Invisible narratives? Invisible, indeed!

A review of KiKK 2017

What do you get when you combine artists, scientists, designers and innovators? The KiKK festival of course! Each year the city of Namur becomes a hive of activity with hundreds of creative talents buzzing around, awaiting to get inspired. People from all over the world gather here to share their experiences, present their work and learn from each other.

KiKK, founded in 2011, is a non-profit association that aims to promote digital and creative cultures. By bringing together so many different disciplines, it creates a complete image of the various ways we can use new technologies in our dynamic, fast-paced world. Or does it?

This year, the theme was invisible narratives. From the complexity of emotions to underground communication infrastructures, these invisible designs make our world go round. More than 35 international storytellers came together to share their own narratives about these imperceptible frameworks.(1) 
However, the aforementioned concept is so broad that it is easy to get lost in its meaning. Despite the single conferences being interesting on their own, I found it difficult to see the deeper implications. 
Yes they were all cool projects that each made use of technology in their own way; and yes you could get the whole gist of it by quickly browsing the website, but without doing the latter you’d quickly think you were attending a networking event rather than a renowned digital culture festival. 
If I wanted a simple show and tell style talk I would’ve googled them and saved myself a trip.

www.kikk.be

Let’s go back to that good old Thesis 101 for a second; That is why is your topic important ? What greater value does it add to the already abundant field of [* insert relevant sector here *]. This is exactly what seemed to have been missing in a majority of the conferences I’ve attended. 
So you have created this and this project. Great. For what? What are the greater social implications of it? In this day and age we cannot see art, design and technology as mere objects. Digital culture must be scrutinized.
 
Theo Ploeg, sociologist and lecturer at MAMDT (Maastricht Academy of Media Design and Technology) has created a design model (still to be named and famed) which can explain the value of design and design research.(2) 
Based on Richard Buchanan’s Design Research and the New Learning,(3) the model consists of three levels: artifact, praxis and environment. All three are complementary. It is all too common nowadays for designers to focus solely on one or two of these elements instead of seeing them as a whole.

This was evident in a number of conferences at the festival. Great projects, devoid of meaning. At least that is how it appeared to be. 
The first to open the KiKK festival was Dries Depoorter, young Belgian media artist. His brilliant work on internet privacy, online identity and surveillance has been well portrayed in the media.(4) Most of us were all somewhat familiar with what he has achieved, which is why it was quite disappointing when this was exactly what we got out of his talk. A sort of timeline presentation of his work. A quick google search would have given us the same information. I know I went there to learn something new, didn’t you?

© Simon Fusillier

Arthur Danto’s view on art and artists can be applied to the broader scope of digital culture. For Danto, to be an artist in today’s world is to be a philosopher. (5) 
With so many of our worldly infrastructures being invisible it is important for us to back up our claims and projects. It is necessary to think of the greater (social) implications of the artifact rather than solely its form or use.

Mario Klingemann, resident artist at Google Arts & Culture (6) gave fascinating talk on neurography and machine deep learning. Thierry Brunfaut from Base Design ( ♡ )(7) held a very inspirational speech. “I want to work with him” resonated from all across the room. Thierry did not show us any of his work. Instead he talked about how he runs his company and what he has learned during the course of time. Needless to say, everyone was mesmerized. Then came Mr Bingo, probably the funniest enriching talks I have ever had the pleasure of hearing. (8) From mishaps to arguments, Mr Bingo walked us through the hardships of his career.

© simon fusillier

An interesting installation was exhibited by Lawrence Malstaf. “Shrink”. As we entered L’Église d’Harscamp, we were faced with a rather odd scene. A number of people climbing in between two sheets of plastic suspended on a device. Suddenly, air started to be sucked out as the performers started taking on different positions. A huge sense of dread engulfed the whole church. Are they OK? Can they breathe? We all felt a bit uncomfortable. A weirdly nice uncomfortable. It was a fascinating installation, almost spiritual; It being held in a church gave it a little extra oomph.(9)

Criticism aside, was the festival all that bad? Not at all. From interesting projects to inspiring speeches, visitors got a lot out of it. Did it live up to the [i can’t find the right words for the way they wrote about their concept on the website]? Not so much. It seems that the topic of invisible narratives was in fact too broad, and it ended up being too superficial to be fully praised.


(1) KIKK Festival — Home. (n.d.). Retrieved November 22, 2017, from http://www.kikk.be/

(2) www.theoploeg.net

(3) Buchanan, R. (2001). Design Research and the New Learning. Design Issues, 17(4), 3–23. doi:10.1162/07479360152681056

(4) Dries Depoorter. (n.d.). Retrieved November 22, 2017, from http://driesdepoorter.be/

(5) Danto, A. C. (2014). What Art Is. Cumberland: Yale University Press.

(6) Mario Klingemann is an artist working with code, AI and data. (n.d.). Retrieved November 22, 2017, from http://quasimondo.com/

(7) Thierry Brunfaut. (n.d.). Retrieved November 22, 2017, from https://basedesign.com/people/thierry-brunfaut/

(8) Mr Bingo’s Online Supermarket. (n.d.). Retrieved November 22, 2017, from https://shop.mr.bingo/

(9) SHRINK, 1995. (n.d.). Retrieved November 22, 2017, from http://lawrencemalstaf.com/_work/shrink.html

() Photos : Simon Fusillier https://www.flickr.com/photos/76818754@N03/sets/