Following last week’s ICT 2015 event in Lisbon, and the publication of the European Commission’s new call for ICT research proposals, in the END, ICT-ART CONNECT, or STARTS as it would now like to be known, appears in the new Horizon 2020 Work Programme 2016-2017 in the area of Information and Communication Technologies with a very traditional and very European approach, which STARTS with Classification and Symbolisation.
There are, we are told, two classes: technologists symbolised as the uncreative ones, who are suffering from a creativity deficit, which must therefore be corrected through collaboration with artists and creative people, symbolised as the carriers of the much sought after creativity (the weighty mystery). Yet what evidence is there for this creativity deficit? I look forward to reading the report that documents this evidence. I have searched for it using Google, but strangely, it does not seem to exist. Why could that be? Perhaps it is a secret report, only accessible to those with special positions, and not to be shared with invisible people such myself?
We are also told that arts are gaining prominence as a catalyst for an efficient conversion of S&T knowledge into innovative products, services, and processes. Again I searched on Google for the evidence of this. Truly there is a vast amount of information available about artists using S&T knowledge to create art which is what artists do, but innovative products, services, and processes? I also looked for evidence of this in the ICT & ART CONNECT study report. Nothing! And what a truly empty piece of work this is. It is one of those reports where there is so little content of value, that material that would normally be relegated to appendices has been included in the main body of the report.
So I am mystified by this talk of efficient conversion of S&T knowledge into innovative products, services, and processes, and even more so when I read, for example, the Digital Humanities manifesto, which clearly states that "in the vast majority of cases, scholarship and art practice are not-for-profit endeavours whose actual costs far exceed real or potential returns." This corresponds with my own perspective and that of most of the artists I have encountered.
So it seems that artists are to be recruited to become the handmaiden's of the economy and of technologists, to create unconventional and compelling new products. Interesting opportunities here perhaps for some subversive activities to comment on the attitude of mind in government agencies, that, on the one hand does not prioritise or value artists, but which, on the other, seeks to appropriate them to the demands of an economic system that is failing and which has no place in a sustainable future.
"But there is 6 million euros available", is your response. To which I would ask by way of reply, "just how much of this will find its way into the pockets of artists?"
What is most likely to be the outcome of this exercise is that the bulk of the money will end up in the hands of the usual organisations that live well off European funding, but which have tenuous connections with domains such as the arts. What artists will most likely end up with, are the crumbs that fall from the table at which these organisations are dining at public expense. Be aware too, that the 50,000 euro experiments referred to in the text of the Call for proposals, is an upper value (the words used are "typically below the range of 50,000 euro), and the amount is for the experiment, not for the artists. In other words, it will be shared among those participating in the experiments – artists and technologist, and perhaps others too.
You will not find in this new addition to the ICT Work Programme, any reference to the creation of art, which is what artists want to do. Nor is there any reference to the use of artistic criteria as part of the assessment of the entries for the STARTS prize, which seems, I must add, to be more about the European Commission in the form of DG CONNECT, seeking to acquire kudos from the arts. There is also no mention of artistic criteria in the selection of the experiments. And perhaps most noteworthy, no mention of using art to do all the important things that, at this moment in time, at this point in humanity’s short story, are most necessary if we as a species are to have a future worth having.
Words one associates with art that are missing: aesthetics, artistic processes, art as a way of knowing the world, art practice as research, artistic freedom, imagination …
So what becomes of artistic freedom, when vainglorious technocrats in state institutions decree how art should be used and what subjects are legitimate? No need to answer the question for the answer lies in history, with communism providing a modern example. And what to say about the notion of developing common work practices and identifying concrete Research and Development and Innovation problems that artistic practices could help address? Much in fact, but this will do:
What is the point of the first, when the value lies in that fact that the approaches are very different, and for the second, well this is something that you should already know, if you really understood and had taken the trouble to document the state-of-the-art and understand what art is about and how artists work. Which brings me to the sum of things: it was evident at the START that the European Commission did not understand; it was evident during the course of the development of ICT-ART CONNECT that the European Commission did not understand and did not want to; and it is evident at the END that they do not understand. STARTS, END, they are both the same, and an opportunity is once again lost. Never mind perhaps in 25 year's time the European Commission will take a fresh look, as they are doing with Social Sciences, to discover that which they have already been told, but have chosen to ignore. Only in 25 year’s time it will be too late.
The realisation of ICT-ART CONNECT in the new ICT work programme – a staggering lack of vision, imagination and creativity. Perhaps there is a creativity deficit after all, for here surely is the evidence. They should perhaps have practiced what they are preaching, and worked with artists to create an unconventional and compelling work programme!
ICT & ART CONNECT DISCONNECT – the decision to disconnect and to hack ICT ART CONNECT is one of the most fruitful things that I have ever done. And the reasons for this will become clear over the coming months and years. ICT-ART CONNECT, or STARTS, is about cognitive biases and deficit thinking, both being reinforced by artist willing to compromise their integrity for the sake of money. This is not the way forward for the arts.
So in the END you got what you wanted – money. Thus STARTS the rest of your life, without credibility and integrity. Enjoy the material rewards, for you have truly eaten of the fruit of the tree of knowledge.
And the END result will be an extremely noisy, highly schizophrenic circus, where all will be claimed to be a major success, but which will, in reality, be largely empty of substance, and once again the European Commission in the form of DG CONNECT will have demonstrated that it is truly a failing institution continuing to cause a huge amount of damage to the European economy.