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Sunday, 20 July 2014

ICT & ART CONNECT

In my blog of 18 May 2014 (On the Saying of Unreasonable Things) I mentioned that I had spent a day in the European Parliament in connection with initiative called ICT & ART CONNECT. Now is a good time to say more about this new activity.

The day in the Parliament was organised around a morning session of keynote presentations, which was chaired by Amelia Andersdotter MEP, and which included an address from the renowned artist, Roy Ascot. As for the afternoon session, a key part of this was a roundtable discussion chaired by Robert Madelin, Director General, of the European Commission’s DG CONNECT (responsible for the Horizon 2020 ICT Research programme). Also involved in the roundtable were three members of the European Parliament:  Maria Da Graça Carvalho MEP; Amelia Andersdotter MEP; Morten Løkkegaard MEP (who I have mentioned previously with regard to the New Narrative for Europe initiative).

In the evening there was a cocktail reception hosted by Amelia Andersdotter, and I had a long conversation with her about something close to both our hearts: the inappropriateness of current copyright laws and the need to change them to make them relevant to a modern internet-driven economy and society. About this I will say more in a future blog.

I wrote a report about the roundtable discussion, and this document sets the scene for the ICT & ART CONNECT initiative and highlights some important issues. So here therefore I present some further reflections:

Art is becoming popular! What was once just seen as a cultural activity is now being repositioned as an economic one, as evidenced by the European Commission’s Culture Programme, which is now focused on encouraging artists to professionalize themselves and to seek to use their creative talents in the world of business. And universities too are being urged to address the creative arts, with The League of Research Intensive Universities advocating that art should be given a more central role in strategy, since it offers multiple benefits that range from scientific insights and educational quality, through societal value, to economic profit. It is not therefore surprising that research funding bodies such as DG CONNECT should be taking an interest in the creative arts through its fledgling initiative known as ICT & ART CONNECT.

In brief, the idea, at least as it has been articulated so far, is to connect the European ICT and Art communities to foster productive dialogues, engagement and collaborative work between them. The interest expressed by DG CONNECT is for art to: contribute towards enhancing creativity and innovation in society, technology, science, education, and business; and to help to more gracefully embed science and technology in society.

There is of course nothing new in using art to develop ICT. Artists are already involved with ICT in their artistic practices. And this involvement turns out to be more than just using what is available, but also extending that which exists, as well as developing new ICTs. Additionally one can trace the involvement of artists in ICT back in time to the 1960s, and Roy Ascot, with his cybernetic art and telematic art, is one of the notable pioneers. Here also one has an example that goes beyond the notion of artist and technologist collaborating, to one where the artist becomes also the technologist – actually a fledgling case of trans-disciplinarity. So evidently the use of art in ICT is more complex that it might first seem!

This then, in brief, is the background and more astute observers will realise from the above, that the involvement of artists in ICT research and development raises many complex issues and challenges, and that, with the tremendous potential, comes the reality that is very easy to create an unsuccessful initiative (not that anyone would ever admit to such).

One of the main concerns is that ICT & ART CONNECT is just another example of government and economic interests appropriating art for their own agendas, which in this case, is the perpetuation of technocentric world views and progress defined in terms of increasing technological sophistication and materialism. And the words used by DG CONNECT certainly point towards this as being their aim. And it can be noted that when DG CONNECT say that art can be used to contribute towards enhancing creativity and innovation in society, technology, science, education, and business, there is no reference to DG CONNECT. And among the list of organisation in need more creativity and imagination, DG CONNECT is at the top of this.

DG CONNECT speak of enhancing creativity in the ICT sector, but this raises the question of what exactly is wrong with the ICT sector (and others) that requires the appropriation of the artist’s creativity? Yet to explore such a question is to admit that there might be something fundamentally wrong with the whole basis of modern science, technology and engineering. And this is something most definitely to be avoided, and hence one comes to back to that which is mentioned in my blog On the Saying of Unreasonable Things: ICT & ART CONNECT could become a means for those whom subscribe to technocentricism to avoid confronting the failing nature of this particular institution, and to construct a narrative that involves in effective making minor adjustments through a process of co-creation with artists.

And thus the true value of art, which lies in allowing people to see the world in different ways and to envision different futures, is lost because those with power, which is derived from money, do not wish the see the world in different ways or to envision different futures. And in this scenario, the artist once again has to become subversive, by simultaneously providing the much desired creativity while also, through their creative acts, demonstrating the true nature of what is happening. And thus it can also be said that, yet another opportunity for Europe will lost, simply because Prometheus, who, being bound to the rock of the past, is too busy reinventing himself in exactly the same form as he was yesterday, to be able to comprehend that he is doing exactly this.

In such circumstances it takes an extraordinary set of events to set Prometheus free. In the Prometheus story this extraordinary event was Zeus allowing Hercules to break the unbreakable chains that bound Prometheus to his rock. In my novel Moments in Time, the central character is also like Prometheus, and the extraordinary event that sets him free is essentially a … If a told you it would spoil the story, and it is in any case something that is not for the telling, but for each person to find for themselves.

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