I overcame my initial reluctance when I got some more information: the seminar, which incorporated techniques from prestigious institutions - such as the MIT - and blending them with artistic practices, was developed by Achilleas Kentonis. Kentonis studied Engineering, Physics and Fine Arts, participated among others in NASA research projects and is now self-described as a “trans-disciplinary artist, innovation trainer and engineer”. At least on paper the seminar wasn’t supposed to be same old and it actually wasn’t.
The seminar took place at Goethe-Institut Thessaloniki between the 2nd and the 4th of December 2015, with the participants forming a very diverse group across several spectrums; students and professionals, artists and engineers, natural and social scientists. After the customary introductions, we were asked to try to accomplish a feat that is universally considered impossible. We proved it wasn’t. I will refrain from giving away what the feat was since it will spoil much of the fun for future participants and obscure the point of the whole exercise. Nevertheless, I can say that its purpose was to challenge the mind’s comfort zone, provoke reflection, open participants up for what was to follow, as well as to deliver a shattering blow to skepticism.
The seminar moved to more familiar ground after the flamboyant introduction and avoided the common creativity fanfare, which mystifies innovation presenting it almost as a super-human endeavor, instead of illuminating it. The focus shifted on unveiling basic misconceptions about innovation and presenting techniques about evaluating, nourishing and managing new ideas, while more effort was given into the implementation process, than boosting creativity per se. In this sense, no participant became more creative after the seminar, but we all were equipped with tools enabling us to get the most out of our creativity.
On the last day of the seminar, participants were asked to present their own ideas to tackle a real problem in the city. Since we all had different backgrounds, the proposed projects were equally diverse, both in respect of the choice of the issue to be addressed and the type of intervention proposed. What was even more interesting was the interaction the projects instigated and the input that everyone brought into the discussion.
Unfortunately, the limited amount of time and the general configuration did not allow for an actual idea to emerge and materialize. While this particular weakness is endemic to most initiatives like Innovation Gym, whether in an artistic, academic or other setting, the whole experience would be greatly more consequential for both the participants and the overall Artecitya project if it went this extra mile. A general critique that cannot be easily disregarded is whether such initiatives enable actual interventions and whether these interventions can be more than a mind experiment or an academic exercise which, as useful and radical they may be, remain enclosed within a limited social space. The biggest challenge for the Artecitya project will not be enabling agencies and art residencies – something that it has been doing successfully so far anyway–, but how these will enable interventions in the city that will be meaningful, both to the artists and to the residents.
Innovation Gym was an oasis in what often resembles a desert of uninspired, plain, superfluous deliverance of ideas. As an oasis it had its limitations, but might prove a crucial stepping stone towards the overall aspirations of the Artecitya project.
As for the boxes, all I can say is that they were more than magguffins.