“We need to generate alternatives to our current moment of transition”
One of the partner institutions of Driving the Human, the Karlsruhe University of Arts and Design is spearheaded by rector Jan Boelen, who talked to us about how the University is changing and how its vision aligns with Driving the Human.
What is Karlsruhe University of Arts and Design?
The Karlsruhe University of Arts and Design is an art school of a different kind. It offers a unique combination of art, design and critical theory, with study programs in Communication Design, Product Design, Media Art, Exhibition Design and Scenography, as well as Art Research and Media Philosophy. Common to all courses is interdisciplinarity, allowing for an ideal combination of theory and practical experience that reflects the teaching concept of the university: we analyse, shape, debate, and design what is to come. The cooperation with the neighboring ZKM | Center for Art and Media underlines the interdisciplinary focus of the school, and our studios and workshops guarantee an excellent environment for nurturing experimentation.
I joined the school as Rector in December 2019.
How is the University changing and transforming at the moment? Can you tell us about initiatives such as the Bio Design Lab?
The start of my tenure was marked by the wish to build upon the legacy of the school, strengthening of its core curriculum and areas of exploration, and tailoring them to the present and future of the design discipline. Embarking on a change of perspectives, the University of Arts and Design Karlsruhe is now in the process of looking inwards to change from within, and looking outwards to create stronger links to its community, surroundings and like-minded partners. As part of the change, we launched the Bio Design Lab, a hybrid and evolutive environment that exists in both the digital and physical space, that was first presented to the public in the context of Critical Zones, an exhibition at ZKM | Center for Art and Media Karlsruhe. Conceived as a platform for connection and collaboration with local partners and using local resources, the Lab hosts the presentation, education and transmission of knowledge. As students and experts are invited to work on bio-design related projects, visitors can explore and interact with the Lab’s production and lines of inquiry.
Projects within the Lab focus on the local region, its materials and possibilities, and actively aim to reshuffle and rethink modes of production in Karlsruhe and the south of Germany. Topics under exploration include Algae, Soil, Plants, Body, and Agriculture. To interact with these themes and related materials, both within the digital and physical space, the Lab invites local experts and visitors alike. Within the Bio Design Lab, regional resources are collected by connecting with local partners; they are then distilled through the making of a know-how glossary and a material library, aiming to develop local materials. The knowledge around these resources is disseminated through virtual workshops and multimedia presentations of outstanding projects dealing with sustainable materials. Ultimately, traces of these activities will remain in a constantly growing network, both in the digital platform and in physical displays of existing and future objects.
The idea of bringing
disciplines together (…) will allow us to explore
what happens when they interact
Why is Driving the Human interesting for the Karlsruhe University of Arts and Design and how does it intersect with your institution’s interests?
Driving the Human’s transdisciplinary ambitions are very much aligned with our own. The idea of bringing disciplines together – art, design and theory, alongside science, technology and other fields – will allow us to explore what happens when they interact. The result of these productive frictions will generate alternatives to our current moment of transition, where old world orders, economic systems, social contracts, ideologies, authorities, and political institutions are at the end – and new ones are yet to grow.
Can you tell us about the Fellowships at the University that will accompany the Driving the Human initiative?
I am convinced that, to evolve, the design discipline needs to deeply explore and critically question its many entanglements with economies and democracies. And the research process triggered by Driving the Human strongly complements our work within the University to create two research clusters focused on the themes of economies and democracies. During the research period of 2020–2023, these two clusters will welcome a number of fellows that will lead research in these topics, and connect to the projects and concepts developed under the auspices of Driving the Human.