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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.

General comments

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.

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?"

Jury Comments:
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.

Delany Boutkan, Marten Kuijpers, Klaas Kuitenbrouwer, Setareh Noorani
Alex Walker