— Cultural Sources of Newness

Hiding the embodiment of knowledge

The 2nd international Hidden Hunger congress hosted by the University of Hohenheim was information-rich. Between Tuesday March 3rd and Friday March 6th 2015 the program offered the approximately 360 participants from around the globe

  • 66 lectures,
  • 35 poster presentations,
  • 2 panel discussions and
  • 1 film

by experts from numerous disciplines, such as nutrition, gynecology, pediatrics, agricultural sciences, and economics.

The scientific program was complemented by a “Science Meets Culture” stream , with 6 artists and 3 students from the Transdisciplinarity Master’s Program of the Zürich University of the Arts.

Their activities took many different forms:

  • Publishing Hunger” an interactive process of artistic inquiry throughout the congress, in which Andreas Liebmann and the students–Nina Willimann, Dominic Oppliger, and Eirini Sourgiadaki-mingled with the experts, conducted interviews, took photographs, and continually responded to what they saw and heard in various visual and aural formats, as well as on a blog;
  • Portraits: Dorte Holbek  and Romana Schwaer made portraits of participants with the name of their favorite food;
Dorte Holbek Portraits

Dorte Holbek Portraits

Seminar conversation

Seminar conversation with artists and academics, University of Hohenheim March 6 2015

 

Ulf Aminde

Ulf Aminde about and in his film

and

  • An interactive performance with a video installation and dinner-discussion entitled NOMA, Luxury Face part 2, led by Dorte Holbek and Andreas Liebmann and the Zurich University of the Arts students on Friday evening.
NOMA Luxury Face part 2

NOMA Luxury Face part 2

What can one learn from this experimental combination of people from the distinct worlds of science and the arts in a conference program? In order to generate some insights, the curator of the Science Meets Culture stream, Jan Philipp Possmann,  had invited me to observe the interactions between the artists and scientific experts because I have been studying artistic interventions in organizations around Europe since 2008. Jan welcomed my suggestion to invite Gervaise Debucquet (Audencia Nantes School of Management) as well, not only because we have been writing together on artistic interventions, but also because she has years of research expertise in nutrition and food perception. So, in addition to being an observer, she joined the Science meets Culture program as an expert in the seminars on Friday afternoon.

We both walked around; asked questions; listened to lectures, informal conversations and music; looked at slides, posters, a movie and people; tasted and smelled food; and we reflected on the experience. See also my earlier posts from the conference:

Looking back over the three days, what struck me in particular are the different ways scientists and artists engage in generating and sharing knowledge. The scientific program assigned each expert 15-30 minutes to make their presentations. The parts of the program designed by the artists used time very differently, ranging from “whole day” for Publishing Hunger to 90 minute seminars on Friday afternoon, and open-ended interactions in the evening events.

It was not just a matter of  more varied formats and longer time slots that distinguished knowledge-sharing in the two worlds. What happened with people’s knowledge within each period differed significantly. The scientific sessions were dedicated to expressing and receiving expert information as efficiently as possible. The artistic sessions were dedicated to creating experiences and generating understanding. Learning from personal experience, sharing learning through storytelling, and taking responsibility for action were themes that wove through the artist-led sessions. The artists emphasized personal, often embodied, knowledge (their own and that of the people they engaged with); the scientific experts presented depersonalized knowledge.

I was intrigued to notice dis-embodiment in action at the conference: when I asked the scientific experts what they thought about having artists integrated in the program, every response was about “the arts”. When the subject is hunger, the dis-embodiment of knowledge is particularly ironic. The artists tried to get the experts to tap into their own personal experiences with hunger(s), whereas the scientific conference setting led the participants to talk about the hunger of unidentified “others” around the world.  This experience reminded me of what the artist Robert Irwin observed at the conference he designed decades ago for NASA with a physicist from the Jet Propulsion Laboratory on the habitability of space: the experts invited to the conference did not notice how radically the artist altered the conditions of the space in which they were presenting their research.

Academic publication and presentation norms conspire to hide the embodiment of knowledge.  But at what cost? How credible/useful is  knowledge about topics like habitability and (hidden) hunger if it does not include awareness of one’s own and other human bodies?

When I compare the interactions in this event to my case studies on artistic interventions in organizations, I see the conference as an “interspace” in which the usual rules and norms of the professional world of science can be suspended, thereby enabling the participants to discover the value of different ways of thinking, working and, most importantly: being. Individually and collectively. I hope that we will see traces of the effects of this conference in the work of the artists and scientific experts in the months and years ahead. And also in the way I perceive, write, and live!

I am also very curious to see what Gervaise Debucquet will discover if it works out for her to follow up on our idea of conducting a comparative analysis of the lexical composition of the scientists’ abstracts describing their research on the hunger of others vs. their responses in the interviews with the artists about their own hunger(s).