Tag Archives: creativity

The Use-Value of Creations

I was thinking about art today and the use-value of creations – in the light of a visit to some relatives. They had been discussing the Just Stop Oil protestors causing traffic jams this week on the M25 and how they felt it was wrong. I heard their arguments and reflected on some previous protests that targeted famous artworks. I had heard both similar and contrasting opinions regarding those protests too, from people either angered that such ‘sacred’ objects had been defiled, or praising the protesters because they had targeted artworks so well-defended that their interventions were purely cosmetic.

I began thinking about my own work and what I thought its value might actually be… is it important that it survives me? Or that I personally leave a mark in the history books? No, it is not relevant at all.

I thought again of my experiences in Reite village (in Papua New Guinea) and how the villagers’s attitude to teaching and learning was so different to ours in Western industrialised and urban communities. They do not need a canon of knowledge because all knowing is in relationship to others, to place and to need. Porer Nombo (a well respected elder) told me that they do not worry about traditional knowledge being ‘lost’ because, if it was important to know then someone would always rediscover it. They do not worry that they might not know everything their ancestors knew – if it was worth knowing it would be remembered or would be relearned.

So I have been thinking that the value of being creative and bringing creations into the world is to continually remind us that such imagination and perception are possible. That it is not important to fetishise the individual artist or creator, or even the artwork or creation itself… but to remain aware that such creativity is possible. That it is always possible for someone to perceive or imagine reality in a fresh, new way for their time and place. This is, to me, the true value of creations – that they stand as examples, as demonstrations of what else is possible; as provocations to each and any one of us to step up and share our view. To continue to imagine and reimagine the world anew.

Among the countless billions of individual human lives that have existed how much art, poetry, craft and knowing has been ‘lost’ to time, to chance, to strange or tragic fate? Does it diminish our own capacity for creativity? No, it inspires us to imagine otherings – worlds, lives, experiences, understandings, perceptions and relationships. It drives us further to imagine beyond our own experience, context and situation.

I hope that my words, my projects, my artworks, films and publications have indeed offered some measure of that demonstration and provocation to others. But does it matter if anything survives, if my name and biography persist? No, for who in a generation or so would even remember – just as we habitually forget the vast multitude of those who came before us.

I am content to share what knowing I have attained with anyone who wants to learn from me. And if my works primarily act as signposts to me and what knowing I can share, then what does it matter if they also disappear with me? When I am gone then the relationship to knowing that I was a node within will shift around to accommodate my absence and remake itself accordingly. If it was possible for me to have any unique individual insights into the world then someone else is sure to rediscover them for themselves in some other time and place, just as someone else no doubt perceived them before me too, within their own context and situation.

That is not to diminish the value of my (or any other person’s) contribution to human life and existence, but to reiterate that whatever is possible for me is possible for someone else to achieve. Our collective (Western cultural) mistake is to focus on the ‘genius’ or the outputs of the individual and fail to realise that these are only signposts to what extraordinary possibilities await being imagined by others.

People Centric Practice – My Approach

I have just published a booklet outlining my creative practice and some of my methodologies. It is a simple guide for anyone interested in working with me – as a collaborator or consultant, designer or researcher, storymaker or artist. Click on the image below to read online:


This booklet builds upon the principles and ethics I outlined previously in “A Field Guide for People Centric Practices” (2019).

Creativity & Technology in a New Renaissance

Commissioned in April 2018 by the Institute of Art & Ideas as an introduction for a research report on the “New Renaissance” in creativity in European cities for Huawei.

What is distinctive about humanity? Is it our capacity to turn abstract thoughts and feelings into concrete expressions and artefacts? Or our capacity to empathise, to imagine ourselves in the situation of others, to perceive and share things from their perspective? These are among the everyday feats of imagination and creativity that should never stop astounding us, never stop inspiring us to keep refashioning our environments and communities for the better. Communicating such experiences is a feature common to societies across time and geography. The history of humanity is also one of technology – our ability to externalise concepts, experiences and skills into pragmatic tools that help us achieve what we desire. From writing to engineering, astronomy to medicine, we continue to devise new technologies to enhance our capabilities and increase our enjoyment of what it is to be alive.

At the heart of contemporary civilisation are our technologies of communication. What we choose to share and how we share it, with whom and when. Technology is, of course, one of the prime outputs of human creativity: it is the practical result of the blending of a range of different knowledge domains, skills and expertise: from scientific theory and discovery, to engineering application combined with social, cultural and economic purpose. Any technological product is thus the child of many different disciplinary parents, all shaping aspects of its evolution from idea to product or service in the hands of its users. Along the way, it is not just the scientists and engineers who invent technologies, it is also the creative visionaries who deal in ideas, dreams and artistic expressions who help define technologies’ purposes, uses and values in the wider arena of society and culture.

The development of digital and networked technologies since the 1940s has been among the most evident demonstration of this creative collaboration between scientists, technologists, thinkers and creative practitioners. Artists have been among the most early and enthusiastic adopters of emerging technologies – often adapting them for purposes far beyond the practical and pragmatic uses which might have triggered their production. In particular, there is a rich history of artists not only adopting new technologies, but being at the heart of their development – helping shape them as they evolve both in research laboratories and in other, less formal, settings. Such collaborations have fuelled and driven not only the technologies themselves but also the public consciousness of the potential of the technologies to enable everyone to be creative and share their creativity. Technology companies have often invited artists to experiment and test their new products as part of this process; meanwhile an artistic ‘underground’ has consistently been at the forefront of developing alternative technologies to the mainstream. Technologies are never neutral, but always the products of the cultures that nurture them.

In this ‘New Renaissance’, our understandings of what it means to be creative and visionary are also changing. For centuries it was people with power and wealth who defined through their patronage who could be creative, and the channels through which their creativity could reach other people. Now distributed networks and communications technologies are opening up the near universal possibility for expression and sharing of creativity. As society engages with the practical implications of Joseph Beuys’ contention that “everyone is an artist”, people are having to question traditional assumptions and to re-define notions of value in creativity. What does it now mean to be ‘creative’, to be an artist, when everyone can express and share their creativity? What is different and valuable to society about those people who choose to make their creativity the core of their life and work? What are the perceptual tools required to cope with and appreciate the abundance of creativity enriching our lives?

Professional artists too are having to re-think and re-define their practices in a dynamically creative society. Such changes encompass social, cultural, economic and political shifts as well as the technological. Being ‘creative’ is no longer seen as an exclusive preserve of privileged individuals, instead it is a challenge to everyone to realise as much of our individual potential as we can. Yet some of the traditional roles that artists play in society nonetheless persist : as visionaries, educators, inspirations, pioneers, provocateurs, critics, storytellers, speakers of truth to power, transformers of the mundane into the extraordinary.

In my own work over the past two decades, I have worked at the intersection of art, emerging technologies and social change, devising projects and collaborations that have sought to peer ahead, to envision new possibilities for people to share what they value about the world we live in. Distributed, networked communication technologies have been crucial to this endeavour – enabling people to achieve personal agency in expressing their individual creativity in ways which, just a generation ago, would have seemed improbable if not unattainable. Whilst it is relatively simple to make predictions of the kind of technological changes that might take place in the near future, what is much more challenging is to make sense of the unfolding social and cultural changes that are happening as a result of an exponential liberation of the means of communicating among ourselves. Where once ideas took generations to circulate and where control of the means of production was almost exclusively from the centre to the margins, now we have the means for each person to amplify and resonate not only within their own local community, but globally. The implications of this profound transformation, both positive and negative, are already being felt in almost every country and community around the world. Where they lead us is in no way clear as the disruptive forces they have unleashed bring complications and uncertainties into areas of life considered stable and unchanging, or at least resilient to fashion and slow to adapt.

However, such transformations are the fuel of artistic exploration and experiment – they provoke and inspire new visions and possibilities to be created and shared. And the ways in which artists are able to share their ideas is much more participatory and engaged than before, precisely because of the kinds of communication technologies which have become virtually ubiquitous. The landscape of where creative encounters take place has thus broadened dramatically, as have the modes in which people can take an active part in culture. They are civic technologies in that they enable so much more for people to contribute creatively as citizens than just as consumers. What shapes that civic societies will take in different places, will reflect the great diversity of cultures and creativity that make us human.

London, April 2018