• Baltan Laboratories' New Directors 

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    Posted: 11 October 2022

    Baltan Laboratories’ New Directors

    Marlou van der Cruijsen and Lorenzo Gerbi

    From October 1, 2022, Lorenzo Gerbi and Marlou van der Cruijsen took on the directorship of Baltan Laboratories. In the past years they have been deeply involved in the organisation’s artistic development and business direction. In the text below, they will guide you through their vision for Baltan and how it evolved over the last years of Baltan’s programming.

    ‘What is at stake is not just a given economic model (neoliberal capitalism), nor a set of cultural traits inimical to life on the planet (say, rampant individualism and consumerism), high-level policy reform (e.g., more comprehensive climate change protocols), geopolitical power struggles for re- and de-Westernization, or the ever-growing military-industrial complex. As Latin American indigenous, black, and peasant activists are wont to say, the contemporary crisis is a crisis of a particular modelo civilizatorio, or civilizational model, that of patriarchal Western capitalist modernity. This is a striking claim[...] the implication is none other than everything has to change.’ (Escobar 2018: p. IX)

    From 2017 to 2020, Baltan worked on human-centred themes wherein we reflected philosophically and artistically on humans’ role in today’s world. We were inspired by the idea of Homo Universalis to think about new archetypes of humans in our contemporary context. Focussing on the four themes Homo Socialis, Homo Economicus, Homo Sensorium and Homo Ludens, the discussion evolved to questioning the human-centred character of Western society. We acknowledged the need to go beyond a human-centric approach and even the term human since it does not encompass all humanity but a smaller group of people entitled to discuss and unrealistically solve the issues of our time.

    These issues are not restricted to the borders of the countries that caused them but have consequences globally. We need a global approach that values other unheard voices in the discourse, a non-western approach that is primarily intercultural rather than international. In fact, different cultures bring different traditions and value systems, relationships between man and nature, and ways of looking at technology, for example. We need to consider these contributions in rethinking the (economic, environmental, societal, technological, and geopolitical) systems we are part of. In concrete, that means we aim to go beyond the western-centric knowledge system by exploring alternative ways of knowing, for example, through feelings, myths, indigenous knowledge and embodied knowledge.

    Positioning and mission
    Baltan has always been identified as a lab experimenting at the crossroads of art, science, design and technology. In the first years of Baltan, art and technology were the primary focus, together with media art. Over the years, we have progressively moved away from a technology/media-based discussion and critique in art and design to focus on societal challenges and how art and design could contribute to those. We recognise where we come from but move forward to remain meaningful and contemporary to the renewed cultural landscape and current urgencies.

    We think that, especially today, Baltan should fulfil its social role as a cultural institution in the permanent state of crisis we live in by becoming a site of discussion, learning and organizing towards the challenges we need to deal with. Culture in our vision should be one of the prominent agents of change, as we believe that change is primarily cultural and behavioural before political, infrastructural and solution-based.

    There are new urgencies, and we feel that Baltan has to reply to those, using its interdisciplinary expertise to facilitate collaboration between different fields, not only with science and technology: in the last 6 years also social innovation (Age of Wonderland) and economy (Economia Festival, Make Economy Yours Again, Co-Emerging Economies) became primary topics of our cultural program. This expertise emerges from our experience in art and design research, two disciplines that are by nature more-than-disciplinary since they already mediate with different fields in their creative outputs. We use artistic strategies to facilitate these in(ter)disciplinary discussions. Through this approach, art and design could become tools to question and destructure our society, expanding their more-than-disciplinary disposition beyond their specific fields.

    Also, in terms of outputs, we experienced an exciting evolution. We are more frequently engaged in long-term trajectories rather than event-based presentations (festivals and exhibitions). The nature of the topics we work on (such as alternative economics, de-organization of knowledge, questioning the ideologies that shape our life on this planet, etc.) pushed us to work with smaller groups of people for a more prolonged and more frequent engagement, with the aim to make these reflections present and lived in their everyday routines. It’s about rehearsing and training different ways of being, such as the way we listen to each other, the way we do not exclude, the way we go beyond the stereotypes associated with our backgrounds, the way we do not judge others, the way we could live together, the way we are concerned with the issues of our times, the way we stay with the trouble and do not avoid it, the way we share with and care for the human and non-human other, the way we see happiness in the connection with each other and the planet we live on. These ways need time and repetition. For these reasons, we see the impact of our work in creating long relationships with our participants that could evolve from participating to becoming an active part of our program, for example, by creating artworks, projects, and interventions originating from the learning and discussions we had together. This way of working also implies another approach to curating: harvesting and supporting projects from the learning ground Baltan provides next to selecting them from the outside world.

    A new Baltan profile
    Baltan Laboratories is a cultural in(ter)disciplinary lab based in Eindhoven. We focus on societal issues in an imaginative and collaborative manner, bringing experts and non-experts together. We believe that the increasing complexity of our world and of the challenges we have to face no longer allows for a strictly disciplinary, reductionist and western-based approach. In a world full of uncertainty, complexity and ambiguity, the interactions and exchanges between different disciplines are fundamental to achieving a relational approach that responds to the environmental, political, social, economic and technological issues we must address today. We can no longer divide a problem into its parts, deal with those in separate disciplines and then recompose them in a solution (Morin, 2008).

    Disciplines separate those considered qualified to think from those who are not; for this reason, we rather focus on indisciplinarity: an approach which transgresses disciplinary boundaries to achieve intellectual emancipation (Baronian & Rosello, 2008) and evades disciplinary specialism and hierarchisation. Indisciplinarity is not undisciplined. It opposes what, in the discipline, limits the process of discovery and the free movement of serendipity (Catellin & Loty, 2013). That means that we shouldn’t get rid of disciplines but instead design ways for their borders to be more permeable and for a new collaboration attitude to emerge.

    We try to achieve this attitude by designing learning trajectories, projects and collaborations that bridge different ways of knowing (not just the artistic and the scientific ones) through creative strategies, including embodied, sensory, intuitive and performative techniques. The core of an indisciplinary approach is de-organizing knowledge, temporarily dismantling how it operates to reveal that we are not really touching the complexity of reality but just scraping the layers of abstractions that we put on it to feel in control. In this way, we can become aware of some of the assumptions and ideologies that shape our understanding and action in the world, especially the hegemonic ones that become natural, automatic, unconscious and apparently unquestionable.

    We acknowledge the importance of creating a non-hierarchical and safe space where people from all kinds of social, ethnic, discipline, and cultural backgrounds can talk to each other on an equal and non-judgemental level. We strive to include diverse knowledges and value systems in our projects and collaborations, not relying solely on a western perspective.

    Reference List
    Baronian, M. & Rosello M. (2008) Jacques Rancière and Indisciplinarity. Art and Research Journal. 2 (1). → Available from: www.artandresearch.org.uk/v2n1/ jrinterview.html [Accessed 24 June 2021]

    Catellin, S. & Loty, L. (2013) Serendipity and Indisciplinarity. Interdisciplinarity: Between Disciplines and Indiscipline. 67 (3), 32-40.
    → Available from: www.cairn-int.info/ journal-hermes-la-revue-2013-3- page-32.htm [Accessed 24 June 2021]

    Escobar, A (2018) Designs for the Pluriverse. Radical Interdependence, Autonomy, and the Making of Worlds. Durham and London, Duke University Press.

    Morin, E. (2008) On Complexity. Cresskill, Hampton Press Inc.


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