by Vatsala SethiDec 30, 2022
Thursday November 24, 2022, around 5 pm, flight from Milan Linate to Berlin Brandenburg. The captain, with a tone that mixes irony and incredulity, announces that our flight will have to land in Dresden because the new airport of the German capital is currently occupied by some environmental activists. Arriving at the alternative destination, we can read the breaking news. The Italian news agency Adnkronos reports on the intrusion of eco-activists: “The Last Generation protest was broadcast live on Twitter, showing some activists sticking to the ground and others riding their bikes on the runways of BER airport, while banners with environmentalist slogans were raised. The eco-activists entered the runways at two points, north and south, during the afternoon, cutting through the fence. Each group, the police reported, numbered several people.” The occupation lasts just two hours and 15 minutes, after which all the 'hijacked’ planes can return to their original destination. The time lost in our case is about four hours, but the feeling of anger and frustration is shared among the passengers.
The irony of the story is that I am on that flight to see an initiative called Driving The Human, which aims at “shaping sustainable and collective futures that combine science, technology, and the arts in a transdisciplinary and collaborative approach." How can one imagine new patterns of life if one is not willing to give up changing one’s behaviour? To address these ambiguities, I take from the overhead locker the essay The Tragedy of the Worker. Towards the Proletarocene (Verso Books, 2021) by the group of philosophers Salvage Collective, who state: “This is the tragedy of the worker: being unable to develop alternatives, but being forced to abjure moralism and admit limits to the space for manoeuvre… As long as she works in the pay of capital, she will also be forced to be her own gravedigger.” That of the activists is an excellent reminder to look at causes from multiple perspectives, to respect different points of view. After all, it is thanks to the radical, continuous, and collective action of Berliners that the city's old airport, Tempelhof, has now become one of the capital's largest and busiest green areas. Actually, with its 386 hectares, it is one of the largest urban parks in the world, more than Central Park in New York.
In Berlin, we met Vera Sacchetti, Program Coordinator of the design festival Driving The Human, with whom we discussed the initiative from its initial stages to today. The mentorship programme started in 2021, with an open call and the selection of 21 concepts from all over the world. Of these, only seven were chosen to continue a research programme. The exhibition held from November 25-27, 2022, is only the last step in a long and uncertain journey.
In a conversation with STIR, Sacchetti says, "It is not common to develop a programme that has such a high component of indeterminacy. We do not present already completed works but develop ideas and concepts. However, our idea of prototyping involves risks: you must know that there is a time when artists have to expose their research to the public and the thoughts developed have to be understandable from the outside. That is why it is very important to translate the concept into an immersive experience that is tested by 'normal' people and not only by insiders. An interesting aspect of Driving The Human is that the audience is very young: there are a lot of visitors from 18 to 35 years old, because the themes proposed are those that interest this generation," who also wants to highlight the great diversity among the seven prototypes developed, with projects ranging from indigenous knowledge to Chino and Afro-futurist visions.
"As Brigitte Baptiste said yesterday during the opening conference, we must stop following great leaders, or unique visions of the future. The time for messiahs is over. We have to talk together, do things together, test processes and see how it goes, admitting slowness and even failure. We must realise that the apocalypse is already happening and that it is not something that happens for everyone at the same time. There are various ends of the world that are already happening, that have already happened or will happen soon, inevitably. Driving The Human stands against the logic that a single, definitive solution can be found,” adds Sacchetti.
In general, we can say that the event tests diversity in all its factors: indigenous knowledge and visions of the future, from the scale of the bacterium to that of the continent, from the most diverse parts of the planet. Intersecting and juxtaposing themes, disciplines, knowledge and language highlights the presence of grey areas of our knowledge.
Elaborating on the selection of the projects, Sacchetti continues, "The diversity of the projects was a key criterion in the selection of the seven participants in this phase. The jury of experts appointed had the task of judging which themes were most consistent with the objectives of Driving The Human, also taking into account the stage of the artists' careers, the evolutionary potential of the projects and the possibilities of developing the ideas in just one year (which is a fairly limited time frame).”
The most remarkable side of the whole project is undoubtedly the phase preceding the exhibition. Driving The Human provided resources and infrastructures for independent artists, facilitating, and accelerating their research. This is especially crucial when the artistic field intersects with science. To avoid naive discussions, confrontation with experts and access to hyper-specialised knowledge is necessary. “It is the power of the network. Something you can't see, it's intangible, but it's really important. Among the project partners is acatech–National Academy of Science and Engineering, which is a community of over 800 scientists and professionals working in various domains. Creating connections between the projects and the scientific community in Germany allows us to get concrete feedback in line with other initiatives that are being developed over the years. For projects such as The Backpack of Wings: Modern Mythology and Monsters and Ghosts of the Far North these relationships have been crucial, they really changed direction when they came together in a structured way,” says Sacchetti.
Driving The Human is not just an exhibition in Berlin but a programme that supports independent research, whose impact is globally distributed, and impacts various micro-communities, often fragile and marginalised. Listening, caring, and supporting diversity, without false slogans and respecting the life rhythms of all. Is this the role of art in contemporary times?