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, but more importantly as active platforms for their development. Het Nieuwe Instituut’s Fellowship Programme has a fundamental role among these platforms. Intended as a means of supporting, and learning from, a variety of research initiatives and methodologies, the fellowship is ultimately an opportunity to rehearse other modes of thinking and doing.
In a departure from the calls of recent years on the body’s burn-out (2018), planetary exhaustion (2019), and ‘regeneration’ through new institutional practices (2020), the 2021 iteration of the Open Call for Fellows didn’t propose a theme to which applicants had to respond. Instead, it offered a channel to attune with and amplify the applicant’s issues of concern.
With the 2021 open call, Het Nieuwe Instituut turned the gaze outwards. In recognising the perils of institutions not having a finger on the pulse of society, as well as the many blind spots of institutions and the peoples who work in them, the 2021 call left the theme open, allowing applicants to decide what is relevant for them and the world today.
Following Het Nieuwe Instituut’s continuing advocacy for 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 did it provide guidelines on the relationships involved.
Applicants were invited to submit a proposal that addresses their current investigations, explorations, and obsessions through the lens of architecture, design and digital culture. Applicants were asked to clearly state their main focus, aim, and the socio-economic, nature-cultural, and political context in which their projects are grounded. They could incorporate a larger system of reference, schools of critical thought, transdisciplinary practices, and non-academic references, as well as different forms of engagement and co-creation. They could bring the seeds or ruins of what is coming next or propose ways to hold space for future generations, and account for something that we don’t yet know.
All applications were reviewed based on their engagement with contemporary challenges, the depth of investigation, and connection to Het Nieuwe Instituut’s mission. Preference was given to proposals that demonstrate critical and forward thinking, specificity, situatedness and a distinctive research theme and methodology. Individuals and collectives from all places of residence were invited to apply. Neither a curriculum vitae nor letters of recommendation were requested. The fellowships are open to all degree levels in all disciplines (design, architecture and digital culture). Equal priority was given to those without a degree or institutional affiliation who could also demonstrate a high level of creativity, critical thought or other potential in their respective fields.
Between the announcement of the Open Call for Fellows on 24 June and the deadline on 13 August, Het Nieuwe Instituut received 111 entries. Proposals came from Austria, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Brazil, Canada, Chile, China, Colombia, Ethiopia, Finland, France, Germany, India, Indonesia, the Netherlands, Palestine, Poland, Romania, Russia, Senegal, South Africa, Spain, Switzerland, Trinidad and Tobago, Ukraine, the UK, the USA, Venezuela and many other countries. The applicants’ interests included reading colonial architectures and histories through domestic objects and spaces, analysing coastal ecologies and livelihoods through visual essays, and examining architecture’s relationship to structural debt and the chains of bureaucratic violence. Topics ranged from the internet’s material infrastructures, re-imagining artificial intelligence, housing justice and spatial inequality, colonial and post-colonial ruptures, sacred spaces, more-than-human relationships, and connections between language, globalisation and economy.
All the entries were read by Research department members Janilda Bartolomeu, Delany Boutkan, Alessandra Fudoli, Ludo Groen, Marten Kuijpers, Klaas Kuitenbrouwer, Setareh Noorani, Federica Notari, Carolina Pinto and Katía Truijen, who made a pre-selection of 28 projects that best exemplified the criteria announced in the call.
The pre-selected proposals along with the entire submission set were made available to a jury whose members were: Katerina Chuchalina (chief curator at the V-A-C Foundation, co-founder of the Centre for Experimental Museology, and co-curator of Manifesta 13 biennial in Marseille), Simone C. Niquille (researcher, designer, lecturer and former fellow at Het Nieuwe Instituut), Felicity D. Scott (professor of architecture, director of the PhD programme in architecture (history and theory), and co-director of the CCCP programme at the Graduate School of Architecture, Planning and Preservation, Columbia University), and Squirrel Nation: Erinma Ochu and Caroline Ward (research collective working at the intersection of design, technology and ecology and currently JUST AI racial justice visiting fellows at the Ada Lovelace Institute). The jury members were asked to read all 28 pre-selected proposals and were invited to nominate any other projects for inclusion.
The jury meeting was held on 9 and 10 September 2021 via Zoom. The meeting was chaired by Marina Otero Verzier, Katía Truijen and Delany Boutkan (of Het Nieuwe Instituut’s Research department). Proposals were evaluated on the basis of their relevance, singularity and connection to Het Nieuwe Instituut’s mission. The jury members discussed how the proposals might open up forms of publicness and systems of engagement within a research practice; how they 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 are affiliated or have a conflict of interest. The jury’s decision and the report were published and presented on 17 September 2021.
The jury celebrated the wide range of proposals and collectives that applied, and the critical as well as generative engagement with the theme. The jury recognised and awarded a Research Fellowship to two projects. Additionally, the jury, in agreement with Het Nieuwe Instituut’s representatives, decided to award one additional project that proposes an important collaboration and engagement with Het Nieuwe Instituut and its archives with a Research Stipend. As in previous editions, the jury had the ability to propose additions to the awards and provisions initially included in the call. With this Research Stipend, the jury recognised a project that proposes an important collaboration and engagement with Het Nieuwe Instituut, its research team and its archives, and that addresses particular gaps in the official historiography of Dutch architecture and urban planning.
The three selected proposals demonstrate timeliness and ambition, fostering collective forms of research and networks of solidarity. They all depart from locally embedded contexts, yet also connect with the quest to develop new modes of thinking and practice.
While acknowledging and engaging with situated forms of heritage, the three awarded projects share a generative and future-oriented approach. Taken together, the selected proposals present transversal solidarities and bring to the fore pluriversal knowledge.
- MELT with ACCESS SERVER
- The School of Mutants
- Robin Hartanto Honggare with Building Commodities: Stories from the Plantations’ Past
MELT with ACCESS SERVER
(Loren Britton and Isabel Paehr)
“ACCESS SERVER is a digital arts tool that disrupts systematically ableist institutions. Unequal labour is imposed on disabled people in the form of making access requests for closed captions, sign-language and scent-free spaces. ACCESS SERVER is a website and email server that provides email templates and €20 per email to support disabled people’s access requests, acknowledging the labour of asking spaces and institutions for access in an ableist world. During our fellowship, we – disabled and trans* researchers – will develop a website with texts and resources on accessibility, organise a fund and program an email server. By collectivising ‘individual’ emails, we plan to transform institutions’ relationship to access. The project builds an interface between disabled people who email for access to events and organisers who need information on how to reduce barriers and create access. All emails routed through the server will link to the ACCESS SERVER website in the footer, and automatically cite previous access requests to the same institution. This creates care, engagement, community and networking, shared knowledge about access, and hopefully fewer barriers.”
ACCESS SERVER is a much-needed, transformational proposal that proposes a redistribution of the fellowship stipend, to shift and redistribute labour around disability access requests back onto cultural institutions. The proposed collective email server is a way to make these processes less solitary and foster collective forms of action. The jury acknowledges the proposal’s carefully thought-out and layered forms of solidarity, queering methodologies and playfulness with technology, without resorting to technological solutionism. The jury sees the potential of this project as a vehicle to start a necessary conversation from a minoritised edge, and is excited by how it proposes an infrastructure to unveil and share structures of power. The jury is also interested in what it could mean for this proposal to be funded by a cultural institution, such as Het Nieuwe Instituut, and the change and forms of solidarity, including within programming, that this could bring about with and for disabled people, with the burden of access requests lifted. Finally, the jury was impressed by the way in which MELT translated their proposed action into a written and video format clearly outlining the concept in practice.
The School of Mutants
(Hamedine Kane and Stéphane Verlet-Bottéro)
“Expanding our previous investigations and multimedia installations on educational utopias linked to Senegalese independence, the School of Mutants is developing as an ephemeral and itinerant school, iterating across various places and temporalities, based on the encounter and dialogue between interstitial, sometimes invisible, experiences that face the necessity of transmitting, creating and pluralising knowledge in mutating territories. Our collective is extending its research to various contexts across the continent and in the Afro-Caribbean world, in order to propagate little-known experiments following African independences, that provide useful materials to think through the production and transmission of knowledge in the search for decolonised, terrestrial futures.
We are collecting testimonies, archives, critical texts and visual materials spanning a diversity of territories and initiatives, and look forward to exploring Dutch histories concerning relations with the continent, colonial past and radical education. The creative and discursive outcomes will explore ‘mutant’ practices of situated pedagogies. Among the research questions that animate our work: while the state of ruin seems to embody the planetary re-composition of space and places, what kind of decentralised forms of education are being invented in the rubble of the techno-scientific project? What epistemological contaminations propagate and renew, outside of utilitarian fetters, the possibilities of enunciation, action and intensification of subjectivities of becoming?”
The School of Mutants is a layered and situated project that departs from the experimental schools and universities conceived after 1960 in Senegal, which combined post-colonial utopia, pan-African futurism and radical architecture. The jury is impressed by the precise pedagogical experiment that involves the creation of a collective platform for art, design, research and activism, which while contemporary draws on histories in a thoughtful manner. The jury commends the fact that the project relies on many individuals, and its honesty in communicating these collective efforts. The jury also applauds the School of Mutants’ solidarity network, which we imagine promises to bring new research perspectives to their time as part of the fellowship. Lastly, the school’s ways of publishing and making its work public are impressive, and public moments are held in high regard for their specificity and subtlety, proposing formats which are not yet institutionalised but instead bring their own, well thought-out, ways of assembly.
Robin Hartanto Honggare with Building Commodities: Stories from the Plantations’ Past
“Dutch buildings in Indonesia have often been celebrated as evidence of progress, stylistic innovation, and cultural heritage. Often missing in the architectural narrative is the heart of the colonial project: the plantations – the extractive reality that permanently transformed the land into uncanny, homogenous landscapes dominated by the global cash crops sustaining the economic machine and colonial rule. Drawing perspectives from architectural history, environmental history, and colonial studies, this research examines how buildings, such as processing factories, botanical stations, immigration centres, hospitals and logistic infrastructures participated in the production and circulation of commodities. In these plantation spaces, colonial architecture is not only about buildings constructed in the colonial period, but more importantly, about the architecture of colonialism. The project will gather field and archival materials from both remnants of colonial plantations in Indonesia and the state and corporate archives stored in various cultural institutions in the Netherlands.”
Robin Hartanto Honggare’s proposal Building Commodities: Stories from the Plantations’ Past addresses the colonial architecture of plantations in Indonesia. The research uses specific case studies in Riau, North Sumatra and West Kalimantan to analyse the architecture of colonialism and ecological destruction. The proposal reveals how architectures of colonial plantations reconfigure soil, plants, microbes and people across space and time. The jury praises Robin’s intricate, humble work and the ways in which he mobilises his long-term research project through different channels. The jury acknowledges Robin’s precision and his thoughtful efforts on thinking through the plantation as a case study where architecture is dissolved into the mechanism of capital. The jury imagines an important collaboration and connection to Het Nieuwe Instituut and its archives, and therefore, grants Robin a research stipend to continue working on Building Commodities: Stories from the Plantations’ Past at Het Nieuwe Instituut.