Out of the box: getting artists involved in projects

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In the past year, Witteveen+Bos supervised the creation of the Environment and planning vision for the municipality of The Hague. As part of that project, we hosted two artist initiatives: Urban Data Forest and Repairing with Lichen. The two projects, which both focus on redefining the relationship between the city and the natural surroundings, were developed in the specific context of the Environment and planning vision for The Hague. The results of these so-called S+T+ARTS residencies were presented in the autumn of 2022 at MAXXI Rome and ZKM Karlsruhe.

It involves the Dutch development of the European S+T+ARTS programme, called ‘Repairing the Present’, to arrive at possible solutions for the European Green Deal. S+T+ARTS is an initiative of the European Commission aimed at developing new forms of innovation at the cutting edge of art, science and technology.

DNA data storage

Grow Your Own Cloud is a Paris art collective that was founded by Cyrus Clarke and Monika Seyfried. The idea they developed during their residency involves DNA data storage methods in trees. Under the moniker Urban Data Forest, they want to reshape the data cloud by creating the world's first biological data centre in The Hague. Imagine that your data isn’t stored in an unknown box somewhere on an industrial estate but in the trees in your local park! On a small scale, it is already possible to store data in synthetic DNA (a song, for example), but developments in storage capacity are set to take off in the next few years. Urban Data Forest is already focusing on the ethical, technical, social and environmental questions raised by this type of data storage. They developed two types of data forest: the Living Archive and the Breathing Museum. 

These focus on the relationship between people and data to show which type of social connection with a location can be created and which new jobs it will lead to. For Witteveen+Bos, GYOC has depicted its vision in a video that will be shown in the offices of Witteveen+Bos.

Introducing micro-rewilding

Australian microbiologist and artist Penelope Cain makes us aware of the beauty of interspecies communities in endangered landscapes. In her project ‘Repairing with Lichen’, lichens take centre stage. Lichens are a symbiosis between algae and fungi. The project focuses on biodiversity in cities and the concept of micro-rewilding. The presence and growth of lichens informs us about the air and quality of life in the surrounding area. By introducing the concept of micro-rewilding in the least natural areas of the city, Penelope is giving the public the opportunity and inspiration to invite nature to settle in the city. She philosophises about letting go control, where possible, in green management and makes it possible for people to experience the beauty of lichens for themselves. 

To understand the lichens, she scanned them under a strong microscope and translated them into a 3D environment. This makes it possible to closely study the inside of lichens as well as their growth outdoors, because lichens grow at a millimetre scale every year. As part of the project, Penelope will place lichen tiles around the Witteveen+Bos head office.

Eveline Buter, director at Witteveen+Bos: ‘It’s incredibly inspiring to see what can happen when our technical world and the artistic approach of artists are combined so intensively. This is consistent with our pursuit of a deeper and more concrete form of mutual inspiration between art and engineering. These residencies were an exploration – for us and for these artists – from which we all learned a great deal. In December, we concluded the collaboration with a meeting at which the artists presented their results.’

Participatory coastal research

The residences were also an experiment for the municipality of The Hague. Berit Piepgras, participation consultant at the municipality of The Hague, and Eveline Kokx, project leader for the Environment and planning vision for The Hague 2050, both found the collaboration with the artists to be valuable and inspirational: ‘These two projects and the participatory art research are very useful additions to the other studies we’re carrying out at the municipality in relation to the Environment and planning vision for The Hague 2050. We’re using different research methods to develop this Environment and planning vision. We’re working with many different of stakeholders to formulate and explore a wide variety of possible futures for the city – for example, by means of brainstorming sessions and digital surveys. The artistic research of S+T+ARTS has its own specific place in this palette. These projects really stimulate the imagination and are very valuable for the conversation about the future and the difficult choices that need to be made. We look forward to making the visualisations of these projects accessible to the wider public.’

This project has been co-funded by the European Commission's Directorate-General for Communications Networks, Content and Technology under grant agreement LC01641664. It is supervised by In4Art. Besides Witteveen+Bos and the municipality of The Hague, several agencies and companies have contributed to the formulation of the challenge, the selection and the nurturing of expertise for both projects. 

More information is available at www.starts.eu or www.in4art.eu.