IdeaFestival

"IF Uncut" Video: Sam Van Aken's Hole in the Sky

"I'm very invested in confusion. It's where new ideas emerge." Sam Van Aken, IdeaFestival 2014

Artist Sam Van Aken talks about his creative process in the latest IdeaFestival Uncut video.

As you might guess from the quote above, his approach to art making follows a highly disruptive process. That work method is reflected in two current projects: A Hole in the Sky where he attempts to alter the actual weather by using a plane to punch holes in clouds and produce the phenomena known as Jacob's Ladder, and The Tree of 40 Fruit, which is a single tree that can grow over 40 different varieties of stone fruit.

Van Aken uses a method of cloning desirable fruits using a process called grafting in the Tree of 40 Fruit.

In a personal moment nearer the end of the video, Van Aken describes his artistic transformation, going from producing work earlier in his career that was irreverent to work, now, that incorporates elements of the transcendent. He described the Tree of 40 Fruit as a bit of "hocus pocus," a term the he pointed out is related to hoc est (enim) corpus (meum) in the Latin mass. The comparison is particularly apt since many of the fruits that he has grafted are long forgotten varieties that are given new life through Van Aken's work.

The tree's spring display, if you haven't seen it, is simply stunning.

The IdeaFestival Uncut video series brings you speaker presentations in their entirety, and can be found on IFTV. Please subscribe! And don't forget to follow the festival on Twitter or like us on Facebook.

Stay curious!

Wayne

IF Conversations - Cameron Sinclair

Cameron Sinclair, Co-founder and executive director of Architecture for Humanity on "Humanitarian Relevance In Architecture"
From: IFTV
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Time: 01:01 More in Nonprofits & Activism

Kenn Parks, Our One Planet

Following his presentation at the 2008 ideafestival, Kenn Parked talked about how the creative use of technology can connect people in new and bigger ways leading to more sustainable, positive global impacts.
From: IFTV
Views: 60
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Time: 02:56 More in Nonprofits & Activism

How Shall We Explore?

If I could tell you what it meant, there would be no point in dancing it - Isadora Duncan

Problems cannot be solved until they are first explored. How shall we explore?

Recounting the lessons he's learned from "healthy" design processes - "process, not product," "open v. closed," wait to make decisions until you have to - designer Jared Sinclair expands on each using an illustration.

He uses a video of a John Cleese lecture to describe what he means by "open v. closed."

Creativity is a way of operating, a habit of the mind — not a talent. When you grasp this fact, it becomes painfully clear that the way we organize our time and our interactions with colleagues often undermines the very creativity we’re supposedly chasing after.

Creative sessions should be kept formally separate from the hurried mundanity of getting things done. When we need to solve a problem that requires creativity, we should deliberately shut out all of that noise and stress. For a clearly-defined interval of time — Cleese suggests an hour and a half — we enter a state of humorous, open-ended play. Within this cocoon of play, we strive to think of as many ways to view a problem as we can muster.

The point is not to solve the problem (though that will eventually happen), but merely to explore it. The urge to find a decision and pass judgement will destroy the fragile creative process. Instead, postpone judgement until the allotted time for creative work has lapsed. Only then should you return to a 'closed' mode, in which you are judging and implementing the plans that your creativity has inspired. Repeat the cycle of open and closed modes with regularity.

I appreciated the oh-so current reference to getting things done, the last unexamined virtue of contemporary life. As an introvert - an INTP to be precise - who needs time and space to process what can often feel like overwhelming external stimulation, I've always wondered how anything creative ever happens between the blitz of phone calls, meetings and "quick" emails that consume so much of our days. Cleese's clearly articulated call for regular periods of play - or reading - or daydreaming - or a walk in the woods - is one I can relate to, as is the thought that creativity is not a talent, just room to breathe.

Insights aren't merely the accumulation of facts, but connecting the facts in novel ways. The process, aside from requiring time, isn't one of finding solutions, but of patience and of living in the question. On this, Cleese is emphatic. "We don't know where we get our ideas come from. What we do know," drawing in the next breath, "is that do not get them from our laptops."

How shall we explore?

Tonight, the skies will be clear. I think I'll take in Orion and find where comet Lovejoy's icy bouquet has gotten to.

Stay curious.

Wayne

Wikipedia: Flow psychology

Information Is Not Power

The true sign of intelligence is not knowledge but imagination. - Albert Einstein

We're regularly told "to buckle down," "to focus" on goals, but when it comes to imaginative outcomes, a single-minded focus can be counterproductive. In fact, Daniel Goleman's book "Focus" makes the case for an indirect receptiveness to information of all kinds. From a New York Times Sunday Book Review of the work:

According to Goleman, the author of 'Emotional Intelligence,' it’s a form of attentiveness characterized by 'utter receptivity to whatever floats into the mind.' Experiments suggest it’s also the source of our most creative thoughts. Going beyond 'orienting,' in which we deliberately gather information, and 'selective attention,' in which we concentrate on solving a particular problem, open awareness frees the brain to make the “serendipitous associations” that lead to fresh insights. Artists and inventors alike seem unusually adept at such productive daydreaming.

We tend to think of attention as a switch that’s on or off — we’re focused or we’re distracted. That’s a misperception. Attention, as Goleman explains, comes in many varieties. Its extreme forms tend to be the most limiting....

What appears to be most at risk is our ability to experience open awareness. Always a rare and elusive form of thinking, it seems to be getting rarer and more elusive. Our modern search-engine culture celebrates information gathering and problem solving — ways of thinking associated with orienting and selective focus — but has little patience for the mind’s reveries. Letting one’s thoughts wander seems frivolous, a waste of practical brainpower. Worse, our infatuation with social media is making it harder to hear the mind’s whispers. Solitude has fallen out of fashion. Even when we’re by ourselves, we’re rarely alone with our thoughts.

The reviewer points out that any misunderstanding of what it means to focus can also be attributed to a belief that attention is solely a function of the brain when, in fact, it's informed at least in part by culture. The mention of solitude instantly reminded me of William Deresiewicz's West Point address on solitude and leadership, wherein the essayist argues that leaders need time and space to reflect. "If you want others to follow, learn to be alone with your thoughts."

Does your culture encourage reflection or mere information churn?

The latter is not only counterproductive, but dangerous. Paying attention to the wrong things is the leading cause of flying accidents, as I was repeatedly told by my primary flight instructor when I was learning to fly. Every year, pilots lose their lives because they blundered deeper and deeper into a dangerous situation, missing, or dismissing, the cues that could have warned them of danger. The information they had was wrong.

A "productive awareness" also means being attuned to our senses, of feeling, as clearly as possible, what we are feeling at any moment in time so as to not miss important connections. Suspending belief in their own ways, successful scientists and playwrights see what there is to see because they know that information is not power. The right information is power. To have that aha moment, we must use imagination. We must be open to surprise. We must be curious.

The cognitive "reverie" is what I loved about Occupy Lunch's Robert Karimi and his fellow Creative Capital artists at IdeaFestival 2014. They peek behind the curtain. They have leaky mental filters. From time to time, they make space to think about nothing in particular because they care about leadership - self-leadership. The irony is that by venturing beyond mere "orienting" in the search for knowledge, they come to know what they know.

Stay curious.

Wayne

Image: Geoff Oliver Bugbee


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