(random) co:jams: How IAM & Tate are exploring the futures of museums

Earlier this year we had the opportunity to team up with Tate to build on our shared interest in the futures of arts and museums. Here, we tell the story of how this collaboration came about and how, together, we brought an agile, experimental approach to questions around youth, arts and institutions in the internet age, in the form of our open-ended collaboration: (random) co:jams.

Graphic by Pedro Ajo.

Chapter One — In Randomness We Trust

It all started with the blue baby…

IAM Weekend 15 Opening Titles by Claudia Maté.

In the run up to IAM Weekend 15, Tate Collectives Producer Jen Aarvold spotted the infamous blue baby from the event’s opening titles (left), commissioned to artist Claudia Maté. The baby is something of a motif in Claudia’s work, and had previously been exhibited at Tate. Jen had been keeping tabs on Claudia ever since, and after discovering it once more, she flew to Barcelona, came to the inaugural IAM Weekend and joined the family!

Six months down the road, Jen dropped us a line with the idea of finding a way to work together. Naturally, this led to numerous Skype sessions and Google docs to exchange ideas and discuss shared frames of reference, with a prospective collaboration date in February 2016 to bear in mind and the possibility of presenting the project at IAM Weekend 16. As a large cultural institution in a time of digital transformation and prioritisation of young and diverse audiences, Tate is heavily invested in exploring the futures of the museum, and this was to be the foundation of our collaboration.

Our own ongoing research about the futures of arts and museums therefore informed this process, and together with Tate we co-curated the topics, concepts and participants of the collaboration. With that, (random) co:jams, a session of creative improvisation to prototype the futures of the museum, was born.

Image by Aperio Films.

Chapter Two — Inventing Futures

Inspired by Alan Kay’s words that “the best way to predict the future is to invent it”, we invited a group of emerging artists, creative technologists and young people to come together for the project, including:

We began on a cold Friday night in February by gathering at the Tate Britain with the Tate team and all the participants. After a round of introductions — which entailed everyone sharing their most recent projects — we had a private tour of the Tate Collection to kickstart the weekend’s conversation.

The (random) co:jams team touring Tate Britain. Image by Andres Colmenares.

It’s not easy to digest 500 years of British art in 30 minutes, but Jen and Leyla Tahir, Assistant Curator on the Tate’s Young People’s Programmes, had picked out the game-changers from the collection: the artists and works that had brought about a significant shift in ways of doing or thinking about art during their time. Ahead of a session of creative improvisation about the futures of arts and museums, this was more than fitting.

The following day, participants were first randomly arranged into three teams — each team featuring at least one artist, creative technologist and Tate Collectives member — before being set their challenge. The core principles of the experience were orientated around:

  • (random): the beauty of an unpredictable output
  • co: the value of a collaborative and open process
  • jams: the joy of creative improvisation (inspired by jazz)

With this foundation, each group set to work exploring three key questions:

  • What is the role of the museum in the Internet Age?
  • How is the concept of youth being redefined and challenged in the context of Internet Age arts?
  • What can we learn from 500 years of British art?
(random) co:jams in process. Image 1 (top left) by Aperio Films. Image 2 (top right) via Tate Collectives. Images 3 and 4 (bottom) by Andres Colmenares/IAM.

Having only met each other the night before, each group had to adopt an agile mentality centred around improvisation and collaboration. To that end, the open brief encouraged the participants’ different perspectives to come to the fore, allowing everyone to learn from one another and exchange ideas and skills.

At the end of the day, each group would have to present both their process and prototype to around 30 guests from the media and Tate and IAM’s communities. With these conditions in mind, each group’s brainstorming quickly developed into translating abstract, conceptual thoughts into tangible, functional outputs.

As an example, Anita, Claudia, Ernest and Joel — intrigued by everyone’s personal reactions during the previous night’s tour — set about asking an even more fundamental question than any of those provided to them: “What is the Tate Collection?” Contending that it was a “collection of dreams”, they then fed this back into the original questions: the role of the museum in the Internet Age is to collect dreams; the youth, as humans, are selectors and dreamers; the role of the museum is to collect dreams and the dreams they inspire. Through this process, the team now had a clear idea of what they wanted their prototype to realise.

Image by Aperio Films.

When it came to applying the more conceptual stuff to the real world context, the involvement of young people was essential. Each group didn’t need to make any assumptions about what would be engaging for the audience of tomorrow as they were already in the room!

Instead, they could focus on using their diverse backgrounds in fields such as digital arts, new media, music technology, data-driven experiences, interaction design, open source installations and research of algorithms in pop culture, to create something entirely novel, knowing it would be relevant.

Video by Aperio Films.

Nevertheless, the focus of the day wasn’t about what the futures of the museum will be like, but how we go about inventing them. To highlight this, each group’s workstation was connected to a projector which displayed what they were working on, all day, to the rest of the room. By doing this, we wanted to manifest the open, collaborative atmosphere between each team within the group as a whole, and as a result, foster the very kind of unexpected creative exchanges that encourage new ideas.

At the end of the day, the groups then presented the fruits of the day’s labour.

Intrigued by how technology can disrupt the curatorial and interactive experience, Matthew, Kim and Tara created randomcuratorbot.tumblr.com to pair random artworks from the Tate Collection alongside each other.

Working from a similar standpoint, Dani, Adam and Joey had created an installation visualising the reactions and thoughts of audiences through social media conversation, and Anita, Claudia, Ernest and Joel ultimately developed an immersive, virtual world where you could jump into the environments of paintings themselves. Does anyone fancy a dip in David Hockney’s A Bigger Splash?

Image by Claudia Maté.

Across the session, each prototype responded to the challenge in unique ways, and all three were the direct result of taking a fresh, new approach to questions about youth and audiences within the context of the futures of arts and museums. Rather than shying away from different perspectives, skills and approaches, everyone was able to experiment, make mistakes and start over together, something the prototypes ultimately benefited from.

Chapter Three — Sharing Futures

After the day’s collaboration, we debriefed with the Tate team and went through the feedback from both everyone involved and the presentation audience to define the next steps.

Watch the full talk here. Image by Denisse Garcia.

The logical next move (one we were especially excited about!) was for Jen and Leyla to represent Tate in the Futures of Arts & Museums session at our annual IAM Weekend 16, discussing their priorities and strategies alongside institutions, artists and researchers including the V&A, Rhizome, Sergio Albiac and Samim Winiger (click the links to watch the talks).

This also provided the perfect opportunity to share (random) co:jams with an audience of innovators, creatives and all-round internet people in Barcelona! And so, on Saturday, 9th April, 2016, Jen and Leyla shared how Tate works to understand and respond to the interests and needs of its audience, especially to those young people who will ensure the long-term future of the gallery. In doing so, they set the stage perfectly for us to share (random) co:jams and highlight out process-driven collaboration:

Video footage by Aperio Films. Edit by IAM (Lucy Rojas & Pedro Ajo).

We also took this opportunity to publicly launch IAM Labs 😁, our in-house laboratory created to envision different perspectives of the future through the lenses of internet culture, using agile and collaborative research, ideation and experimentation.

IAM x Tate workshop participants exploring the futures of the museum. Image by Denisse Garcia.

The following day, we took the project yet one step further. With Tate, we’d worked with artists, technologists and young people, and by running a workshop on the last day of IAM Weekend 16 we extended the collaboration to members of the IAM Family, including speakers, attendees and volunteers.

Called RE: Mixing the Museum, this was an open, collaborative workshop, like everything that came before it, that explored possible futures of the museum through collective mind-mapping of game-changing ideas. Extending the collaboration to this new group offered a useful perspective both for ourselves and Tate, and will continue to inform our approach going forward.

Video by Jen and Leyla. Thumbnail by Denisse Garcia.

Chapter Four — Reflection

Here’s what Jen and Leyla had to say on Tate’s vision, the (random) co:jams process and our approach:

Tate’s vision:

“Engaging audiences by listening to their interests and expectations has become the principal challenge for a museum in the modern world.” — Tate’s vision: Championing art and its value to society

On the process:

“In bringing together emerging artists, creative technologists and young people, we engaged with a range of perspectives about what the future of the museum can be. This range brought non-traditional, non-art historical expertise and ideas into the museum context to explore new ways of engaging with audiences and being relevant and current. With a focus on internet culture, (random) co:jams explored ways in which the future of the museum can embrace digital and use it to develop new ways of presenting ideas and exploring art in a gallery context.”

On the approach:

“You learn and benefit more from going through the process of experimentation rather than working towards a set outcome. Creative improvisation provides an open approach to developing content that can engage broad and diverse audiences. Using creativity and improvisation as key values creates a space where it is possible to develop new and non-traditional ways to relate to art and artists in contemporary life — relevant to audiences with wide ranging interests and experiences.”
Image by Aperio Films.

Epilogue

With (random) co:jams, we collaborated with Tate to put our belief in an open, experimental way of working into practice. By thinking about the future as a process, rather than a defined ‘output’, we discovered new insights into how we interact with arts in the Internet Age and what this means for cultural institutions more broadly.

We’ll continue working to connect diverse perspectives, push the boundaries of emerging technology, embrace uncertainty, create collectively and empower young people with our amazing partners like Tate in our other areas of research, and in doing so, continue taking an active role in inventing better futures!

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