This report looks to the 2018 set of applications submitted in response to Het Nieuwe Instituut’s yearly Call for Fellows, to understand the interests and urgencies in contemporary research, and Het Nieuwe Instituut’s network and position within that context. The Research Department is committed to continuously evaluating and adapting the way fellows are selected and supported.
For the 2018 iteration of the Call for Fellows, the Research Department, together with Ramon Amaro, selected the theme of ‘BURN-OUT’. The theme was selected based on its contemporary relevance and rising cases of work-related health issues. It has been reported that 40% of people who had job-related health issues in the Netherlands in 2017 were either over-stressed or suffering from a ‘burn-out’— a common malady of the contemporary, often precarious, labour conditions. The Call for Fellows initiative set out to address the exhaustion of a growing number of human and other bodies, as a symptom of the presence of exploitative structure within society, throughout institutional, political and biological ecologies.
To ‘burn out’ is to stall, break, or become otherwise unusable. In other words, processes, procedure and participation simply stop working. Yet, ‘burn-out’ is also an opportunity to break open, promote action and catalyse change towards new structures and relations. The Call for Fellows invited proposals which challenged traditional definitions of ‘burn-out’ and would extend knowledge on the subject. How can new, unconventional approaches to research, administration, communications, critical thought and practice be developed and utilised to challenge the inevitability of ‘burn-out’?
This report looks at the 2018 application set, to understand the interests and urgencies in contemporary research, and Het Nieuwe Instituut’s network and position within that context.
Open Call and Jury
Between the announcement of the Open Call on April 18 and the deadline of June 1 2018, Het Nieuwe Instituut received 138 entries in response to the theme BURN-OUT. Applicants were encouraged from a broad selection of disciplines, this was further facilitated by only having one open call, instead of three questions divided by discipline as in previous years (design, architecture and digital culture). It was not required that the applicants have an educational background in these disciplines, yet it was expected from them to display deep engagement with the subject matter.
The format of application changed slightly from previous years, a 500 word research proposal in English was mandatory, along with an introduction to oneself and one’s research. This introduction could have taken the form of, either, a one minute video or an audio file, still, motion graphic or digital engagement, a creative design, text or project example. Neither a curriculum vitae nor letters of recommendation were requested. There was no age limitation for applicants, and applicants of all citizenships and places of residence were invited to apply.
The selection process was the same as in previous years: all 138 entries were read by the Research department at Het Nieuwe Instituut (Marten Kuijpers, Katía Truijen and Klaas Kuitenbrouwer) who then made a pre-selection of 30 projects from the total number of submissions that best exemplified the criteria announced in the terms of the call. Both the pre-selected proposals and the entire application set were made available to a jury comprised of Ramon Amaro (Lecturer in Visual Cultures, Goldsmiths, University of London, Het Nieuwe Instituut Research Fellow 2017), Sandi Hilal (architect, co-director Decolonising Architecture Art Residency, DAAR), Nishant Shah (Dean of Graduate School,ArtEZ University of the Arts) and Jasmina Tešanović (author, feminist, political activist, translator, and filmmaker). The jury was chaired by Marina Otero Verzier (Director of Research, Het Nieuwe Instituut).
The jury recognised and awarded a Research Fellowship to three projects, each of which demonstrated critical rigour and depth of understanding of the broader issues that are at stake in their proposal. Each also deviated from conventional research methodologies and manifestations, combining different fields of expertise and knowledge production.
The three selected proposals depart from locally embedded stories and contexts, but also connect to timely global developments. All projects are sharply positioned within current political discourses, and demonstrate ambition and precision. Instead of addressing burn-out as a contemporary mental health issue, the selected proposals transcend familiar tropes of burning out, and introduce different temporalities, geographies and dimensions of burn-out, as a structural phenomenon. The three selected proposals are Welfare Capitalism and the Female Working Body by Elisa Giuliano, How to Read a Story about Burn-Out by Natalie Dixon and The Bodega (aka the avondwinkel) as a site for Archival Practices by Malique Mohamud.
The pre-selection committee noted the increased diversity in applications from previous years, both in terms of geographies, backgrounds and proposed methodologies. Out of the 138 proposals, 100 were from applicants who were currently residing in European countries, of which 52 were living in the Netherlands. The call received multiple applications from Algeria, Egypt, Mexico, USA, Canada and India, and one application each from Argentina, Barbados, Columbia, Guatemala, China, Vietnam, Japan, Taiwan, Indonesia, The Philippines, Yemen and Jordan. In addition, many applicants positioned their research proposals within the context of a certain location, the breadth of locations specified, further broadened the geographical stretch that the call had. However, there was a pattern of location specific research proposals from applicants who seemingly had little or no connection to the location.
The pre-selection committee found that many applicants proposed topics that align with questions that have been addressed at Het Nieuwe Instituut over the last years. Numerous applications were related to research projects such as Automated Landscapes, Work, Body, Leisure and Dissident Gardens. In addition, many proposals made connections with the State Archive for Dutch Architecture and Urban Planning which is held at Het Nieuwe Instituut.
The fact that there was one theme instead of separate themes for architecture, design and digital culture, possibly led to a broader range of disciplinary backgrounds. Fields of practice included, but were not limited to, investigative journalism, finance, medical health care, philosophy and literature.
Many proposals forged relations to the theme of ‘burn-out’ in similar ways, common themes were, a challenging of (hetro-)normative burn-out, health, capitalism, precarious labour, political burn-out, postcoloniality, self help apps, environmental ‘burn-out’ and the end of the welfare state.
Most of the research proposals detailed more than one methodology or activity which would lead them in their process. Very commonly recurring was the use of common research methods such as interviews, public events, workshops, archival research, field research and literature review. Some proposals introduced other methods, such as 3D modelling and forms of re-enactment. A high number of proposals cited collaboration with other institutions or organisations as part of their methodology.
Compared to the responses to the 2016 and 2017 call, the 2018 applications shared many of the same references to significant theorists, practitioners, and other cultural figures.
The most cited references in 2016, 2017 and 2018 comprised the French philosophers Michel Foucault and Gilles Deleuze. There was much overlap with the references deployed in the 2017 applications, including Dutch architect Rem Koolhaas, French sociologist Bruno Latour, French philosophers Felix Guattari, Henri Lefebvre and Jacques Derrida, Italian philosopher Giorgio Agamben, German theorist Walter Benjamin, Spanish architectural historian and theorist Beatriz Colomina and American science and technology scholar Donna Haraway, and American design theorist Benjamin Bratton.
There were several new references made to theorists and thinkers, that had not appeared in previous years applications, but there is no clear pattern to these. At least two or more applicants referenced political philosopher Antonio Negri, social theorist Brian Massumi, cultural theorist Byung-Chul Han, architect Cedric Price, political theorist Chantal Mouffe, philosopher and political theorist Hannah Arendt, gender and queer theorist Judith Butler and feminist theorist Karen Barad.
Despite the possibility to explore other formats to apply, only 27 out of the 138 applications included attached videos, audio files or other digital engagement. 60 out of the 138 applications included a mix of text and image in their 500 word research proposal, 77 of the written proposals were text only. The orientation of the documents was in the majority standard and portrait (127/138). Arial was the most commonly used typeface, closely followed by Calibri, Helvetica, Times and Times New Roman.
It was noted in the 2017 Application Report under the heading ‘Post Colonial Blind Spots’ that the efforts to disseminate the Call for Fellows beyond Western Europe and the United States increased in the 2017 process and that further efforts and energy should be put into this for the 2018 call. The increased geographic stretch of applications in the 2018 call showed initial progression, however as previously noted despite wide ranging countries of origin and residence, the vast majority of applicants attended some of their higher education in Europe. There is more that can be done to extend the call through various different channels of communication to connect with those working outside the typical Western-European spectrum. As put forward in 2018, Het Nieuwe Instituut will continue to expand the thematic and geographic boundaries of their research practices and is dedicated to engaging with thinkers outside of the European perspective.
Particular effort is made into expanding knowledge circles within Het Nieuwe Instituut in 2019, especially in the context of more-than-human knowledge. For instance, Neuhaus, Het Nieuwe Instituut’s 2019 annual program, will turn the institute into a temporary learning environment which seeks to overcome current ecological and political crises to which human-centred knowledge has led to so far and aims to collectively explore ‘other,’ more-than-human knowledge. In relation to this, Het Nieuwe Instituut encourages more applications from ‘collectives’ and ‘collective bodies’ in the 2019 call. The term collective is open to definition, whether it is a multi-disciplinary research team, a collaboration with non-human entities or a partnership with an institution. In the 2018 call, only 11 out of 138 could be defined as group applications. Remarkable is the relatively high amount of applicants that hold a PhD degree. As in 2016 and 2017, more applications had a background in architecture or digital culture, in contrast to design.
The variety of applications responding to the theme of ‘Burn-Out’ revealed the many subjects which there are to be explored within the theme. In addition to this year’s fellowship program, a series of activities and collaborations shaped a public program. Under the title Life Hacks, a program curated by Silvio Lorusso, and organised jointly by Het Nieuwe Instituut and Piet Zwart MA Experimental Publishing, explored various approaches and techniques that people adopt to design or redesign their lives. The program looked at the mechanisms of self-optimisation and re-invention, against the backdrop of growing labour precarity and an intensified entrepreneurial regime. The research department felt that ‘Burn-Out’ as a human bodily experience has been thoroughly explored, but at the same time many themes that ‘burn-out’ encompasses need more in-depth investigation. Building upon 2018’s open call, the 2019 research trajectory aims to instigate forms of coexistence, sensibility and care for multispecies, collective bodies in times of planetary burn-out. More about the 2019 call: Burn-out. Exhaustion on a Planetary Scale.