Citing historian and philosopher John Tresch, these refer to “the skilled practices that humans have devised and applied to train and reshape themselves.” Anthropotechniques equally refer to practices of body and mind, as well as our established patterns of thought, feeling, and action. Tresch argues that change in this realm can contribute to an affective shift of attention towards the environmental emergency that we are facing. It is this theoretical framework that the tutors sought to bring into their process. Here the use of immersive media relates to their affective power, and therefore, their ability to contribute to such a sensorial and mental recalibration. But they were not the only focus: echoing the unity of body and mind, embodied practices were central in all aspects of the workshop, as a way to share both ideas and technical know-how.
And this was the case right from the start: The first day of the workshop took place at Tiergarten. Using a mobile-phone broadcasting application, the tutors narrated an introduction to the Stretching Senses School via radio, while the workshop group roamed through the autumn landscape. The students were then introduced to aspects of organic growth and mycelium feeding patterns while participating in a small performance. As a part of this field research, mushroom-related artefacts, like a rotting piece of wood, were scanned through photogrammetry and later became part of a final Virtual Reality installation.
The second day of the workshop focused on the hands-on exploration employing digital media. The participants were offered a series of smaller modular workflows, which they were invited to reassemble and interpret. In an interplay of image and whimsical storytelling, the artificial intelligence program Midjourney was used for the production of background graphics. In turn, these became the basis for immersive, 3-dimensional sketches, which were created using the VR App Tilt Brush. Finally, some experiments included capacitive sensors, in an effort to capture and sonify mycelium’s signal. On the last day, all the experiments came together for the production of a single Virtual Reality installation in the game engine Unity 3D. The initially scanned bark became the centre of a small digital ecosystem, and the different digital artefacts, which the participants produced during the workshop, found a place around and within it.
Learnings - looking inwards
So, what do we keep from this process? And why should we enter into such a dialogue with another institution or initiative, and offer workshops or educational formats together? As a start, the collaboration with an external institute and project was a great chance for us to reflect on our own educational practices and consider how we could holistically expand on them. Regarding our existing educational formats, here are three main takeaways from the process:
Enabling transdisciplinary meetings
…between students from different creative disciplines and departments. According to the students’ feedback, such meetings are currently missing, and they consider them important. These include a ‘time-block’ format, to be able to concentrate and open up to a cross-disciplinary exchange.
Making space for varied skills.
In parallel with making time & space for them, such meetings also require open and diversified workflows, which students with different skill sets and creative backgrounds can interpret. For example, in the ‘Capturing Leakage’ workshop, the tutors highlighted from the start that narrative media - such as written poems, sketches, and recorded monologues - could also find their own, unique way into the final VR project. Taking the form of mid-journey prompts, in the second workshop this connection between narratives and digital expressions became an integral part of the creative workflow. This open and fused teaching approach was particularly empowering for the students who were less acquainted with digital workflows.
Photogrammetry: both medium & mediator
Photogrammetry is so far the prime example of such an open, beginner-friendly, and inclusive practice. As a technical possibility, this is due to a variety of mobile apps that make the digitization of 3D objects straightforward and intuitive. As a process, however, it was the invitation to haptically explore their surrounding space, before selecting something to scan, that made the students curious and proactive. Familiarization with new digital tools came then organically and as a part of the overall experimentation. In this sense, photogrammetry functioned not only as a medium but also as mediating phase, negotiating the realm between analogue and digital forms of expression.
Learnings - looking outwards
Turning our attention outwards, such collaborations also allow us to actively observe other academic and research frameworks. As it seems, the ‘Stretching Senses School’ is a radical re-assembly for knowledge exchange and creative research. What started out as reflections on a previous exhibition, became a residency program, a festival, and an ever-growing learning community. Within the context of the ‘Matters of Activity’ Cluster of Excellence, the ‘Stretching Senses School’ seems to emerge as a malleable framework, which stretches both the themes and the practices of their previous research. It develops indeed as a new organ, with different ways to sense, filter, and operate.
Reflecting on this experience creates new questions and perhaps opens up new horizons:
What do we perceive now as an educational format and what may it become?
When we consider the fluid space between disciplines and major practices of research and education, what new forms of knowledge transfer and creative exchange could we still conceive?