Since its foundation in 2013, Het Nieuwe Instituut has carried out and supported research in architecture, design and digital culture. Exhibitions, lectures, archival investigations and publications have served as outputs of research projects and, more importantly, as active platforms for their development. Initiated by the former Head of Research, Marina Otero Verzier, Het Nieuwe Instituut’s Fellowship Programme plays a fundamental role in these platforms. Intended as a means of supporting and learning from various research initiatives and methodologies, the fellowship is ultimately an opportunity to rehearse other modes of thinking and doing.
Following the triptych of calls addressing the body’s burn-out (2018), planetary exhaustion (2019) and ‘regeneration’ through new institutional practices (2020), plus the themeless Call for Fellows (2021), the theme for the 2022 Open Call for Fellows is Testing Grounds.
Het Nieuwe Instituut’s 2022 open call focused on supporting research practices as testing grounds. Approaching these testing grounds as action spaces and networks of relations allows us to find research causes, try out methodologies and develop tools. This year’s theme focused on ‘testing grounds’ as the research content and ways of doing research.
Aside from the field, or ‘ground’, to test ideas, speaking to innovation and laboratory narratives, the testing ground also connotes military and colonial enterprises in which ‘the ground’ and ‘the abroad’ are seen as sites for probing oppressive models of being. This year’s Call for Fellows asked: How can we reimagine the testing ground as a non-extractive, anti-colonial, intersectional, feminist and more-than-human ground for doing otherwise? Testing Grounds is not aimed at exclusionary and sanitised research but considers collective actions that provide foundations for radically rehearsing healing models of co-creation that include all life.
Following Het Nieuwe Instituut’s continuing advocacy of research and design practices that exceed the notion of individual authorship and include multiple perspectives, the call encouraged collaborative practices within design, architecture and digital culture. However, it did not impose ideas on what collaboration implies nor provide guidelines on the relationships involved.
Through this open call, Het Nieuwe Instituut aimed to offer space for testing grounds as sites for action-based forms of research: investigating new materials, exploring other ways of working and collaborating, initiating alternative policy models, regenerating new institutions and retooling archives and forms of heritage while moving our attention to the messy methodologies and dynamic processes that occur when making change happen.
All applications were reviewed based on their engagement with contemporary challenges, the depth of investigation, and the connection to Het Nieuwe Instituut’s mission. Preference was given to proposals demonstrating critical and forward thinking, specificity, situatedness and a distinctive research theme and methodology. Individuals and collectives from any country were invited to apply. Neither curricula vitae nor letters of recommendation were requested. The fellowships are open to all degree levels in all disciplines. Equal priority is also given to those without a degree or institutional affiliation who can demonstrate a high level of creativity, critical thought or other potential in their respective fields.
Between the Open Call for Fellows announcement on 20 June and the deadline on 10 August, Het Nieuwe Instituut received 280 entries. Proposals came from Brazil, Canada, China, Chile, Ethiopia, Finland, France, Germany, Italy, India, Indonesia, Mexico, the Netherlands, Lebanon, Poland, Romania, South Africa, South Korea, Spain, Syria, Switzerland, Taiwan, Turkey, Ukraine, UK, USA, Uzbekistan, and many other countries.
The applicants’ interests included a wide range of approaches and themes, such as investigating curatorial practices, engaging ecofeminism within human and more-than-human ecologies, and examining intersections between digital culture, conflict and resistance. The proposals that focused on architectural approaches included intersectional approaches to space, focusing on structures and cosmologies of all life impacted by infrastructures, climate change and political dynamics. The topics ranged from language in relation to post-colonial theory and as a ground for inclusion and exclusion, both in the digital and in political-cultural contexts, labour rights and union organisations for cultural workers, dreams as spatial cities, documentation of revolts and demands for justice, reimagining specific localised histories in a globalised and connected world and post-seasonal agriculture in relation to the current food crisis.
Research Department members Delany Boutkan, Marten Kuijpers, Kirtis Clarke, Klaas Kuitenbrouwer, Setareh Noorani, Federica Notari, Carolina Pinto and Wietske Nutma read all the entries. They pre-selected 32 projects that best exemplified this open call’s criteria.
The pre-selected proposals, along with the entire submission set, were made available to a jury whose members were Aric Chen (general and artistic director of Het Nieuwe Instituut), Rahul Gudipudi (writer, researcher and exhibitions curator at Jameel Arts Centre and Hayy Jameel), O grupo inteiro (multidisciplinary collective, former Het Nieuwe Instituut research fellows), Lynn Zebeda (impact strategist, board member and co-founder of Dr. Monk) and Feifei Zhou (spatial and visual designer, tutor at Central Saint Martins). The jury members read all 32 pre-selected proposals and could nominate any other projects for inclusion.
The jury meeting took place on 8 and 9 September 2022 via Zoom. Delany Boutkan and Federica Notari (of Het Nieuwe Instituut’s Research Department) chaired the meeting. The jury evaluated the proposals according to their relevance and connection to Het Nieuwe Instituut’s mission and discussed how the proposals included multi-vocal perspectives and approaches to research, how the projects could engage with future circulations, how the latter could instigate honest forms and gestures of acknowledgement, and how the proposals’ ethics might impact the mentioned communities and cultural contexts.
During the pre-selection and selection process, Het Nieuwe Instituut’s team members and jurors abstained from voting on proposals by groups with which they have an affiliation or conflict of interest. The jury’s decision and the report were published and presented on 12 September 2022.
The jury commended the wide range of proposals and collectives that applied and the critical and generative engagement with the theme. The jury recognised and awarded a Research Fellowship to two projects. In agreement with Het Nieuwe Instituut’s representatives, the jury also awarded a Research Stipend to one additional project that proposes an important collaboration and engagement with Het Nieuwe Instituut and its archives. As in previous editions, the jury could suggest additions to the awards and provisions initially included in the call.
The three selected proposals demonstrate sensitivity and urgency, fostering site-specific approaches that can be extended into larger contexts, forming sites for healing and solidarity. The three selected proposals are connected and have the ambition, through locally embedded case studies and contexts, to join the quest for developing new modes of thinking, doing and practice.
Eva Posas (Mexico) is a curator. She works across curatorial and editorial boundaries, and her interests are the immateriality of language, identity and memory as a form of production, and Zapotec culture. Through exhibitions, books, and public art projects, her work has investigated publishing as an articulation of social complexities, storytelling as a form of curating, the crossing between public and private spaces, and the politics of subtleness as a subversive methodology.
Mother Tongues, Transcendental Technologies and Space
Russel Hlongwane is a cultural producer and creative industries consultant based in Durban, South Africa. His work obsesses over the tensions in heritage, modernity, culture and tradition as they apply to black life. His practice includes research, cultural production, design, film and curatorship. He is part of several working groups spread across the Southern African region, the African continent more broadly, and internationally. He has shown work in the continents of Africa, Europe and Asia.
Daniel Frota de Abreu
Through archival research, films, sculptures and lecture performances, Daniel Frota de Abreu investigates the role of fabulation and montage in the portrayal of historical events by documentary practices. His research spans centuries and continents, drawing connections between the geographical displacements of memories and the political implications embedded in scientific knowledge. Recently, he has been an artist-in-residence at Jan van Eyck Academie, Maastricht (the Netherlands) and Jester, Genk (Belgium), and presented works in institutions such as MAK Center for Art and Architecture, Los Angeles (USA), Fondazione Sandretto Re Rebaudengo, Turin (Italy), Fundação Iberê Camargo, Porto Alegre (Brazil) and Festival Sesc_Videobrasil, São Paulo (Brazil).
Eva Posas with Xigagueta
“There are children in this world who have been denied to speak their mother tongue. Their own families tried to prevent them from experiencing the abuse that people considered “indigenous” have to endure. This is the case for many descendants of Nations without State, with histories attached to languages that were or still are forbidden to speak. The equation is as follows: if you speak an indigenous language then you are part of a Nation without a State. Nations without State defend lands. If you suppress the language, you silently remove the people that speak by whom it is spoken and thus eventually, the inhabitants of that land. Even when the mother tongue is cut, Eva Posas proposes that languages trespass their linguistic forms to be potentially spoken through other forms. That’s what Eva calls Phantom Languages and they live hidden beyond words. Rather they can be felt, grasped, or performed through symbolism, the corporeal, places and objects. At times, they borrow the shapes of objects fully charged of language beyond their own definition. One such object is the Xigagueta. This lacquered “vessel for tortillas” is both a container for food and a ritual object for the Zapotecs, the people Eva Posas belongs to. As a continuation of her long-term curatorial research project Phantom Languages, she propose Xigagueta as a meeting space to open, socialize and trace the phantom objects in Juchitán, southern México. A vernacular library without buildings to initiate a sustained assembly, an interpersonal dialogue to come together and develop a library of the phantom where Zapotec language keeps vibrating; its elements are performed through daily objects of traditional design. This project involves oral storytelling, collective creation and publishing work of the process focusing on social and pedagogical strategies of language amplification and transmission. It is oriented towards reading and creating atypical contemporary writing tools through the vernacular design of daily objects. Xigagueta, thus involves a clear path of learning and relearning a language from all its possible angles, to counter the violence acted upon nations without state.”
The research proposal Xigagueta is compelling in its highly personal yet collective investigation of Phantom Languages (as coined by applicant Eva Posas). The proposal is embedded in Eva Posas’ long-term practice, investigating the immateriality of language and identity and memory as a form of production. The jury acknowledges the clear, yet careful and layered, approach of the proposals’ research methodology and imagines how the project has the potential to bring about other modes of living through Zapotec languages and rituals. Next to this, the jury admires the sensitive and non-violent approach to - and analysis of - a violent history which Eva brings forward in her proposal. Xigagueta presents a concrete and situated case study that can be transported into larger conversations surrounding belonging, identity and oral histories. The proposed working framework engages with methodologies that are visual and embedded in collective practices, as Eva engages with personal histories and larger discourses. Lastly, the jury is highly drawn to the potential of the storytelling in Eva’s practice to challenge dominant narratives and change how we relate to nature, and invites her to reflect back at this – in order to strengthen her fellowship in such a direction. The jury sees the importance of a collaboration between Eva’s current state of her research and the fellowship months at Het Nieuwe Instituut and are curious to understand more about how to work through the historical erasure of languages and thus certain identities.
Russel Hlongwane with Mother Tongues, Transcendental Technologies and Space
“This enquiry triangulates an interest in language, architecture and technology. They are explored from the perspective of Zulu heritage with the view to ask; what does the Zulu imagination offer the fields of architecture and technology? And how might isiZulu language be used as a repository to access the 'long past’? A long past scattered with fragments of technology and a rich spatial imagination.
The intention is to explore ways in which the praxis of architecture and technology could be situated in a local context - the 'local’ referring not only to place but rather to a people, the Nguni, who happen to be spread across Southern Africa. The 'speculative’ is used as a methodology to investigate and translate materials of the long past into potential knowledge for architecture and technology.
Within the theme of space, the attempt is to undertake multiple readings of spatial use in rural areas as it applies to various life forms, and the non-living. The theme of transcendental technologies refers to a courageous yet cautious enquiry into a field of practice oscillating between science, transcendence and plant matter. All the while using the (mother tongue) isiZulu as a repository and vehicle to traverse this terrain. ”
Mother Tongues, Transcendental Technologies and Space of Russel Hlongwane brings about an intriguing epistemology of Zulu knowledge in architecture and technology, leading to potential alternative ways of practice. At the same time the proposal investigates spatial practice in rural contexts in order to contribute to a grounded and situated body of knowledge that becomes useful to scholars and students interested in working through a spatial understanding that is more proximate to Zulu histories. The jury acknowledges Russel’s ability to intersect and engage traditional Zulu imaginaries and rituals in the practices of architecture and technology - reflecting on the potential for them to constitute alternative methodologies. The jury appreciates Russel’s reflections on the community amongst which and through which he would conduct his research. They also applaud his reflection on the regenerative circularity of the research, committing to work to engage and bring back the research to the Zulu speaking community. Russel’s work embraces the imaginative whilst also focusing on a practice that is rooted in concrete spatial and virtual considerations, reconfiguring and challenging our understanding of technology, as something that is part of African tradition. As Russel embarks into his research fellowship the jury invites him to embrace the openness of his research and its malleability, whilst also grounding the proposed speculative imaginaries through careful practice-based forms of research which continue to serve the communities addressed in his proposal.
Daniel Frota de Abreu with Memória Forense
"Memória Forense is a transdisciplinary research structure designed to discuss different views on preservation practices. The project will look into the port as a symbolic space in which multiple temporalities of colonial crimes are perpetrated. The case study will focus on the port of Rotterdam, where a new infrastructure is being designed to capture carbon dioxide (CO2) produced by refineries and power plants in the port’s industrial park and bury it indefinitely under the North Sea in empty geological deposits of natural gas.
What are the crossovers between the capture and storage of CO2 and the capture and storage of natural history colonial collections? Following these two axes, archival and fieldwork research on the expansion of the port throughout the centuries will be juxtaposed to an ongoing collaborative research around the forms of preservation of specimens and material culture. What new readings for past and future preservation practices can emerge by putting these two topics together?"
This year’s Call for Fellows jury awarded Daniel Frota de Abreu a Research Stipend for his Memória Forense research proposal. The jury recognised the project proposes an important collaboration and engagement with Het Nieuwe Instituut and the city of Rotterdam and responds to the multiple entangled histories of the Netherlands. The jury acknowledges Daniel’s rigorous engagement with carbon capture and archival practice through the lens of ‘the colonial crime scene’. At the same time, the jury expresses the urgency for projects related to ecology to be as specific and situated as possible, as Daniel’s is. The jury is particularly impressed by Daniel’s ability to approach this specific case of carbon capture and storage in such detail while situating it in dialogue with different disciplines and a multi-layered location. From Daniel’s proposal’s thorough and detailed state, the jury imagines that an important next step in the research is to investigate the relationship between the CO2 infrastructure and Rotterdam’s port and colonial histories. Therefore, the jury grants Daniel a research stipend to continue working on Memória Forense at Het Nieuwe Instituut.