Permaculture for Business

In early 2015, I sent an email to the Michael Crouch Innovation Center at UNSW (back then just opening) and suggested an artist residency to do ethnographic research in a Permaculture community. My goal was to try and apply permaculture principles to the way we work and live in cities; to find new ideas how to transform or build businesses. I never heard back, so I kept working on existing projects.

2016-05-26 09.10.01Later in the year, I worked on an Earthship, together with a wonderful community of permaculturists and natural builders. I thought how useful would it be to bring entrepreneurship and business students out to the country, to work together in this way, hands on, thereby learning what entrepreneurship really is, before learning business modelling and financial planning.

When I returned to Sydney, I spoke to the head of the newly established Judith Neilson chair at UNSW (based in Architecture and Build Environment). The reaction was “intrigued” but we didn’t get anywhere.

One step closer. At least someone heard me.

I also spoke to people at the Hatchery and the business school at UTS. Interest but no budget and risky. If you know someone, who’d be excited to invest in such an experimental learning program, please get in touch.

A Meta Look at Collaboration

Lance Weiler pinged me two days ago and asked if I’d have a chat with him about the MOOC we ran, why we design collaboration this way, what it takes to brave it, and what it means in terms of shifts in society. So we dived into the why and how and what of peer production. I had a stream of consciousness and Lance edited it quite nicely. I still need to learn to be more precise with language, but there are some gems in there. My part starts at minute 2:30. It’s a piece to lean back and let it wash over you, just see what comes up for you. Enjoy!

Pan. Puck. Beet. Love.

PanPuckBeetLove2This small hand drawn mystical creature is based on the Greek nymph God, Pan and the Midsummer Night’s Dream elf, Puck. It’s the center piece for an interactive bricolage. It’s a work about lust and mischief; and about the suffering it involves. The temptation is represented by a beet, a melancholic vegetable in Tom Robbins’ magical realism.

The wall hanging is next to a deformable figure, a material that visitors can shape and fold into itself, changing its very nature without changing its original mass. The figure is an experiential, yet abstract topology put in context with the viewers’ archetypal imaginaries elicited by the drawing. The associations that occur at the intersection of erotic mythology and mathematical constraint render love as a topological assemblage; a Möbius strip that gifts us the illusion of progress while keeping us firmly grounded in its endless loops.

Here is a more nuanced interpretation:

The red beet – heart shaped – is temptation. Pan pruriently sniffs the beet while Puck nears it with playful curiosity. Yet the beet’s dryness reminds of melancholy. Its brittle leaves recur in the lover’s hair, a wild growth symbolising the seeker’s pandemonium: impulsive insatiable desire, time and again mistaken for love. Flies surround the frazzled head – they are the totem of rapid change. The androgynous figure has a goatee and small breasts, a comment on confusions that come with gender bending lifestyles. Leaning out of shallow waters, the emaciated body seems both anchored and confined. The lake is bleeding. Unnoticed withers the lover’s foundation. Without it, the erotic traveller is exposed to both liberation and uprootedness.

topologyI drew the image without any meaning in mind. I just drew. Gradually I recognised the symbolism of my drawing. How Jungian. My revelations were deeply connected to my PhD research. I had used a mathematical theory to describe bricolage lifestyles: topology (see image).

The basic principle behind the topology is that a space can change its form without changing its mass. That means, the figure is at once changing and remaining the same. Thinking about society (or lovers) in terms of topology evokes interesting analogies. Imagine a spatial figure consisting of nodes and lines. There is no hierarchy, and no central control. All nodes have equal influence. And any movement of one node changes all other nodes. That means, everything happens in between. The focus lies on the path – think of these as relationships. Their ever-changing nature defies stabilization of the form. The figure is movement. Transferring the model to people means that we’re in movement. Inevitable is the surrender of the individual to the collective. Inevitable is embracing the unknown that rests in such emergence.

2015-11-25 15.40.05Pan/Puck’s torment is topological. Its heterogenous space offers liberation, because agency is granted. But its constant movement uproots the actor. With shifting external foundations, the actor needs a solid foundation within. It is hidden, like the Second Foundation in Asimov’s sci-fi novel. This hidden foundation is key to evolution.

In my bricolage, the plasticine is a topology. I wanted to connect the vast mythology of the drawing with the mathematical constraint, because together they render love and life as a topological assemblage; like a Möbius strip that gifts us the illusion of progress while keeping us firmly grounded in its endless loops.

This little installation can be observed and experienced at Art After Dark on November 13 (Melbourne) and November 20 (Sydney).

This is Not Art

In October we were inScreenshot 2015-10-25 08.40.40vited to Newcastle to run a two-part game called Be.Poietic.Punks. Our plan was to explore intuitive and associative ways of collaboration. Claire Marshall and I weren’t sure if we could make it to Newcastle that day, so we asked the incredible Maree Lowes if she’d be interested running the show on the day.

Maree had never heard anything about the game and, man, she’s the coolest; just dived in and excelled! To prepare, she ran a game test with friends and revelled in collective joy.

When the actual game day came, she facilitated the game smoothly. I did make it to Newcastle just in time to play and be a participant. It was glorious. The group sparked brightly. Thinking, building, crafting, drawing. The design question was: 2015-10-04 14.04.18“How can we create a city without cars?”

The group was divided into 3 groups: the Future, the storytellers and the designers. Each of the groups worked by themselves but would feed their ideas into the other groups at certain stages throughout the game. So the Future determined that due to rising sea levels the city’s streets will be permanently under water. The designers took on the challenge and came up with a system consisting of floating community hubs, hydroponics, and peddle powered hover crafts. The storytellers developed a wonderful narrative arc that played out across time: There was a scientist in the past – Brett Better -, who has developed the beginnings of a (hovercraft) technology that would run on solar power. He never got it to work, though and was, unfortunately, assassinated by the government, because the technology threatened the wealth of corporations. When the flood hit, the people didn’t know how to organise themselves, because they had no transport and no communication technology. Then – the long lost daughter of our hero Brett Better – Lore Better – appears. She had never really fitted in with the community before, being more interested in drumming and tinkering. But she was pissed off that there was no more transport to get her drums to places, so she teamed up and shared her wisdom. 2015-10-05 21.47.35Turned out that she had completed her father’s invention and they instantly started building it. Also, she had huge influence on how the community started communicating, because she knew the art of jamming. As a musician she knew how to feel others, pick up on cues and respond in a harmonious way. So, while everything seemed to be dire, the people started having a fabulous time, bringing themselves into play.

For day two, we had planned a lose walk-in experience, where we displayed the story and some keywords from day one and gave people post-it notes to draw their associations and place them randomly on a “red carpet”. The whole would assemble as a non-linear visual narrative. A bit like an exquisite corpse meets affinity mapping.

My favourite part was the music. We had asked three musicians to jam to whatever input they’d get from the participants. How’s that for serendipity!? Having an actual jam on day 2 was planned long before drummer Lore Better appeared in the story … !! …

2015-10-04 14.18.33Back in the room, every now and then someone would get up and show the band a drawing. There was hardly any speaking for about 1.5h. All that happened was drawing, placing, showing, jamming, reordering, contemplating. The musicians influenced the mood in the room – and the nature of the drawings – with their pace and rhythm. And the creative expression of the drawings they played altered their rhythm and pace. They had never jammed together and their play was spirited! We danced and I felt many people bonded, stayed longer, and just enjoyed the serene and playful atmosphere everyone created.

So what…
Our non-linear story didn’t really go anywhere apart from us enjoying the various interpretations of it. And our solution will not be developed or implemented by any of us. But that wasn’t the point. The point was that by creating something together we teach each other what we really care about. And that we are the ones that can and should be the change we want to see. And we tested what happens when we create intuitively and associatively. I believe there is a lot of important knowledge in our bodies that we forget to access, because we put so much emphasis on our minds. So we’re playing with empathetic ways of learning and working together.

Screenshot 2015-10-25 08.44.11Lastly, a word on the festival where all this took place: Critical Animals is a creative research symposium held annually as a part of This Is Not Art festival in Newcastle, Australia. It’s a forum for students, researchers, writers, artists, thinkers and curious individuals who are critically engaged with creative and experimental art practices. It’s an opportunity to present papers and ongoing research, as well as to challenge creative practices and work collaboratively with others in the field.

Dr Divine

At this year’s Burning Seed Festival in the Australian bush I played my alter ego Dr Divine. I can’t really say any of this was planned, but it’s a perfect example how some things just emerge bit by bit and they come together in a much more coherent way than I could have ever thought up.

2015-09-15 13.51.54-1Meet my belly box. We found all materials at the Bower in Marrickville, a junk yard, reverse garbage type of shop. The best place to find odd little things. And we were so lucky! Found the suitcase, a children’s harness that I could easily fit and attach, a small drawer that fitted perfectly into the side, a candle holder, and all kinds of small items and curiosities that gave me first ideas for a love charm and some other games. Then I added velvet curtains behind which I hid some special tools and the magic book.

On the left I put a wooden tray, which turned out to be a sweet bowling lane for my story dice. Next to it fitted a colourful chest that was just big enough to hold a stack of superhero cards that I had made for another occasion. Then I added some random objects that I’d just embue with meaning if someone would point them out. Five dark jars have incense, ear plugs, condoms, which I handed out when someone wanted to shut themselves off to the messages of life (ear plugs), or pay it safe (condoms). In the drawer on the right were oracle cards. It’s an animal totem deck. All of these things I had at home, they just fitted the belly box perfectly. At this point I didn’t really know what exactly all of this would be, so I kind of surprised myself with what happened next (blatant upworthy cliffhanger).

2015-09-19 14.16.27 I asked the first girl who came up to me if she had anything in her life she wanted a comment on. She did, so I asked her to think on it while I took both her hands. I locked eyes with her, and asked for her name. Then I introduced myself as Dr Divine. I almost laughed. I had not thought of a name before, but it was perfect. I continued with her saying that I didn’t know anything that she didn’t know herself, but that this suitcase held tools that can help her see. I was astounded by what came out of my mouth.
Sweet. I got into my role.

I offered her to ask me about any object in the suitcase. And I told her about the three main attractions: dice, superhero cards, and  the oracle. She wanted the oracle. I shuffled, and told her to bring her attention to her heart. From the deck she drew blindly. The card was Antilope. The Antilope stands for action. I read out a few lines from the animal magic book and she started crying. Damn. I didn’t expect to make people cry?! What? I dropped out of my role and turned to her, asking if I should stop. She was half joy, half suffering. She smiled and cried some more and asked me to continue. That moment was amazing. The card had just struck something in her, and she said it was spot on, the thing that her family needed to understand to solve a situation. I felt floaty. How nice was that!?

2015-10-02 17.23.11Meanwhile a small crowd had gathered around me and I started feeling self-conscious, but, … wow, did I enjoy this. There was something profound taking hold of us. When I took my guests’ hands and we locked eyes we made a contract. It was significant. For the time of our interaction, we were in a magic circle, a safe zone, in which it was just us, and the belief that something wonderful would happen. I could see it in their eyes.

I had about 15 interactions that night and I remember all of their faces. One German guy chose the storytelling dice. He rolled them and got three images he couldn’t really connect. I got a bit nervous, because I hadn’t really thought this through, but then collective consciousness switched on and gave me me the right questions that prompted all these profound insights in him. The story became the thing that he had asked about but also reflected his attitude towards life in general. The details of the symbols made him connect dots he hadn’t connected before. He probably stayed with me the longest. He just didn’t want to leave again. We ended up sharing details about our PhDs and how both tapped into intuition as a neglected source of life making.

While I was playing with my guests I noticed that most women chose the oracle while men chose dice or superhero cards. The superhero skills were pretty popular with anyone and I gave one to each guest at farewell even if they had chosen another game to play. With each explanation of the suitcase I got clearer that the dice were a game of chance, the superhero cards were banking on your skills, and the oracle was about faith. Chance, skills and faith. Ha. Three major way in which we as humans try to get a hold of our future. What a colossal insight. And none of this was planned. It really just emerged little by little by just starting with a vague idea and chipping away on it whenever it felt right. That’s a good way to work and bring meaning and joy into our lives. I like it.

Calabi-Yau and pendulum

No idea if this makes any sense. It’s an experiment in feeling deep knowledge.

I just came across the Calabi-Yau principle while I read up on Cosmogeny. “Cosmogony (or cosmogeny) is any model concerning the coming-into-existence (i.e. origin) of either the cosmos (i.e. universe), or the so-called reality of sentient beings.[1]” The Wiki article refers to Calabi-Yau manifolds and string theory. Click.

Calabi-Yau“A Calabi–Yau manifold, also known as a Calabi–Yau space, is a special type of manifold that is described in certain branches of mathematics such as algebraic geometry. The Calabi–Yau manifold’s properties, such as Ricci flatness, also yield applications in theoretical physics. Particularly in superstring theory, the extra dimensions of spacetime are sometimes conjectured to take the form of a 6-dimensional Calabi–Yau manifold, which led to the idea of mirror symmetry.”

Don’t understand a thing, but feel that it’s a further development of topology, which can be thought as cultural topology. If the cosmos is a Calabi-Yau formation, then our ecosystems would be, too.

Its characteristics of holonomy and elliptical curves reminded me of what I had sent my PhD supervisors once. At the time, I was deeply immersed in a chapter about exploitation and violently (foolishly) rejected the notion of power. This is what I sent them:

“And I forgot to delete my blasphemic sentence on power midway through the chapter. I just get so tired of it and wished it was something else that lies at the base of everything…. what if it’s dynamics and not power? what if the gravity of your life’s weight is let go at birth and then you rove in multiple swings, in all kinds of directions at the same time, but those swings reach a peak and then they swing back towards their opposite passing by occasions of balance and depending on where all the swings are at any given occasion they form new conditions but because at birth we are let go at certain positions and conditions the swings always happen around the same pivotal point, one we cannot escape and one that keeps us in check. It’s then kinetic force that keeps on going but declines gradually until all pendulums stop. it’s not power then but attention/focus that changes the swing. haha, but then what are the boundaries? they lie in the capacity of energy we got at birth. power is then only released once and the residual energy keeps us going, and depending on how much we got at the beginning we’re limited in our reach (as in how far and how many pendulums swing)… but how does growth work then? I suppose every pendulum swings leaves a trace, like a synapsis once built. And this synapsis trace strengthens every time a pendulum swings along. practicing.

Oh… that was a rather long spontaneous thought.

Oh and what about magnetism, like every endpoint of a pendulum swing is magnetic, that’s the attraction! And it’s activated by attention…ahm maybe not always, but ok, I don’t have to make this work. … I’M FEELING MAD TODAY!

And somewhere there’s Foucault in there. Ok, it’s all about power.”

I have no idea where I’m going with this. Yet. But it’s going to reveal itself to me some day.

Notes on the blockchain

I recently went to the Sydney Blockchain workshops and took some notes for beginners (like me). Overall it is about digitizing value transfer by cutting out the middle man, but new middle men already emerge (those who enable the blockchain).
  • two functions for blockchain: register ownership and rails for transfering items
  • function of smart contracts: machine 2 machine consensus protocol
  • economists have largely overlooked blockchain tech, BUT blockchain is not an info tech but a governance tech, fundamentally changing the nature of our economy by offering new coordination systems
  • tracking and ensuring providence, enabling makers to receive royalties from each step that their work gets passed on and/or remixed. I felt reminded of the academic referencing system, just in tech.
  • In order to implement trust into the technology, companies, such as ethereum provide “smart contracts”, which are programs/codes that rule/exercise which action can and cannot be performed with items on a specific blockchain. This reminded me of creative commons, just digital.
  • arguments are about open and closed ledgers (blockchains), close ledgers being referred to as the AOL of the blockchain.
  • debates around hacking and control, about repeating the same mistakes as with the internet when capitalist companies co-opt the technology (and we don’t have as much unattended time as we had with the internet, because big banks are already capitalising on the blockchain, reinventing their identity in order to become the new middle man). So, the audience was quite divided between coders/anarchists and managers/bankers.
  • no consensus yet how to scale
  • problems with efficiency versus capturing the actual complexity of an item (Joi Ito, MIT)
  • balance if inclusion and efficiency also relevant in terms of WHO and HOW MANY take part
  • blockchain as an opportunity to move away from basic double entry bookkeeping
  • too many laws still pre internet time
  • tussle between privacy and security, what are the relevant decisions and negotiations
  • ICANN for blockchain needed to counter Gov
  • very early stage still
  • blockchain as a way to consider context (smart contracts)
  • ethereum can create markets, these can then be markets in markets
  • offline and online economies can integrate (catallaxy)
  • ethics of autonomous systems a huge question (do devices have rights like companies? whats human responsibility?)
  • law is centralised at the moment, can smart contracts decentralise the law? (asks Ele)
  • beware of network imperialism, commones are selfish too
  • Merkle Tree interesting model to understand how blockchain can be politically and architecturally decentralised yet logically centralised
INSTITUTE FOR THE FUTURE – Bettina Warburg (Palo Alto)
The IFTF just announced the blockchain futures lab. Keyword Crypto economy. Research into Practical applications of blockchain principles with commercial value w/ Boston consulting. Viable experiments w corporate sector. Interested in universities.
ASCRIBE – Greg McMullen
Ascribe creates an ownership later of the Internet attempting to give IP back to digital creators. We could use their technology for emerging idea that staff worry about giving away. I know there are other platforms for this too. Ascribe also helps finding infringing copies of the registered IP. Imogen Heap tiny human is an example for how it works. License content on blockchain and invite people to remix. One can track derivative work. (Like academic peer review?)
Also monegraph a platform like this.PLANTOID – Filipa de Primavera (Harvard)
digital certificates a problem because international jurisdiction is different on what’s public domain and what can’t be. Individual can use blockchain as a registry to ascertain what other people have said what the legal status is. Blockchain enables tracking who is using your assets.
Ccrypto equity interesting keyword
“Pay for production not for consumption”PLANTOID is a platform for Blockchain-based art: people fund artists for a specific art piece, based on open source software, copyleft, another artist can remix the work and original author is rewarded and recognised. It’s not about IP protection but about maximise dissemination of artwork to be remixed because then more funds are collected. Royalties go back to original artists and new
is a collaboration platform based on a new business model or game principle of micro transactions or micro tipping, giving reward for contributions.

another platform that tries to improve trustless interactions by building on ethereum

The Tech Pentagram Collaboration Game

Group size: 40 – 200 pax

Playtime: 1h

2015-09-14 12.18.27The workshop is designed to give participants a visceral experience of just how quickly small teams of people can come up with world-changing ideas. It’s a possibility engine for your organisation.

This workshop explores and excavates the landscape of where technological innovation meets established industries such as media, manufacturing, energy and health. It’s a living, thinking event that uses game mechanics and future scenario design to unleash the imagination of its participants while teaching how to integrate concepts in relation to the systems they span.

2015-09-14 12.17.48We begin by giving a broad overview of the technological intersections and their potential impacts on a specific sector. Then the true fun and creativity starts! Up to 200 people from mixed sectors prototype some potential agents for change. In groups of 2 we dive into a technology of your choice. In groups of 4 we prioritise relevance of different aspects you discussed. In groups of 8 we begin integrating different technologies in order to come up with radical new possibilities. Throughout the workshop – like by magic – you will create a geometric shape containing the peaks of your thinking. In this workshop, expect spontaneity, bouncing messengers, human knots, inspiration, and mind expanding ideas.

Be. Poietic. Punks.

Yoke Magazine and SW/TCHFest recently published a little piece I wrote.


Yoke mag picWe are at a point of transition. Of many transitions. Global politics, business, and technologies are shifting shape. And we are shifting with them. The question is: do structures form us, or do we form structures? The Italian Operaismo movement of the 1960s believed that it’s ultimately the people who change systems. So, we should look at our own agency and wondering – how can we shape the world around us?

Understanding poiesis is key to influencing this global transition. Poiesis simply means “becoming” or “bringing forth.” It means to act from the heart – heroically even – to contribute to something larger than oneself. In philosophy, the concept describes the poetic and aesthetic realities that surface through human reflection and emotional expression. What comes about through poiesis are subjective truths that are ethical, humanistic, and spiritual. Being in poiesis can be a liberating, even ecstatic, sensation of congruence between body and mind. Imagine what the future of work would look like. A future in which you do what you love, with people you like, towards something meaningful that protects resources and ourselves.

Sound like a fantasy? As a design ethnographer I have dedicated countless hours to exploring poiesis and social innovation through storytelling, collaboration and hands-on education. As part of my PhD, I co-founded a collective called Learn Do Share, a group of collaborators sharing their minds, hearts, and hands to invent new ways of working and learning. The collective’s poietic work has gained momentum and attention from people and organisations wanting to join the movement. We have worked with the United Nations, UNICEF, Columbia University, and Google Creative Labs, and recently ran games at OUIShare Paris and Re:publica Berlin., some of us developed Be.Poietic.Punks, an anarchic game all about exploring poiesis. This culture hacking game is designed to give people an experience of their political agency with the aim to elicit associative ways of co-creation. Part 1 is a sci-fi card game employing anarchic collective problem solving fusing sci-fi storytelling, speculative design and rapid prototyping. In part 2, participants create an “exquisite corpse” style wall carpet, representing a remixed story of the project that was prototyped in part 1 of the game. At the end, dancers and musicians perform an ad-hoc choreography based on the wall carpet story. The process throws everyone into disorientation, intense time boxing, and lots of laughter. We simulate process as something largely unplannable, and I’m interested in testing how people react to embracing such chaos, giving up their instinct to control the environment. The whole game is a mad challenge to trust intuition and associative reasoning.

MOOC_PosterAnother project is called Sherlock Holmes and the Internet of Things (IoT). This MOOC (which we call a Massive Online Offline Collaboration) is an ongoing prototype developed and run by Learn Do Share at Columbia University. With meet-ups in close to 20 cities, 1000+ collaborators from over 60 countries, the pilot MOOC creates a massive connected crime scene consisting of smart storytelling objects. Teams take on roles from the novel to create, design, build and test prototypes in local and global groups. They explore the ethical and political implications of IoT. By creating shared assets collaborators raise questions on shared authorship and ownership, which ultimately leads them to engage with new concepts. A transition to the commons as a way of exchange is one example.

Termed “commons transition”, the concept is associated with a movement and policy proposals aimed toward achieving a more humane and environmentally grounded mode of societal organisation. Business and social researchers alike articulate what such an economy would look like and which policy recommendations would be required. These ideas of a “social knowledge economy” is based on free an open access to knowledge as well as circular modes of exchange. Our goal with Sherlock is to introduce as many people as possible to options that help them rethink their Ayn Randian neoliberal parameters.

All this may sound a bit unattainable, but as Margaret Mead famously said: 

“Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world; indeed, it’s the only thing that ever has.”