In this post, we introduce each of our 9 Utopians and they share creative reflections on the experience of the EFI Utopia Lab pilot which took place at the Unviersity of Edinburgh on 3-5 June 2019.
Dr Jane Alexander, Deputy Programme Director, MSc in Creative Writing (Online) , The University of Edinburgh
Utopia Lab was a collaborative ‘no-space’, a time and a place for contemplation, inquiry and innovation. Across our individual disciplines, we talked and we listened; we sparked off each other, generating light – and a little bit of heat, too.
Cal Newport (Deep Work, New York: Grand Central Publishing, 2016) has described how innovation tends to emerge not from interdisciplinary collaboration alone, but from a combination of collaboration and solitary work. He proposes a model he calls hub-and-spoke, based on the architecture of Building 20 at MIT, which in the aftermath of WWII served as an incubator for innovative research in part because its occupants – from many different disciplines, working on diverse projects – would frequently encounter each other in the intersecting corridors as they moved to and from their individual workspaces. It’s this combination of hub (the opportunity to exchange ideas and discuss problems with others) and spoke (the ability to retreat to a quiet, solitary workspace to pursue what Newport describes as ‘deep work’) that can enable new ideas and creative breakthroughs.
Utopia Lab, then, was the hub. Now we participants have retreated to our individual spokes to process the experience, what will emerge? For me, there will be stories. Perhaps there’s a story about a cardboard robot named Kate, and the encounter of human and diagnostic machine, the promise of self-perfection. Or there may be a story in the overlapping questions our visitors asked of the future, and how the future might reply, or in a game of cards that helps us invent our future. Each of these is a seed planted in the back of my mind, waiting – in quiet and solitude – to germinate.
Hub, and spoke. But there was a moment, at the end of the second day… One of us starts to write on the whiteboard wall: a word, a question. Sulaïman adds a drawing: a figure reclining, or falling, or perhaps it’s giving birth… Gradually, other people join in. Words and phrases become generative stems, twining and blooming. There are not enough whiteboard markers to go round, so we share, passing the pens from hand to hand without the need for speech. Our conversations develop in colour, in erasable ink: black challenges blue, red responds to green. We move in close, then step back, the way you might view a painting in a gallery; we navigate from side to side, then crouch or stand on chairs to stretch the map of our thinking down to the floor, up towards the ceiling. We are writing – drawing – to see what we think. To understand how our thoughts might mesh, merge, diverge. After two days of talk, it’s welcome, this voiceless way of working together. It’s an improvisation, a dance without music. It’s hub and it’s spoke. It’s beyond the binaries, and as close as anyone might come to collective thought. To a shared mind.
BSc Computer Science and Artiﬁcial Intelligence, 2017-2021, The University of Edinburgh
Dima created a piece entitled, ‘How many questions make utopia?’ It was a programme which allowed audience members to type a question into a computer, which then fed those questions onto a beautiful, colour-morphing large scale projection which accumulated over the course of the evening. These are the questions that were entered:
Where are we?,How are you doing?,How do we change our existing structures without losing ourselves?,What would Utopia like to ask me?,r u real?,What did you always hope would come true in your life?,Do you always live in the future?,What can you see?,What role does nature play in Utopia?, Who will be in 40 years?,What should I ask you?,Is Utopia is the second name of Mother Nature?,?????????,When will we arrive?,Why?,how do we sense enough?,Does Utopia have rules?,Tackling the Ecological and Climate Emergency is a huge challenge for those of us who yearn for Utopia. Discuss,Who is welcome in “the” future ? Do we have space for future(s)?,does it matter?,Thank you,Is utopia method or place ? ,Can you appreciate Utopia without a Dystopia?,00101110111011?,Isn’t it all OK?,How many questions are enough?,Why do we need to be healed?,Can you take me to Utopia?,Are we there yet?,Is Utopia singular or plural?,What is the future of listening,Why not?,Does Utopia have regrets?,What’s the weather like in Utopia?,SOLARPUNK???,What is not utopian about this place?,What language is spoken in Utopia?,What even is utopia?,What would you like to ask Utopia?,How are you?,What should I do with myself in Utopia?,How much wine makes a Utopia?,Don’t we all just want a cup of tea?,Safe is not talking?,How old is Utopia?,When?,Whats ur number ,How old r u ? ,asl?,In utopia… could I be a child forever???,How can we make this last longer?,Is utopia / does utopia (exist) in time ?,Do you pay the rent??,Have you cleaned your room?,But how is K.A.T.E. doing?,Does hope exist in utopia?,Do we care about hope in Utopia?,Does the past matter in Utopia?,What is the future of Utopia?,What is freedom in utopia?,Who isn’t there?,Are we travelling?,Is healing travelling?,Dystopian literature in utopia?,Do people stop to smell the flowers in Utopia?,Will be still human/e,How do we imagine a future that exists beyond the Frame of social reproduction?,pic 4 pic?
(c) Andrew Perry EFI Utopia Lab 2019
BSc Cognitive Science, 2015-2019, The University of Edinburgh
Claudia created this utopia comic with fellow Utopian, Vaida Plankyte.
She also shared this comic with us, called ‘existential crisis more likely than you think’. I suspect it is one of the many incredible creations in the journal that she keeps for recording thoughts, images, ideas and much more.
Sulaïman Majali is an artist and writer, currently a resident at Talbot Rice Gallery as part of the Freelands Artist Program. Their past work includes assembly of the poets, a reading as part of EARTH HOLD, Qalandiya International/Serpentine Galleries; this scattering of minds like seeds, Kunsthalle Exnergasse Vienna/Transmission Gallery Glasgow; as if we were strangers, CCA Glasgow and Towards an Archive (Conversation B) at the 8th Cairo Video Arts Festival. They gifted this poem love letter to an incarcerated future as part of the Utopia Lab.
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=SBGuWa3MmLE&feature=youtu.be – a short Futures Literacy video
https://youtu.be/95EEEvhmWwU – Bayo Akomolafe speech, also his book : The Wilds Beyond our Fences
MSc in Environment & Development, The University of Edinburgh
Fleur wants to share this poem as a reflection of her experience of the Utopia Lab.
BSc (Hons) Ecological & Environmental Sciences, 2015-2019, The University of Edinburgh
Gabriele shared this film with us as part of the first day of the Utopia Lab.
‘For the course Geosciences Outreach & Engagement, I produced, ﬁlmed, and edited the following video for the Widening Participation programme: http:// www.teaching-matters-blog.ed.ac.uk/kids-like-me-a-widening-participation-videoto-encourage-equal-access-to-science-studies/‘
Artificial Intelligence and Computer Science, 2015-2019, The University of Edinburgh
Vaida created this utopia comic with fellow Utopian, Claudia Libbi.
Postgraduate Research Student (PhD), Science Technology and Innovation Studies, School of Social and Political Science, The University of Edinburgh
Matjaz, or Mat as we call him in Utopia, created this image to capture his vision of utopia.
Jennifer dreamed up the Utopia Project and was over the moon to have the opportunity to design and facilitate this first Utopia Lab, which was even more amazing than she ever hoped it could be. She wrote this poem and shared it during one of the meditation sessions in Utopia.
The EFI Utopia Lab 2019 pilot was an experiment, and a joint creation of the Edinburgh Futures Institute and the Festival of Creative Learning at the Institute for Academic Development. Hopefully the project will continue, and we will be able to further explore and develop these concepts and models. If you are interested in what we did and have your own questions, or want to get involved, please email firstname.lastname@example.org.