Kristin Alford
Sep 21, 2017 · 4 min read

Today is the International Day of Peace, a day the United Nations devotes to strengthening the ideals of peace, both within and among all nations and peoples.

Peace is something we’ve been thinking about a lot at MOD. over the last few months as we prepare for an exhibition opening in November 2018 on the theme of Waging Peace. The exhibition will ask:

Is it possible to aggressively and proactively pursue peace?

Can we use technology in service of peace, make peace machines?

Can we make peace profitable?

Our planning for Waging Peace included an Open Call to artists, researchers, creative technologists and others for submission of ideas and works that relate to these themes. As we’ve discussed the theme with a variety of people, and listened to the broader national and international context, it’s clear this is a provocative topic.

Here is just a small sample of the diversity of views on this subject — many of which have been expressed to us since we launched the open call.

“Universities rely on defence funding, didn’t you see that public lecture?”

“Peace you say. In the Democratic Republic of Congo, the ‘Peace Corps’ rape women.”

“Doves can’t. You can, doves can’t.”

“The question of ‘How do we know when peace is won?’ is a militaristic view — peacebuilding is an ongoing process, it’s not something to be won — this is a shallow victory.”

“You’re asking ‘Can you build a machine for peace?’ You build a culture of peace, peaceful relationships and processes, peaceful states. But a machine?”

“The naval shipbuilding plan will need to be supported with more than 5,000 new jobs in trades and engineering over the next 10 years.”

“Are you taking defence industry sponsorships for this exhibition?”

“South Australia is ‘The Defence State’ — home to a critical mass of world-class industry delivering many of the largest and most complex projects.”

“Like the quote that ‘War appears to be as old as mankind, but peace is a modern invention’”

“What I am doing at every stage, every day is seeking to ­ensure that our professional ­security services can do their job even better at keeping Australians safe. That is what this is all about. It is not about politics. It is about safety — ­Australians’ public safety.”

Why Waging Peace?

Amidst these diverse views, and with all the baggage that notions of peace and war come with, how do we move the idea of peace from being just the inverse of conflict, and set about building and strengthening it’s ideals in a more nuanced way?

This has been on my mind for a long time, since 2006 when my eldest was at kindergarten. Her class spent a unit devoted to building “peace machines”. I was enthralled and spent one of my assignments in my foresight degree exploring this notion further.

Afterwards the the discussion still felt unfinished. I wanted to explore it further with larger groups of people. I also wanted to talk about reframing our relationship to peace and finding incentives that reward positive, healthy behaviours rather than sticks and fortresses.

It’s about finding the kingfisher, not the dove or the hawk.

Why a kingfisher? Species of kingfisher are found around the world and have adapted to different locations and ecosystems. The sexes are often similar, they are brightly coloured with large heads and are very quick, often venturing beyond their natural habitat and defending their territory assertively. The Australian species of the kingfisher is the kookaburra, marked by its somewhat mischievous laugh. (Sacred Kingfisher, Photo: Graham Winterflood, Flickr)

Exploring the spaces in-between

Recently I sat with poet Erica Jolly, who has a keen and pointed interest in the relationship between science and the humanities. We talked a lot about the decisions made during the world wars that enabled people to escape responsibility for their actions. The invention of chlorine gas by Haber in WWI. The knowledge to create an atomic bomb in WWII. Her point was that the separation of science as objective, and not a human pursuit, distances it from our lived experience of the world and that the ethical considerations of discovery should be more calculated, considered and witnessed.

I have also been meeting with defence industry personal planning arrangements for new submarines, developing surveillance and intelligence technologies, and using augmented reality layers to improve defence, police and civilian maintenance of mobile infrastructure. The technical innovation is astounding, and there is passion for the challenges of tight deadlines and system complexity. Above all, the technology is geared to save the lives of defence personnel and others, where safety is paramount and is also a human pursuit

So it’s simplistic to say that defence is war.

It’s irresponsible to pursue discovery without consequences.

And it’s inadequate to say that peace has the answers.

Exploring tensions

I’m interested in the in-between. About how we use the technological capacities and problem-solving of defence in pursuit of peace and not as a response to threat. About how we collectively experience the benefits of defence innovation for more domestic pursuits. About how we could make peace a driver, a motivator. How peace becomes the action, the prize, the storyline of Hollywood movies. How every state aspires to be an economic powerhouse of peace.

Tomorrow we start to review Open Call submissions for Waging Peace and consider them against our objectives and design principles so that we can create an exhibition that presents a myriad of subjects that might contribute to a new way of considering peace.

It’s not an easy line to navigate as we reframe, and the team here continues to struggle with a range of ethical arguments, personal values and the positioning of this theme. It is uncomfortable, but in the ideas we are uncovering there is play, empathy, achievement, persistence, curiosity and understanding. And perhaps some clues for how we might also strengthen the ideals of peace, together with you, at MOD. in 2018.

MOD. at UniSA

MOD. at the University of South Australia will be Australia’s leading future-focussed museum, provoking new ideas at the intersection of science, art and innovation. These are our stories as we design and build it.

Kristin Alford

Written by

Futurist & Director of @modatunisa, a museum of discovery inspiring young adults by provoking new ideas at the intersection of science, art and innovation.

MOD. at UniSA

MOD. at the University of South Australia will be Australia’s leading future-focussed museum, provoking new ideas at the intersection of science, art and innovation. These are our stories as we design and build it.

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