First published: 19 September, Friday
Last Update: 23 September, Tuesday
In the run up to the workshop, participants were asked to describe an important moment that related to the themes of risk and failure.
Kofi Aidoo -
I’ve wanted to be a designer for almost 10 years before I finally started my masters degree. Life had gotten in the way along the way and even when I thought I had reached the promise land I had to wait an extra year. Finally I began. I was at the Royal College of Art, I was in London, the people were amazing and I was determined to make the most of it. Here I was one of the older students and i was going to finish this thing well. So with 1 month to go I was ahead of everyone. The tutors loved the project and I only had 1 minor/major decision to make.
Fast-forward 4 weeks and it’s the night before the exam/exhibition. My pieces came back late and finished atrociously from the manufacturers. Which robbed me of workshop time to put everything together. I hadn’t been able to test properly. It was now midnight and the stings wouldn’t tighten. It wasn’t working! At the exam I could barely talk. It fell apart in my hands and all the examiners had a strange look on their faces. I had not passed. I would be referred and not graduate with my friends/ classmates. 10 years of dreams.2 years of hard work all undone in a month.
Taco Anema -
Shared moment: Taking Polaroids as a test, prior to the actual shoot in order to see what you are doing, painfully confronts you with your inability to visualize what is in your minds eye.
Anne Beaulieu -
A hidden agenda is not always a bad thing. Many moments and social interactions actually only work if the agenda is hidden from some of the parties. For example, in psychological experiments, subjects are very often given false cues about the real objective of an experiment, to prevent them from adapting their behavior. Organising informal encounters, â€˜by chanceâ€™ , is often a fruitful strategy. It absolutely depends on hidden agendas, since displaying intention would load the moment with expectations or activate defense mechanisms. Furthermore, there is hardly ever one single agenda–though some agendas may be more likely to be instantiated because they are those of the more powerful.
Ruth Benschop -
My moment of failure: I expected to handle and hear some music boxes at a sound-art festival. I first encountered three silent boxes displayed under transparent domes. The fourth box, however, was demonstrated. It sounded and I was allowed to handle it myself. At that moment, I felt foolish and curious: I had failed the first boxes by not removing the domes. I also felt I had done justice to the boxes by finally asking to handle the fourth one. Later interviewing the artist, I felt foolish and enlightened again. She told me her boxes were fragile: not to be touched by the audience.
Krien Clevis -
When I started my research nearly two years ago in collaboration with the neuroscientist/neuropsychologist I experienced some difficulties. As a compromise I developed a fear-catalogue in which photos developed by myself these were suspense and neutral images were alternated at random with hardcore fear images. These because, according to the opinion of the neuropsychologist, the images must be measurable in order to have results in the fMRI scan. The suspense images were to ambiguous. From the start I didn’t like these hardcore images. They were more disgusting than evoking fear.
The images I use for research are more neutral than the evident hardcore images. I believe that in this way the persons who undergo the fMRI-test are confronted with their own subjective fears and anxieties and not so much with the all to brutal content of the hardcore images. The neuropsychologist and I decided to organize a pretest on a public (40 persons).
One of the conclusions was that the more brutal the content of the images were the less reaction there was. This because the content of hardcore images are too obvious (a chopped off head is exactly what it is). The images with a more suspense-like content evoked a real sense of fear. Although the experiment should be considered as a failure, it give us insight in the process and the way we should deal with the choice of images. It was the beginning of a new process in which we as a team are looking for the right images in combination with texts.
Meghan Dougherty -
Moment about interest or failure: Several years ago I went out on the academic job market. I was invited for an on-campus interview. At the interview several faculty members told me that I was a promising candidate and indicated that I would receive an offer soon. Three months later, I received a phone call from the Chair telling me that they extended an offer to someone else and they accepted. I failed. I had no job, debt, and a dissertation I hated. But, it was spring quarter: a new start. I visited a professor in a different field, and began writing about a new topic. I deleted my proposal; started a new project. It took several years, but I now have a completed dissertation of work that I am happy with.
Geke van Dijk -
After a few presentations by participants it dawned on me that although we were mostly using the same terminology, some of us were referring to quite different practices and academic fields. This was also evident during the Q&As after the presentations. We tried to discuss our individual work, but struggled to really understand each otherâ€™s questions and answers. During the coffee break and lunch we chatted informally among the participants, and then had a chance to probe a bit further on the actual context and background of each other’s work. This greatly improved the mutual understanding. I wasn’t really sure what the actual agenda of the chair for the workshop was. He seemed to question his own area of work. When the chair suggested to organize a follow-up workshop during next year’s conference, I politely said that it would be a good idea, but thought to myself that I would not probably be attending. The confusion during the workshop worked as a bonding factor between some of the participants. We went for a drink after wards and had a good laugh about it. I am glad I met these people and did exchange useful bits of knowledge and experience with them. This made attending the workshop worthwhile.
Stefan Dormans -
A moment of failure: I have tried to fail, but they did not let me. My dissertation was not finished at the moment that my contract ended, but according to my supervisors this was the way these things go. Nobody finishes his PhD in time. So, the only proper deadline in many years of work turned out to be no real deadline at all. Although I experienced strong feelings of frustrations when I failed to meet the deadline, my significant others did not perceive this as a failure. At least, that is what they told me.
Marianne Flotron -
I have bit difficulties with the shared moment as I meet in every project from a to e. There is always failure and there is often a hidden agenda. When it comes to failure, it is even an integral part of my work. It enables or forces me to push the work further, away from a simple illustration of an idea. I would even go that far to say that my main occupation is to detect the blessings in the failures and to pick it up from there. But is it then still a failure? Maybe because the subject might change. Anyway.
Emilie Gomart -
Preparing a visual argument for the lectures and exhibits of an Author/Artist like Rem Koolhaas is a dangerous business : if not satisfied Koolhaas could throw away weeks of work in a few seconds -with the countdown to the deadline still ticking… So to limit the likelihood of total failure, our team began to devise ways of lightening up and breaking down the argument, selecting and presenting the â€˜piecesâ€™, to increase the likelihood that not all of the work would be rejected but only this or that smaller element of it. In this way we tried to introduce the possibility of managing discrete lower-risk â€˜errorsâ€™ to limit the ravages of the Author. Errors were a lot better than failure because they implied the possibility of correction and adaptation. In this way, we tried to fabricate images/texts that were like a cybernetic machine capable of receiving feedback and adjusting its course without being pulverized. We were also convinced that our own tentative construction of images and texts mirrored the Authorâ€™s own necessary â€˜paranoia in taking a standâ€™. So in many ways the images we ended up devising to accommodate our boss were just the images we all felt he needed to accommodate the unpredictable and unforgiving contexts of the Architectâ€™s lectures and exhibits.
Jeannette Haagsma -
Failure that was a blessing in disguise Sailing on a sunny afternoon. We were heading towards the German Bight. With strong winds from behind we were cruising along fast on a full mainsail and jib, just North of the Dutch islands. We would make it in time! After a while the winds picked up and the blue sea colored gun-metal grey with white heads on top of growing waves. Our heads turned green… A sudden wind shift and a disastrous steering reaction made the boom slam to the other side. The strong canvass of the 300 m2 mainsail ripped as if it was rice paper. We had to navigate through rough estuaries back to the mainland. Just as we landed safely in the harbor, the winds rose to become a real storm. A day later we continued our trip with repaired sails. We would be too late, but sailed happily with a slight breeze and sunny weather. ” The sea is our religion. Or rather, it is what we have instead of God” (Ernest Hemingway, Islands in the stream)
Charles van den Heuvel -
Visualization of interests and failure by design are interrelated in my research of Architecture of Knowledge: European antecedents of the World Wide Web. There are many historical examples of designs aimed at capturing all knowledge of the world. The failures of these attempts force designers to visualize their interests. Abstractions and syntheses are failures by design, but at the same time visualize interests. The object that I bring to the table to this workshop is a sketch: â€œLe schema et la rÃ©alitÃ©â€ by the Belgian pioneer of knowledge organization on a global level Paul Otlet (1868-1944) in the Mundaneum (Mons, Belgium) that in my view illustrates the overall theme. It shows an amorphic representation of reality that in Otletâ€™s view can and should be modeled in the form of diagrams to visualize its essence.
Garrick Jones -
A moment when I witnessed or encountered failure. How can there be one when there are so many. Do I talk of the very private stuff? Do I talk of the failures as a child in an adult world? Do I talk of the professional failures or the academic? These are all so mundane. I remember being 6 years old and on a farm. I had written a letter to my teacher, which I took to the local post office. I stood in line. All of a sudden I realized that everyone around me was speaking another language. As a child I had never made the connection that nobody could speak my language and I couldnâ€™t speak theirs, in this part of the country. As I drew closer to the front of the queue I realized there was no way I could make myself understood â€“ all I needed was a stamp and a letter box â€“ I searched in vain for words I had never learned. I panicked. I reached the front of the queue and tried to make myself understood â€“ to no avail â€“ it felt like being in a fish tank. The air was thick with misunderstanding. I resolved to learn languages at that point in time. I understood that all context is a social construct â€“ although I only learned the words for that understanding later.
Wolfgang Kaltenbrunner -
A moment that particularly mattered in my short academic career was the change from Vienna University (Comparative Literature) to Maastricht University (MPhil programme CAST). Non-existent supervision and ridiculously crowded courses in Vienna got me to the point where I considered abandoning all academic ambitions. The MPhil programme at Maastricht on the other hand provided me with an example of what studying can ideally be like (efficient organization, small number of students, etc.). At the same time, the highly selective Dutch system made me aware of the intense competition among researchers, as opposed the Austrian doctrine of open university access.
Jan Kok -
In my view, a failed research project I participated in (2000-2006) was â€˜Comparative population history of Taiwan and the Netherlandsâ€™. I perceive it as a failure because the project did not recognize (let alone made explicit and did justice to) the very diverse positions and short- and long-interests of the participants. If failed to set clear targets, provide updates and feedback and, thus, to create a sense of collective purpose. One is left with the feeling that this group project (involving 20 researchers) was solely meant to foster the careers of the PIâ€™s.
Matthijs Kouw -
As other posts have already made clear, failure doesnâ€™t necessarily need to be lamented. There appears to be a thin line between failure and disruptive events that invite a reconsideration of dearly held commitments. I feel Iâ€™m surrounded by many blessings in disguise, though such an appreciation is strongly related to oneâ€™s view on utility. I have â€˜accidentallyâ€™ found out about books, articles, and authors that (as it turned out later) provided essential inspiration. Iâ€™m fond of composing experimental music, which has involved countless â€˜chanceâ€™ results in the form of new sounds and source material. My point is that the complexity of the aforementioned activities is very likely to disrupt oneâ€™s frame, commitments, and expectations, and thus serve as a (sometimes not so friendly) reminder of the ease with which our carefully crafted notions pertaining to utility are disrupted. Ironically, this also applies to my own work on computer simulations and vulnerability â€“ there are scholars and scientists that claim that risks can be overcome by making technologies and societies more resilient, whereas others maintain that some degree of openness is required for technologies and societies to innovate and improve themselves in the aftermath of perturbances. The dilemma: hard and brittle, or soft and yielding?
David Kulen -
As I finished school I opted to start working as a concept designer for a graphic studio. During projects I started noticing that I fell back on my old habits within design, I wasnt creating new concepts or ideas, instead I was falling back on things that I already had developed before. I’m starting to realize that it takes time to develop ideas and concepts, its not magic or something instant that pops up, its a process that takes time and research. I failed at learning new things from projects where so many opportunities for good ideas and design where available.
Michiel de Lange -
Some time ago I participated with a locative media artist in an art-science project “under construction”. The aim was to visualize routes of two types of dairy economies in west-Africa. During our first exploratory field trip in the central highlands in Nigeria, we found a family of herdsmen who seemed willing to cooperate. One day I followed one of the cattle herders out in the fields. He was armed with a GPS device to trace his route of that day. I also took many pictures. That evening we gathered in the village and showed them the material. The photos created huge excitement and laughter among the onlookers. The GPS track plotted out on the screen however met with very little recognition. This particular herdsman wasn’t able to point out the places he had been that day just by looking at the GPS trace on the screen, and altogether seemed a bit puzzled by the whole exercise. We had wanted to have the GPS tracing act as a kind of narrative device to initiate discussion and stories about people’s daily movements, but this appeared to be not as easy as we might have hoped…
Susan Legne -
Participants of an academic summer course on gender and (auto)biography visited the ethnographic museum where I had been team leader of a refurbishment. One of the new semi-permanent exhibitions focused on the colonial context of ethnographic collecting, and the museumâ€™s own (white European) essentializing display tradition inherent in ethnographic discourse, in order to create a â€˜safe placeâ€™ for dialogue on the meaning of the colonial past in contemporary society. American and German (white feminist) course participants perceived the beauty of the display as disgraceful repetition of exhibiting racial stereotypes. They shouted instead of talking.
In our collaborative process working with humanities scholars for the journal Vectors, we pair academics with a design team to “co-create” new forms of scholarship. Over the years, we’ve become familiar with a moment of temporary breakdown in each collaboration where the scholar is confronted with writing to/for a database. This propels a kind of crisis in faith as the scholar makes the leap from privileging linear, print text to the more visual and expressive realms of multimodal authoring. At first we saw this breakdown as a continuing failure of our process, but we’ve now come to understand it a teachable moment. Put differently, we now realize that new forms of scholarly publishing require a shedding of old ways that is at once painful and generative.
Karen van der Moolen -
Shared moment: personal and bit out of context, but I thought that would be nice. A moment of failure: At one point I was on my way to a professional snowboarding career in slalom. I had been training for about 8 months and competed in a student competition. A lot of the competitors – pretty much – all where amateurs and had hardly every ridden a real slalom course. I was the only one with the profession gear and training. I was all psyched up and ready to go, I was the favorite for the number one position. And then….in the morning on the day of the race a really heavy snowfall started. The course was not professionally prepared, which resulted in a 50cm powder slalom run. And for that….you need freeride gear, not the small, stiff and aggressive board and boots used for a slalom. Or you could say I lacked experience in that field. The result: the nose of my board dove into a pile of snow after the third turn. I was out.
Brigitte Mulders -
Describe a moment that you witnessed or encountered failure: I did an art-project in which I wanted to visualize the daily experience of people living in the Bijlmer; I wanted to look â€˜through their eyesâ€™. As an extra I gave all the participants a camera, so they could picture what â€˜came to their eyeâ€™ in their daily routine, hoping to see back key-elements out of their daily surroundings. This assignment appeared to be too difficult and/or not specific enough: the pictures were rather randomly taken, needed a lot of explanation from the participantâ€™s side (why did you shoot this??) and did not give a good picture of their perceptions.
Alok Nandi -
A moment about ethic and trust. A moment where you think that you can trust some persons. But they had their hidden agenda, a mafia type of coalition. These two persons positioned themselves to steal money, by positioning themselves vis-Ã -vis the institutions. Exploring the limit of the systems. Helas, this system was one dedicated to Art & Culture, where it seems how ethic and trust are invisible. Looking for a space where the CYSWIK will offer tools for having these people detected and ejected. Failed people who pretend to be winners …
Jeannette de Noord -
Market Failure in 100 Words: I wrote a briefing for product development with the performance requirement â€œas good as the competitionâ€, neglecting the fact that inventors had developed mechanisms that would potentially be better than the market maker, at least on some aspects. Our product was developed according to specification and introduced into the market. In the mean time better products had been introduced and satisfaction with our products was so low, that we decided to develop a new system â€œin no timeâ€ and called back all unsold products in the market. Good example of damage control and a lot of money lost.
Vanda Playford -
When I was studying at the Royal College of Art a well-known curator had been invited to give one of the first-year group critiques. The atmosphere was tense as each studentâ€™s work was evaluated. I noticed that the curator had a formula for assessing works which I thought was OK but limited. I thought it improbable that he would find what he was looking for in my video. As he assessed my work he became angry and attacked it. I was quite shocked. Although I knew that it had aesthetic problems at the same time it was raising interesting issues about the vaccination of babies and the curious notion that a ritual of pain certifies cleansing and the right of passage in to the community. I was so taken about by the violence of his critic that I failed to defend myself an artist. I wish now that I hadn’t believed in his position/status and had had more belief in my work
Richard Smiraglia -
A new research project has received successful peer review for two conferences, the most recent of which called the research â€œrevolutionaryâ€ and asked me how I had the idea. I donâ€™t want to tell them, because it is unscientifically serendipitous. In 2006, as part of the CIDOC-CRM (ontology for cultural heritage) we were discussing how to map the concept of â€œfamily.â€ Several potential mappings were contemplated before we settled on a definition of the type â€œa group with rules for membership.â€ While zoning out (not listening) to the boring conversation my eye settled on a mapping and I found myself wondering what else in the world would turn out to be like a family if they both had the same map. Thatâ€™s it.
Andrea Scharnhorst -
I was always frustrated with getting my references right for an article. For me that is the most boring part. So, somewhere end 80s/beginning 90s I programmed a dbase system to deliver the bibliography the way I wanted it. I think it took me a couple of weeks. I probably used it a couple of time, but than other things got priority, I did not update the file, all stopped. Years later I got to know Endnote, Procite, etc.. The whole cycle started again, except of the programming part. I spent hours to fill in the references â€“ in fact we all did that as a collective enterprise. I used it – quite satisfied by its effectiveness – a couple of times. But, if you ask me know how I did my last bibliography, guess how! I copied and re-formatted references with shift insert from all different sources (including Endnote). Iâ€™m wondering if this is just meâ€¦.
Krzysztof Suchecki -
I have studied in Warsaw University of Technology, Faculty of Physics. During my master thesis research, I was investigating a certain phenomena on fractal networks – log-periodic oscillations. It was encouraged by my supervisor, as one of his previous students has found out such log-periodic behavior in previous works concerning fractals (not networks). I have made modeling and simulations to show that networks with such characteristics could exist, and shown a possible mechanism. After obtaining master degree and starting PhD, I have spent few months making more comprehensive simulations and modeling and written an article for scientific journal on the topic. Unfortunately, it was much criticized and in the end did not make it to the journal I wished to publish in. Moreover, I started to realize that the critics were right. The work did not present strong enough evidence to support the models I made. There is a “but” thought. While the article was indeed lacking, the idea that I and my supervisor wanted to convey somehow got lost in all the work. We wanted to show that log-periodicity is possible and is a sign of hierarchical structures. However, the critics focused on the more technical aspects of the work, and were pointing out the lack of empirical evidence to support the model. I think that the failure was due to the article, that did not highlight the ideas enough and did not present them in a clear way. The idea was also a bit too small to warrant a good paper.
Clifford Tatum -
While living in the city of Tianjin, China, I spent some time test-riding second-hand bikes before making a purchase. All of the bikes I rode had weak brakes. Every time I asked about the breaks, I was assured that this was normal. By Seattle standards, the inability to stop quickly can be dangerous. Nevertheless, I insisted that the brakes be tightened. I was careful not to imply any judgment on what appeared to be generally poor bicycle maintenance. With some difficulty, I finally got what I asked for–quick-stopping breaks. Within only a couple of minutes of riding, I came to a busy intersection and jammed on my breaks to stop, thus causing numerous riders behind me to swerve, nearly crash, and yelp while trying to avoid hitting me. This failure in communication (and understanding) was rooted in different bicycling contexts. The large volume of bicyclists sharing roadways in China seems to necessitate a more fluid and harmonious kind of riding. In this context, it was difficult to communicate why tight breaks were important or even meaningful. It was also difficult for me to understand why they were not.
Ernst Thoutenhoofdt -
In 1990 HRH Princess Diana attended the British Deaf Association’s annual meeting along with the world media, since at this meeting the People’s Princess would become the first-ever British Royal to use sign language. She would use her sign language after being presented a copy of the very first British Sign Language/English dictionary to be published in the UK. However, the Dictionary had not been completed in time, so that a thin 32-page mock-up was presented to her instead; the dictionary would only go to press 2.5 years later, in 1992. Designing the dictionary was my first job in typography after graduating.
Sabine Wildevuur -
Failure that was a blessing: starting with the project Invisible Vision: Could Science learn from the Arts? I was focused on the outcome of the collaboration between artists and scientists, which is – in many cases – disappointing. Along the road, I realized that the surprising outcomes of bringing science and art together lies in the process of interaction between the two disciplines and not so much in the end result, namely the work of art itself.
Friedje Witzenhausen -
A failure that was a blessing in disguise: Ten years ago I started researching the differences in the color and the intensity of light. I began by sending light-sensitive sheets by mail to places all over the world, expecting them to absorb light on the way. Disappointingly there were hardly any traces of light to be found when they returned. Only on those that I had sent to myself from the letterbox across the road had any substantial traces. This gave me the idea of traveling to places myself to â€œcatchâ€ the local light. The project then became better suited to my established work method involving the use of found forms and coincidence. Hereby an image of reality is created by the grace of the moment.
Thomas Voorter -
For my research of genres of oral history and genealogical knowledge in Central Asia, I listened to many stories and tales about heroic ancestors and important historical events. At a certain point I wanted to know more about the dynamics of memorisation. Feeling completely immersed in an immense field of oral traditions, I felt convinced that now someone could tell me on a more abstract, symbolic level about the act of remembering. After inquiring about this, a key informant walked to his bookshelf, pulled out a big book about popular history for children and said while tapping on the cover: â€œthis book helps me very much, it is indispensable for me.â€
Caroline Wouters -
Failure or moments of shared interest? I worked on a knowledge sharing network end of 1999. High ambitions, we built a system, a network, community, virtual work groups, reached several employees, champions, lots of manual work and html coding. I needed more funding and wrote a business plan, and presented that to the decision group. Failed, because I didnâ€™t realizes that others had the same interest and also wanted to build that intriguing knowledge base, however with another technology tool. The confrontation of different technology powers. Failure, shame, moment that really mattered, hidden agendaâ€™s, and also in the end blessing in disguise
Paul Wouters -
A moment of failure because of diverging interests. In 1999, I was asked to start a research group in information science. They had advertised the job but nobody had applied. I had written an article on cyberscience in a journal of empirical philosophy that had attracted the search committee’s attention. I thought: this is nice! I can do what I wrote up! However, it turned out we had very different ideas in mind of what research actually is. What I saw as only the preparation stage (reading the literature) was what most people at the institute thought was proper research. We had different time frames: for me 3 months was (and still is) usually sufficient to define the theoretical-cum-empirical question, for them 3 months was about the time frame for having the results in. For me, research is about getting the questions and perspectives right, for them it was about producing stuff that works. The outcome was that we got a very enthusiastic and internationally recognized research group working, but it did not make much difference for the people who had initially hired me. The research did not provide the solutions they expected and they were really disappointed (until the acquired international reputation dawned on them). So I guess this raises the question: whose failure?
Sally Wyatt -
A moment: Learning history. I grew up in Canada where education is organized provincially. For most of my childhood, I went to school in Ontario where I learned about the Battle of the Plains of Abraham (1759), crucial to the fate of the French in Canada. In Ontario – the largest English-language province – I learned about the heroism of General Wolfe and his troops. It was a hugely important moment in my education when my family moved to Montreal when I was 15. Even though I went to an English-language school, I learned a different story about that battle – about perfidious Albion, the sneaky and untrustworthy English, and about victors writing history.