Through an International Open Call for Research Fellows, Het Nieuwe Instituut invited practitioners and researchers in the fields of architecture, design, and digital culture to work in residence from September 2017 to February 2018. Applicants were asked to submit a research proposal with a unique perspective and specific methodology to address pressing contemporary questions in which architecture, design and digital culture play a part.
The fellowship is a 6-month position that entails individual as well as collaborative work with other fellows, interaction with the institute’s Research & Development (R&D) department and collaborations with external partners. Fellows will have access to the facilities of Het Nieuwe Instituut, including the reading room, archives, public spaces and presentation rooms. In the long term, the programme is also intended to complement, reflect on, interact with and critique the ongoing activities of the institute.
The architecture fellowship encouraged proposals that would investigate the architectural legacy of the former Dutch colonial territories and their different forms of heritage and after-lives. Design proposals were requested that would confront the duality of objects as both embodiments of local material cultures and highly mobile commodities. The digital culture fellowship invited applicants to critically evaluate algorithmic cultures and information interfaces, with sensitivity towards practices of open access. Applicants did not need a degree in the discipline they chose to investigate, but were expected to display deep engagement with the subject matter. Neither a curriculum vitae nor letters of recommendation were requested. There was no age limit for applicants. Applicants of all citizenships and places of residence were welcome.
Between the announcement of the Open Call on 13 March 2017 and the deadline of 16 April 2017, Het Nieuwe Instituut received 176 entries in response to the international Call for Fellows. Proposals came from Argentina, Brazil, Croatia, Egypt, Germany, Hong Kong, India, Indonesia, Italy, the Netherlands, South Africa, the United States and many other countries. Topics varied from the science of sleep to ship breaking, the colonial university campus as a site for dissidence, and projects on algorithmic terraforming and new artificial materials.
The 176 entries were read by the R&D department at Het Nieuwe Instituut (Marten Kuijpers, Landscape and Interior; Tamar Shafrir, Things and Materials; Katía Truijen and Klaas Kuitenbrouwer, Digital Culture), who made a pre-selection of 33 projects (11 projects per discipline) 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 Morehshin Allahyari (artist, activist, and educator), Quinsy Gario (performance poet, visual artist and theatre maker), Selva Gürdoğan (architect, founder of Superpool, director of Studio-X Istanbul), Susan Schuppli (artist, researcher, Senior Lecturer and Director of the Centre for Research Architecture, Goldsmiths), Marina Otero Verzier (Head of Research & Development, Het Nieuwe Instituut), and Guus Beumer (General and Artistic Director, Het Nieuwe Instituut). The jury was asked to read all 33 pre-selected proposals and invited to nominate any other projects for inclusion.
The jury meeting was held on 8 May 2017 at Het Nieuwe Instituut in Rotterdam. Proposals were evaluated on the basis of their engagement with the fellowship themes, imaginative reach, depth of investigation, and critical understanding of the role of the structures of power and domination at stake in the sites and methodologies proposed. Preference was given to proposals that included collaborations with other institutions, NGOs and organisations in the Netherlands and abroad. During the pre-selection and the selection process, Het Nieuwe Instituut’s team members and jurors abstained from voting on proposals by individuals or groups with which they are affiliated or have a conflict of interest. The jury’s decision and the report were published and presented on 23 May 2017.
This year, the R&D department of Het Nieuwe Instituut decided to focus the Call for Fellows on three pressing contemporary questions connected to architecture, design and digital culture, in a deliberate attempt to engage with current struggles and debates. This approach facilitated a wide-ranging discussion on the topics, methodologies, theoretical approaches, references, and assumptions embedded within the applicants’ proposals. It also allowed for the identification of common preoccupations and spaces for agency. Overall, both the jury and the R&D department were impressed by the quality and urgency of the proposed subjects. In order to facilitate the aims and potentials of diverse communities of researchers and practitioners, the jury also considered the ongoing need to fund, support and disseminate research projects that are based outside of institutional or academic contexts.
The jury recognised and awarded a Research Fellowship to three unique projects, each of which demonstrates critical rigour and depth of understanding of the broader issues that are at stake in their proposal. Each also displays a marked departure from established modes of thinking and conventional working methodologies. Alongside these outstanding projects, the jury also chose to recognise seven exceptionally strong proposals by awarding them Honourable Mentions. The R&D department expressed its commitment to engaging in a conversation with the applicants who received an Honourable Mention. This discussion could explore possible modes of future collaboration around the development and presentation of research. Additionally, Het Nieuwe Instituut identified several other proposals that could be developed as independent projects within the institute’s public programme of exhibitions, events and publications, or could be supported by the institute and its partners.
A more extensive report on current research topics, references, languages, geographies and methodologies based on the 176 proposals will be published by Het Nieuwe Instituut’s R&D department in the coming months. The report will also reflect on changes in the characteristics of the proposals and demographics of the applicants since the 2016 report on the applications for last year’s fellowship positions in architecture, design and digital culture, which can be accessed here.
- Ramon Amaro with Visualising Race/Decolonising Design (theme: Digital Culture)
- Sara Frikech and Daphne Bakker with The Unquiet Land (theme: Architecture)
- Christopher Lee with Immutable: A Mineral History of Currency and Typography (theme: Design)
- Shehab Awad with Portraits of Opacity (theme: Digital Culture)
- Emilie De Keulenaar with Algorithmic Diplomacy: re-designing algorithms for a non-polarised retrieval of information online (theme: Digital Culture)
- Hamed Khosravi with The Nomos of the Sea (theme: Architecture)
- Pedro Oliviera and Luiza Prado (A Parede) with Cursed Materialities – Wundkammern and Decolonising Patua’s (theme: Design)
- Damáso Randulfe with Atlas of Shores (theme: Architecture)
- Maayan Strauss with Shipbreak (theme: Design)
- Sina Zekavat with The Political Architecture of the Colonial University Campus (theme: Architecture)
Visualising Race/Decolonising Design by Ramon Amaro
“Visualising Race/Decolonising Design re-thinks modes of visualising black political subjectivity in art, theory and design. Current research in face detection is concerned with the inequitable distribution of power. It considers specifically how face detection, surveillance and other visioning technologies use data to discriminate against some individuals over others. While surveillance renders the black body hyper-visible to modes of power and quantification, it is also contended that surveillance is an opportunity to reclaim black political subjectivity. Visualising Race/Decolonising Design starts from the polarity between visibility as subjective dominance and visibility as political resistance. It suggests art, theory and design practice can make use of this tension to articulate new ways of ‘seeing’ the black body. The project proposes to develop a research network that works through face detection, computer vision and surveillance to re-think design methodology and creative practice.”
Comments from the Jury: The jury finds in Visualising Race/Decolonising Design a highly relevant and feasible project with strong political, practical and theoretical insights and supporting experiences. Amaro’s proposal for re-thinking the modes of visualising black political subjectivity through visioning technologies constitutes highly original work around race that is still in the early stages of being discussed within computer science and software studies. In addition, Amaro aims to create and enforce a research network through workshops, meetings and interventions, resulting in an exhibition. The jury is confident that this project will make a significant contribution to the field, and suggests revisiting the spaces, times and forms of organisation of the collective activities and meetings in order to confront the conditions of access for particular groups, aiming at the widest possible reach.
The Unquiet Land by Sara Frikech and Daphne Bakker
“The Unquiet Land will examine the legacy of Dutch colonialism in Suriname via the landscape as a living archive. Landscape figures prominently in Caribbean postcolonial literature. It was through the landscape that such thinkers as Edouard Glissant and Frantz Fanon expressed the reclamation of identity and place in the region that gave birth to modern capitalism and globalisation. The landscape offers the opportunity to pursue a neutral discourse through which we can develop a botanical biography of Suriname, exposing a global narrative of displacement and environmental degradation. Applying literary techniques inspired by Caribbean writers, we will publish several essays exploring the themes which shape the Surinamese landscape. These essays will guide and inform the design of an evolving garden, which will be the embodiment of the living archive, revealing to us how the past is still thriving within the present.”
Comments from the Jury: The jury recognises the sensitivity and thoughtfulness of the proposal by Sara Frikech and Daphne Bakker. This well-conceptualised reading of the land and botany in Suriname is supported by a political argument that is simultaneously strong and sensitive to local conditions and communities, and manifests a robust understanding of the context. Their position is courageous and commendable, and challenged the brief itself. The jury encourages Sara Frikech and Daphne Bakker to explore different strategies for community engagement in connection to the proposed outcome.
Immutable: A Mineral History of Currency and Typography by Christopher Lee
“This research project critically explores the political dimension of typography through the speculative production of documentary instruments and forms. This inquiry is premised on the idea that graphic artifacts, like writing and money, function as historiographic instruments and vehicles of power. Addressing the North American context (also known as Turtle Island), this project argues that the populist discourses of both the left and the right obfuscate their foundation on illegitimate settler-states that through documentary forms—from passports, maps, and money to treaties, land titles and constitutional documents—reproduce the subversion of indigenous (“local”) systems of governance by achieving an immutability of these forms against time and politics. If history, provenance and title are fabricated through technologies that produce immutable inscriptions, what might an interrogation through the misuse and misapplication of these technologies produce? The methodology of this inquiry entails a material engagement with a variety of past and contemporary inscription technologies that range from clay tablets to coinage, from typography to cryptography.”
Comments from the Jury: The proposal investigates money as an intrinsic object of material culture and explores the role of design in typography. While there have been various attempts in recent years to analyse the design of currencies in relation to political and economic systems, Lee proposes a very idiosyncratic and intriguing approach. In dealing with national identities and the imaginaries associated with the construction of nation states, Lee also emphasises the engagement of indigenous people and their experiences. The jury acknowledges the originality of the project in combination with a well-conceived and defined methodology alongside a sustained programme of study and research, including a relevant network of collaborators. While demonstrating theoretical and historiographic insight, the jury also encourages Lee to further connect the project to contemporary discussions and struggles.
Portraits of Opacity by Shehab Awad
“Challenging the prevailing notion of sleep as a state of quiescence, medical imaging technologies are being used to capture and visualise our unconscious thoughts with the aim of helping those suffering from trauma, memory loss and various sleep disorders. Part of a larger inquiry into the potential consequences of scientific discovery, Portraits of Opacity brings together multidisciplinary perspectives to ask whether the value of sleep is predicated on preserving the unknowability of its experience.”
Comments of the Jury: A highly engaging and timely proposal that investigates the quantification and commodification of sleep. The jury recognises the strong methodology and relevance of the subject to current struggles in connection to labour conditions, human rights, health and safety, as well as its capacity to shed light on emerging forms of control and consumerism. The jury also identifies the challenges associated with the broad scope of the subject.
Algorithmic Diplomacy: re-designing algorithms for a non-polarised retrieval of information online by Emilie De Keulenaar
“This proposal intends to explore the polarising effects of a platform’s search ranking algorithms by altering them in such a way that they organise and retrieve information in a non-polarised order. It thus explores the possibility that we design mechanisms capable of systematising one’s access to information online in ways that facilitate diplomatic dialogue. If search engine algorithms are partly at fault for inducing polarisation online, can we imagine them doing the opposite?”
Comments of the Jury: Algorithmic Diplomacy is a concise and applied research project that seeks to visualise the polarising practices of search-ranking algorithms through YouTube. It demonstrates an understanding of the controversies around algorithmic decision-making, and proposes a critical position that further contributes to current efforts at politically reordering the online realm as well as modes of digital activism. The jury acknowledges the potential relevance of applying the concept of “diplomacy” to the field of algorithmic culture as an analytic tool and encourages further reflection upon this notion.
Nomos of the Sea: Architecture of Logistics in VOC’s ventures in the Persian Gulf by Hamed Khosravi
“Contrary to the majority of colonial powers, the Dutch overseas empire was mainly shaped through private trading companies, such as Verenigde Oost-Indische Compagnie (VOC, or Dutch East India Company). Although the VOC was a private corporation it was granted a special jurisdictional power; having the right to wage war, to imprison and to execute convicts, to negotiate treaties and to establish colonies. In fact the VOC naval forces were freelance Dutch agents who were to expand the empire at their own risk. The Nomos of the Sea reads the architectural legacy of the VOC as geopolitical apparatuses to conduct the law of the motherland remotely, materialising a pervasive state of exception.”
Comments of the Jury: Nomos of the Sea is a compelling research exploration and theoretical proposition on the architecture of logistics and its relation to particular spatio-juridical conditions. Using strong historical foundations, the project focuses on the underexplored architecture legacy of the Verenigde Oost-Indische Compagnie (VOC) in the Persian Gulf, as a site to investigate practices of land appropriation. The jury is particularly impressed by the way in which Khosravi attempts to make historical research relevant today. The project sheds light on the mechanisms by which extractive and resource-appropriating activities are legitimised for international trade, and connects them to the current world of logistics and the corporate nature of Dutch colonialism.
Cursed Materialities: Wundkammern and decolonising Patua’s by Pedro Oliviera and Luiza Prado (A Parede)
“Colonialism is a powerful curse. It stretches time and space, contaminating ways of thinking and intervening in the world; shaping how we see ourselves and others. Design is directly implicated in this curse; by establishing and imposing taste regimes, it fabricates categories of bodies and spaces, materialising them in contemporary artefacts. Our proposal seeks to engage in a decolonisation of a jinxed material culture, identifying, cataloging and cleansing contemporary cursed objects in a Wundkammer – a cabinet of colonial wounds.”
Comments of the Jury: The jury finds in Cursed Materialities a methodologically relevant project that seeks to reverse the predominant narrative of post-colonialism by investigating what Oliveira and Prado describe as “cursed colonial objects, images, and spaces”. They propose to use design as a tool for researching alternative pedagogies, which would manifest in a collective learning practice developed together with different local communities in Rotterdam. Through the collection of objects associated to colonial curses, the creation of narratives, short stories and scenarios around them, Oliveira and Prado aim to upturn the pre-conceptions around what “Dutchness” is or might be, and unravel the relationships of power associated with this notion.
Atlas of Shores by Damáso Randulfe
“Atlas of Shores is an ongoing research project that examines the spatial construction of the Atlantic seaboard, studying shorelines as registers of environmental, economic, political and epistemic transoceanic flows. Its coming iteration will analyse the role and afterlife of the Dutch colonial project in the formation of the global Atlantic and the production of its shores. With this aim, it will mobilise archival knowledge, generate alternative cartographies and explore the decolonial potential of the atlas.”
Comments of the Jury: Atlas of Shores proposes to radically re-interpret the formalised documentary tools of mapping, archives and exhibitions in order to examine the landscape and legacy of Dutch colonialism in the Atlantic. Randulfe’s project is sensitive to the power associated with “legibility” in various formats, noting how what is different or unrecognisable in the eyes of the coloniser easily becomes invisible within or excluded from codified forms of cultural memory. The jury recognises Randulfe’s commitment to mapping the intertwining of landscape, seascape and capital in the Atlantic as an ongoing and politically-astute project, and encourages the continued dissemination of the research through written essays alongside cartography.
Shipbreak by Maayan Strauss
“The maritime shipping industry facilitates the global movement of objects, bringing us 90% of everything we consume. Yet the maritime shipping industry is consolidating, as trade in material goods has flattened since 2008, and is seeing an increasing amount of end-of-life vessels. This proposal aims to identify possible design and art interventions related to dangerous ship-breaking yards in South Asia, where cargo ships—like the commodities they once carried—become obsolete. The research is aimed towards the development of a platform that can support both artistic initiatives and political and strategic engagement in a large geographic and organisational network.”
Comments of the Jury: The jury recognises the potential and ambition of the proposal Shipbreak, which addresses the reduced economic demand in the shipping of physical goods by focusing on the object level of obsolescence and the systemic level of national policies. It also identifies the infrastructural challenges in Bangladesh that prevent these admittedly dire practices of material harvesting from transforming local micro-economies. Strauss aims to mobilise creativity towards issues of social and environmental justice. The jury is convinced by the relevance of the topic, and encourages the activist approach.
The Political Architecture of the Colonial University Campus by Sina Zekavat
"The research project explores the histories and transformations of Dutch colonial university campuses in two former Dutch colonies. By looking at the material and immaterial processes of spatial production in the two university campuses, the research aims to map the overlapping narratives and trajectories of colonial and anti colonial power dynamics that have emerged, and continue to emerge, from the spaces of colonial university campuses."
Comments of the Jury: A specific and necessary project on universities as a contentious site of both colonial power and the decolonisation of knowledge. The jury highlights the capacity of this proposal to produce new knowledge and instigate relevant conversations about the future of education. Zekavat sheds light on the forms of inclusion and exclusion associated to the architecture of pedagogical spaces, and simultaneously reveals how seemingly oppressing environments could be turned into liberating devices, thus revealing the role of universities as sites for contestation, dissidence, resistance and change.