Performing transitions within emergent paradigms

Some of us at Holon have been experiencing the wonders of expanding our cognition, interpretation and creative capacities by using performance in different contexts such as plastic arts, theatre and dance.

Feb 28, 2019 · 7 min read
Performing ‘Sitopian’ urban food systems in Upstate New York with SVA Masters of Product Design Students

Here is an invitation to experience the wonder with us

We would like to invite you to participate in the crafting of a praxis in performative transitions, and exploration into the role of performance and embodied intelligence in fictioning, futuring and enacting transitions.

Consider this as somewhat of a ‘research declaration of intent’, and an invitation to probe, question and experiment with embodied intelligence and the collective performativity of transitions with us.

This project emerged from the intuition, and gut feel we have about the potentialities of bringing embodied intelligence (mind-body-space) and performance into the design process, which is why through our research we will be engaging with transdisciplinary experts working across various types of performance-based arts and design practices as well as in design-driven futuring. We will be conducting a series of interviews, and where possible, engaging in performance-as-dialogue and action-learning to guide our practice-based research process.

For now, we are loosely defining performance as an embodied language, an act of fictioning and social rehearsal, typically framed within ‘event(s)’, and ‘space(s)’ that facilitate performance and the collectivisation of the imagination. Our ambition for this exploratory endeavour is to radicalise acts of designing and fictioning through a better understanding of performance, and its’ potentialities.

“(s)he must propose a theatre that is not the negation of theatre, but a new theatre, a theatre of the possibility of the impossible; not a theatre of identification but a theatre of transformation.” Alain Badiou’s Theatre and Philosophy

Design for transitions produced through performance may yield better outcomes than that of more traditional design approaches, that rely on mastery, intellect and rationality. We are interested in the performative input into the design process that produces radically different output and the interplay between human and non-human actors in the making of worlds.

We are particularly interested in exploring 3 key questions:

  • What are the potentialities for brining embodied intelligence (mind-body-space) and performativity to design for transition?

We are facing a crisis of imagination — and we need to re-design how we design if we are to transition towards different and better futures.

2018 (in a sense) was marked by the unknowable possibilities found in dark post-normal times. In the opening scene of HyperNormalisation, Adam Curtis states “no one has any vision for a different or better future”, a dark statement mirrored in the title of artist and writer James Bridle’s recently published book, New Dark Age. Bridle recalls Virginia Woolf’s diaries: ‘the future is dark, which is the best thing the future can be’, a position that inspired the writings of Rebecca Solnit and her 2009 book Hope in the Dark, which in turn, inspired the investigation into how to use performance can be used as a tool for fictioning, futuring and designing for transitions.

“The exercise of imagination is dangerous to those who profit from the way things are because it has the power to show that the way things are is not permanent, not universal, not necessary.” Ursula K. Le Guin

Today, we are facing a crisis of the imagination, a symptom of today’s complex world. It is time we begin to see hope in the darkness, embrace new imaginaries and start to tackle the cosmic challenges of the new dark age by accessing new imaginaries.

Our gut feeling is that performing transitions might be a way to tackle our crisis of imagination.

In these post-normal-times, we must embrace and explore the performativity in acts of designing and fictioning if we are to realise radically new imaginaries and transition towards alternative and sustainable futures.

Performing Transitions (PT), as we’re calling it, for now, brings embodied intelligence, performance and play into design and acts of designing to offer deeper criticality on perspectives of the present from multiple standpoints of imagined and enacted history(s), present(s), future(s). Recognising we need to draw from diverse sources of intelligence, cognitive, emotional, physical, spatial, and from a multiplicity of diverse perspectives to sense, perceive and imagine worlds and things otherwise.

So far, PT draws from Otto Scharmer’s Theory U, that seeks to link the head, heart and hand to enact, embody and perform new ways of being, to improve communication and decision making. As well as, Haraway’s concept of SF, Boal’s various theatre works, activism, philosophy, critical and speculative design, philosophy, worlding, storytelling, performance-art and other sensibilities to the individual and collective performance of futures in their multiplicity. It is a call for designers and designer-kin to ‘stay with’ the irreducible complexity of everyday life in the envisioning and enactment of designing for transitions. It takes a position that in order to transition to different, fairer and more sustainable futures we need to bring the whole self to the design process, we need to experience and perform ‘otherness’. Relying on the mind alone isn’t enough, we need the collectivization of critical imaginaries when confronting emerging paradigms.

Through situated performative acts of design, such as performative scenario building, PT seeks to ground learnings and produce insight into mutually influential and often contradictory behavioral, societal, technological, political and cultural becomings, giving us a better understanding of our history(s), present(s), and future(s) what the, while inspiring agency and stimulating action towards preferred visions of transitions.

We feel that PF provides the means to explore the performative role of things, designed, natural and technological in social and or political systems, making tangible the value flows between actors (human, natural, technological). Moreover, on a deeper systems level, PT has the potential to illuminate the interplay between dark (invisible) physical (observable) matter across our material and immaterial worlds, which is key to unlocking strategic interventions that stimulate systemic transition and transformation.

PT presents us with an opportunity to play in the darkness and to embrace the unknown. It provides us with a means to explore new frontiers of performance, collective imagination, mythology and cosmovisions that illuminate transition pathways to alternative and more sustainable futures.

Collectively, with you, we would like to define how performative acts of designing and fictioning might help unveil alternative imaginaries and in a broader sense contribute to emerging practice and theory within transition design, critical speculative design, design fiction, adversarial and discursive design practices.

Here is a practical experiment of where we’ve used PF before ‘Performativity of the sharing city’

During the 2018 Global Smart Cities Congress in Barcelona, for the Sharing City Summit, we facilitated a workshop on the making of sharing cities. The workshop engaged participating city-influencers through a series of performative design games that combined aspects of Boal’s theatre games with image provocations, to unveil ‘plural’ and collective imaginaries within near future scenarios. By leveraging embodied intelligence the performative games helped participants expose and grapple with the contentious issues surrounding the sharing city while exploring new ways and revisiting old ways of sharing.

Ultimately, this performative act of fictioning and futuring illuminated possibilities towards sharing city-making and transition pathways to the sharing city. We felt a certain wonderment and magic in the process, the actors and the audience and the stage, and we have only touched the surface.

Who is Holon?

At HOLON we see a world in transition and design with the emerging paradigm. We are a Barcelona-based design coop founded in 2014 as a response to this perceived transition.

Here are a few things you should know before deciding to collaborate with us on this research.

  • You have been identified as a potential collaborator on this research because of your expertise, practical and theoretical knowledge surrounding performance, design and futures research.

*If you have any questions concerning the above points or curious about the research please get in touch at hola


Design collective engaging in a world in #transitions. We team up with the organisations leading them to shape the everyday life experiences of system change


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Design collective engaging in a world in #transitions. We team up with the organisations leading them to shape the everyday life experiences of system change


Design collective engaging in a world in #transitions. We team up with the organisations leading them to shape the everyday life experiences of system change

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