In just over three years of creative momentum in the radical sanitaryand social conditions on a global scale, we have laid the foundations for a possible art ecosystem in the field of contemporary investigative art. In the exhibition konSekvence ≡ Fragments of a Possible Ecosystem at Ljubljana’s Cukrarna Gallery, we present the results of three intertwining creative fields that are interconnected in terms of concept, technology and form.
Not only does the so far developed project create better conditions for artistic work by establishing thematic laboratories, it is also in great part dedicated to educational activities and investigative learning that takes into account the historical changes in access to knowledge. The exhibition’s third creative field is a set of projects that were created as an integration of artistic ideations and labor into the innovations for a more inclusive, green and technologically empowered society. The results at the end of the first part of the konS project are only the sequences of the entire ecosystem towards which we have set out. Hence the title: konS≡Sequences. The exhibition’s subtitle, Fragments of a Possible Ecosystem, has been chosen because we estimate that the project has not yet reached even one third of its full realization that we aim to do in the near future.
Fragments of a Possible Ecosystem
Initiatives for establishing a coordinated art field for contemporary investigative art had been gestating for over a decade until the Ministry of Culture decided to include the field in the 2014–2017 National Programme for Culture, thereby opening the door to structural financing through EU cohesion funds. In the EU agenda to bridge the gap between Slovenia and more developed EU countries, this possibility was formulated as the promotion of creativity and innovation in the field of so-called smart specialization. Within this strategy, which in the EU jargon has come to be known under the acronym S3, we have identified most of the topics that we have been focusing on for at least thirty years in the field of contemporary investigative art: all possible forms of computation, automatization, mechatronics, robotics, information technologies, aerospace, artificial intelligence, alternative energy sources, new materials, biotechnologies etc. Twenty years ago, these technologies were relatively specialized practices, but have since been embedded into most social activities, radically changing the ways of living in an industrialized society. These changes instantly became the object of artistic interest, which has been visionary in presenting the possible scenarios of co-evolution between technologies and humans ever since the early 1960s.
Compared to other cultural milieus in the international space, Slovenian artistic activity in the field of contemporary investigative art holds an exceptional place, as artworks by Slovenians artists are often a historical reference for the field as a whole. Evidence of that can easily be found by reviewing award-winning works of art on international art platforms and consulting the literature relevant for these types of contemporary artistic creation.
It is in this context that one must understand the desire to establish suitable working conditions for this propulsive field of art and thereby not only facilitate creation within it, but also provide it with at least as much social prestige in the artists’ environment as other fields of art enjoy with their umbrella institutions in local and national galleries, concert halls and theaters.
The coalition of those interested in structural changes in the field of contemporary investigative art has been formed on the designated east–west axis by Youth Cultural Center Maribor, Youth Center Velenje and Youth Center LokalPatriot Novo mesto; the Kersnikova Institute, the Project Atol Institute, the Aksioma Institute, the Ljudmila Association and CONA, all from Ljubljana; and the Arts Academy of the University of Nova Gorica. This is a constellation of nine partner institutions that have been more or less constantly and consistently active in the field of contemporary investigative art, yet have been willing to participate in constructing better conditions for the field as such and in its integration into broader social processes.
Constellation, constant, consistency, construction … What stood out in our search for keywords that would outline the cross-section between partner organizations and the project’s mission was the prefix kons-, which is also a reference to the Slovenian historic avant-garde constructivism, more precisely Srečko Kosovel’s Kons poems, and therefore relates to the dimension of artistic, cultural and political progressiveness. The multilayeredness of the prefix is further extended with the triple equal sign, which Kosovel used as a symbol for contingency, and the word platform, which in our project designates the place (topos) of an open community accessible to all interested subjects from the field of contemporary investigative art.
The launch of the project coincided with the outbreak of the devastating SARS-CoV-2 virus. The sanitary, medical, social and economic fiasco of the century has added a few extra dimensions to an already challenging task, but also inadvertently contributed to a ubiquitous reflection on the potentials and capacities of science and various technologies that are, in one way or another, the focus of contemporary investigative art. Inadequate scientific and technological literacy of individuals and the society as a whole was creating unprecedented opportunities for mystified, falsified and parascientific fabrications, which made it all the more topical to critically use modern technologies in artistic projects. For the first time in the contemporary world, the pandemic outlined a possible world radically different from the one we know, which is why artistic contemplation of possible scenarios of living in the future offers precisely the imaginary framework that the projects under the konS≡Platform bring into question with their positive utopias.
In just over three years of creative momentum in the radical sanitary and social conditions on a global scale, we have laid the foundations for a possible art ecosystem in the field of contemporary investigative art, which we conceived in accordance with the field’s artistic potentials and with the strategic measures of EU development policies. This plan not only emphasizes the creation of better conditions for artistic work, but is also in great part dedicated to education and investigative learning, which takes into account historic changes in access to knowledge as well as integration of artistic ideas into the processes of innovation for a more inclusive, green and technically empowered society. Processing these additional activities required the partner institutions to restructure their way of working and recruit additional staff, which allowed us to begin setting up a new organizational architecture for the whole field. The results that have already been produced at the end of the first part of the project are only the sequences of the whole ecosystem towards which we have set out: konS≡Sequences. That is why the subtitle of the retrospective exhibition of the project, which we estimate is in its first third, is Fragments of a Possible Ecosystem. The exhibition konSekvence at Ljubljana’s Cukrarna Gallery is a presentation of three intertwining creative fields that are interconnected in terms of concept, technology and form.
The central part of the exhibition konSekvence presents artistic projects created in the production laboratories of the konS≡Platform. As the Cukrarna Gallery does not have enough space, some projects are presented in the galleries of partner institutions, which form a network of galleries dedicated to contemporary investigative art: the Kapelica Gallery, Aksioma, Osmoza, Xcenter, Cultural Incubator, the Simulaker Gallery and the Velenje Gallery. In the course of the project, three of these institutions have established well-equipped laboratories for thematic research and production, fostering artistic research and creation at a high level. Here we enable artists to collaborate with researchers, scientists and engineers, giving them access to professionally relevant insights into the possibilities that the latest scientific findings and emerging technologies may hold for us. The robotics, artificial life, signal processing and remote sensing labs have developed projects on the co-existence and co-evolution of robots and non-human life, tissue engineering and bio-computing, on the Internet of Things and big data, on radiation detection in urban environments, tactical remote sensing, various applications of artificial intelligence, precision gardening etc.
The production of such sophisticated artworks is made possible, in part, by the recently created common pool of equipment, which is not directly presented in the exhibition, but is nevertheless a solution that allows the platform partners to optimize investments in artistic projects and run production processes more smoothly.
An equally important part of the exhibition are the projects that have been developed as innovations in the challenge lab, which aims to create the conditions and circumstances to foster innovation. Ever since the lab was created, the project activities under konS Praksa have allowed us to develop the concepts of integrating the artistic way of creating into the creation of inspiring services and products. We have juxtaposed design-thinking with art-thinking and brought them together into a method used in the innovation process by the innovation catalyst. Encouraged by years of experience in artwork production and critical use of technologies, and inspired by some of the approaches in innovation platforms such as MIT Medialab, NokiaBell Labs and especially Ars Electronica Futurelab, with which we share many similarities, we have set course for the very core of the smart specialization strategy equipped with visionary reflections on personalized medicine and pharmacology, biocomputing, personalized food production via robotics, immersive collaborative environments in which artificial intelligence is a partner in dialogue, and forms of intellectual emancipation through peer learning and artificial intelligence. The purpose of these projects is to use out-of-the-box mental positions to encourage visitors to reflect on the feasibility of the projects and on identifying with the obstacles of which they themselves are a part.
Investigative learning is a non-institutionalized, non-centralized and voluntary form of education, which differs from school-based forms in that it is carried out in groups, collaboratively and in solidarity, and in that the tutor does not impart knowledge from the top down, but instead joins the participants in exploring individual topics, developing different technological interfaces or the experience of using them. Workshops that feature investigative learning aim to sensitize participants so that they can critically evaluate the use of applied technologies, thoughtfully interpret scientific discoveries and uncover the creative potentials of both. As part of the konS project, we have organized three annual training for mentors who conduct the workshops, by which we were able to carry out more than 300 workshops across Slovenia. We have also created a support project for investigative learning: a growing repository of guides on how to run workshops – for which artists and mentors can also be commissioned by organizations outside the konS consortium – that is freely available from the dedicated website. The workshop repository will continue to expand, opening up a knowledge marketplace where artists can market their workshops that encourage participants to reflect on electronics, information technologies, wearable technologies, the development and application of sensor systems, remote sensing, signal processing, visualization and sonification of inexplicable phenomena, exploration of future food forms, cultivation of model organisms etc. In the exhibition at the Cukrarna Gallery, investigative learning will be presented through workshops that will take place during the exhibition, an exhibition featuring both workshop products and a library of related instructions, and an online workshop portal under the common name konS≡Park.
Activities at Cukrarna, which will span over a period of one month, will continue with a discursive program through which we will evaluate our work so far. With the temptation to accumulate profits on the one hand and the urgency to provide survival on the other, any reflection on the challenges of tomorrow must be sensitive to the living of future generations who will live the consequences of our indifference today. To this end, we have already invested considerable effort in raising awareness about the urgency of changing the established ways of working, outmoded education methods and imposed consumerism through a program of meetings, round-table discussions and conferences, where we have sought to deepen the understanding of just, sustainable and ethical applications of smart technologies and the development of informed communities; of the integration of formal and non-formal education; management of personal data; regulation of surveillance; alternative currencies; and the possible forms of decentralized autonomous organizations. Many pressing issues have yet to be brought up to date, and it is not easy to create a discourse, let alone ensure that people fully internalize it. So, we still have a lot of work to do.
The platform has enabled us to create new capacities that did not exist before the project: a common technical pool that optimizes access to equipment and facilitates the creation and presentation of artworks, three well-equipped thematic laboratories and connections with research institutions that are already bringing artistic research and production to an enviable level. By systematically facilitating artistic research and production of signification, we are establishing the conditions where new situations brought about by the emergence of new patterns of life and the collapse of the environment that makes this life possible can be understood in greater depth. These are the places where science as production of knowledge is complemented by art as production of meaning. We have also laid the foundations for systemic education and audience development through investigative learning, including an online repository of workshops that can be commissioned by individuals, communities and schools.
Investigative learning is thus used to promote intellectual emancipation and horizontal transmission of knowledge, which, with the advent of the Internet, has radically changed the conditions and circumstances in which schools, academies and universities had been created.
The ultimate challenge that we aim to tackle with the activities under the konS≡Platform project as described above is Readiness for Change. The efforts (in art and other fields) to formulate possible solutions, positive utopias and visionary prototyping must do away with blissful self-righteousness and general social cynicism, and instead actively promote cooperation with the economy, local communities and educational institutions, which need to be lured away from the virtualization of everything by critical, creative and non-conformist artistic approaches. All this work is gradually creating a social ecosystem that is capable of absorbing artistic production and sustaining its artists. And that will be, after all, the ultimate confirmation of whether the konS≡Platform has achieved its mission.
Artistic Director at the Kersnikova Institute
 We use the syntagma contemporary investigative art to avoid using terms such as new media art, intermedia art, hybrid art, tactical media etc., as these have proved to be too ideological. It is the emphasis on mediality that has allowed us to continuously examine what all these media are and what they are not, leaving out relevant artistic practices that did not use media. On the other hand, more precise labels such as net-art, glitch-art, bio-art etc. forcibly compartmentalize art projects into their appearance, denying them the attention to their specific syntax, narrative and poetics. The decision to describe diverse artistic practices that are emerging in parallel with the accelerated changes the world is undergoing through the syntagma contemporary investigative art stems from the emphasis on the way in which works of art are produced. Here, we understand contemporaneity as a dimension of time in which emergence coincides with the artwork that brings it into question, whereas “investigative” denotes a process in which artists tackle a particular interest, explore its emergence, materialization, scientific findings, possible technological solutions, structures, forms and potential effects in order to finally catalyze it into their own poetics of expression.