“To try to understand the experience of another it is necessary to dismantle the world as seen from one’s own place within it and to reassemble it as seen from his.” (John Berger, found in ‘a jar of wild flowers | essays in celebration of John Berger', 332:2016)
This article makes the claim that public art interventions can provide deeper insight into human motivation and behaviour over many of the more traditional management and audit tools that have been developed over the last 100 years.
The Platform-7 art intervention project in Holborn, London called The Innovation Box (Oct16 - date) is used to support the claim and provides a few of examples of the kinds of insights interventions can generate, in this case regards homelessness and the layering of the city.
I sent this John Berger quote to artists Shabazz Chapman and Arizona Smith last week, just before Berger’s passing, following discussions on the forthcoming installation for Platform-7 art intervention in the Holborn Innovation Box, which considers the ingenuity required when homeless.
For people who are not immersed in the arts, interventions are sometimes difficult to understand. They can appear haphazard, unfocused, disorganised. The more ‘structured’ a person's approach to life the more difficult it often is to understand the interventionist practice.
Yet I would claim that the public art intervention is one of the most effective methods of obtaining deep insight into how humans behave.
An interventionist approach first unpacks the pre-conceived notions, whether they are those of the artist or the viewer. To understand how something is constructed, whether it is a thought, a process, a product or a way of behaving, one must first ‘dismantle the world as seen from one’s own place within it’. The object or focus needs to be deconstructed, unhindered.
Over the last hundred plus years these deconstructions have become formalised methods, with management and audit tools developed to ‘understand’ how and why things operate as they do. The issue with these approaches is that there is a presupposition implicit in the method; the targets, milestones and outcomes are pre-decided. In a medical trial this makes sense, to try and reduce the danger to those involved in the trial – although this does not mean tragic outcomes are always avoided – but questionable when the inquiry is decision making or latent behavioural patterns.
To gain real valuable insight requires letting go of as many preconceived ideas and notions as possible. In life there are no guarantees, nothing is certain. Audits are adequate when looking back over structured transactions, like accounts, but are rarely insightful when assessing the ephemeral, like team behaviour or communication breakdown.
The Innovation Box Insights
The phone kiosk intervention has delivered a number of insights so far.
It has developed the conversation about semi-public spaces and the complexity of ownership.
It is highlighting how innovation takes shape and it can be argued that this intervention is a demonstration of innovation in progress.
The project has, and continues to, challenge some people’s instinctive assumption that the term ‘innovation’ is only relevant when considering product process.
The most exciting insight so far has been the revealing of layering within the city.
The phone kiosk is almost a microcosm of the city itself; the impact and ramifications of many individual actions, often unsighted, dictate the speed and the shape of the project. And this is the same for nearly all projects, no matter the size, the unseen and unknown are as much a factor, if not more so, than the active actions of those involved, and it is the accumulation of many different actors’ actions that manifests as the final outcome.