Post-pandemic Futures for a World of Water

Post-pandemic Futures
for a World of Water

"Venice hasn't seen clear canal water in a very long time. Dolphins showing up too. Nature just hit the reset button on us"
wrote Luca Santis, a self proclaimed photographer and Twitch streamer on Twitter on March 17th 2020, still days before Italy started to flatten its curve of what would be the first wave of COVID-19 cases. Speculative scenarios, not unlike the one presented in the "dolphin Tweet" of Luca Santis, are at the core of many design practices that have taken on the global challenge to prevent catastrophic climate change. In order to have a chance of succeeding several issues need to be addressed; for example, the establishment of a widespread believe that the future can be changed as well a thorough, tangible understanding of the elementary matter and materials we have at our disposal today, which help to support this change.

The Water Everywhere Studio will be an attempt to contribute to this cause.

Within the hybrid course setup of Water Everywhere we will look at and learn from key water challenges that are pertinent to water cities like Venice and Rotterdam and that resonate on a global scale, both in physical and in digital form. Directed by pioneering educators and renowned scientists/designers/artists each lens represents different yet complementary perspectives on 'water as a material'. Although their approaches differ from one another, they share one common goal: Tapping into the importance of water as a medium for engineering, design and life from a trans-disciplinary and interdependent perspective. Experimentation will take place in various field labs in and outside The Netherlands, including ones in Rotterdam and Venice. Knowledge developed through the several lenses in the different programmes will be shared and made accessible online. This hybrid and cross-pollinating approach will allow for all current and future stakeholders to connect remotely and reflect on common issues both intimately and globally.

Part of the 'Water Everywhere' program will be relocated to Venice (October 4th–15th 2021) where we will start a more in depth investigation of 'Water as Matter' and question ways in which water, as we know it, can be investigated as source, medium and matter and at the same time, regain meaning through artistic practice. In this meta level approach and in depth take on new material ideologies, several case studies will serve to illustrate several ways in which water can be reimagined through Research through Design, experimental investigation methods, visualization and materialization.

Water Everywhere Lenses
Three different views on Water Everywhere
Futures & Presence
What are some potential future scenarios for a world dominated by water? How can these futures be communicated with their rightful urgency, inspiring action today with a view towards care for tomorrow?

What will the future shape of the Netherlands be? We were once linked to the UK through the territory of Doggerland, which is now undersea. Planning for the coming decades indicates that Dutch scientists already foresee giving back parts of the land to the sea, for the survival of the rest of the country. Meanwhile new real estate is created (the neighbourhood of IJburg in Amsterdam, for example) or recuperated from highly polluted land (Amsterdam Noord, Diemerpark, and others). In this programme, students will be challenged to envision scenarios wherein our future territories have totally shifted, in many cases sculpted by the sea. We will look to the past (Doggerland, Cousteau's ideas of underwater cities) and the future (terraforming, redrawn coastal borders, etc) for inspiration. What technologies, practices, and forms of exchange can arise in a world dominated by water and changing territories? When speaking of territories, we also must examine our colonial past and collectively determine how we can decolonize our future(s). To find out, students will investigate coastal regions, connect with real stakeholders, and design speculative systems and curious experiences that bring new futures to the fore.

In order to develop radical imaginings that reach beyond the current limitations of human-centred technology, culture and politics, this lens approaches our world from both a human and a non-human (even extra-planetary) perspective. The creation of visually expressive and critical narratives, concepts, and design artefacts to envision alternative futures/future scenarios for a world dominated by water plays a vital role to this lens. How can these futures be communicated with their rightful urgency, inspiring action today with a view towards care for tomorrow? Together we will discuss the long-term responsibilities when turning speculation into realization.
Materials & Systems
Interactions in the wet metropolis: Rotterdam is a city built on and around water. With land reclaimed from the sea, roads and landmarks named after the dykes that have been or are still holding back the deluge, and an innovation scene with a focus on "blue," Rotterdam is a wet city, constantly battling to stay just dry enough. Water is both friend and foe, a barrier and a roadway. What initiatives can artists and designers take to make Rotterdam's climate-changed future better, even if it's wetter?

The many properties of water provide a medium for transformation. All around 'water cities' such as Rotterdam and Venice, the incursion of water into dry spaces reveals its changeable character: it is liquid, solid, and gas, it is a destroyer and a life-giver. From sound, to atmosphere, to spectacle and the myriad reflections of buildings, the characteristics of water are intrinsic to the compelling spectacles of Rotterdam and Venice. But water's function goes beyond the spectacular.

It is a source of income, a roadway for public, private, and industrial transport, and it is the lifeblood of Rotterdam's port, bringing the products of global manufacturing and extraction to Europe.

Water is not just a force of nature, but also has qualities and properties manipulable through engineering and design. Water cities like Rotterdam and Venice exist because of their technological engagements with the watery landscape – both now and in past centuries.

Students within this programme will depart from case studies that are all connected by water. They will explore the origins of these cases and speculate about potential futures. How does water mediate future engagements with the city? Will water always be a public good, or will it succumb to the march of privatisation? How will individuals and organisations negotiate the systems built with and on water?

How can water, when treated like data, provide valuable new insights into human behaviour and human-machine-system interactions? Which tools can be (re-)used/developed to explore the material properties of water, allow us to extract information from it and sculpt its reactive matter into new messages?

Data has become one of the main currencies powering investment and trade in today's society. Digital data is mined and processed to expose possible connections, associations, patterns and trends that in turn can provide insights into human behaviour and interactions. Current and historical data are used as a means for , catching a glimpse of tomorrow. In this process not all data is treated equally. Quantitative data, numbers, is in this context often seen as easier to process, manipulate, and crunch than qualitative data which is descriptive, and regards phenomena which can be observed but not (easily) measured, such as motions. The environment is increasingly datafied. Take water for example. What information can be extracted from the way water is used, processed or stored? What stories do rivers tell? What can we learn about public health by examining wastewater?

Contexts & Situatedness
How can the ideas and social imaginations of water, as a central component of human culture, be situated to explore new or marginalized perspectives, practices, communities, worlds, and possible futures? Which approaches, practices, tools, or platforms provide the most potential to explore, engage, represent, project, challenge, contest or disrupt ideas of identity and community in relation to water – the majority stakeholder of every human body?

Branding is traditionally understood in the context of logos, commodities, visual identities, advertising and/or marketing. As consumers we recognize such materials as explicit 'front facing' brand representations, however, in the contemporary world, branding is a complex eco-social network of meaning that penetrates countless aspects of life. What in previous times was a logo and direct campaign is now a collection of colors, textures, smells, images, experiences, and emotions. What was formerly buying into a singular fixed projection of self, is now an ecosystem of tools, platforms and practices to project, express, represent, challenge, oppose or disrupt ideas of identity and community.

This programme will question branding practices that result in an army of branded water bottles, floating keychains, USB sticks & sustainable totes; and move beyond single-use t-shirts, fanny packs, trucker hats & gift shop posters. As the utilization of data has become more commonplace, the novelty of personalized, (micro) targeted communication has worn off to some degree. The overwhelming static of clickbait, user-tracked, micro-targeted, virtually-assisted experiences, results in an ever-present landscape of highly personalized, yet tragically shallow interactions.

Emerging trends exemplify the growing need to reimagine brand experiences, relationships, and interactions, in part, through physical spaces. By materializing new ways to engage various 'stakeholders' students in this programme will be challenged to create the literal 'tools' that are required to build new worlds. As designers/producers, we rely on the development of brand presence and messaging across different scales and levels of focus from a systematic perspective, but the large challenge is to translate this into brand experiences that seem natural. This can be expressed through extraordinary and explicit brand experiences, but often is most meaningful as everyday interactions that just 'happen to be around' in a moment of engagement or need.
Dive deeply into one focus area or be involved on all levels throughout the entire Studio.
This project is a joint programme between the European Cultural Academy
and the Willem de Kooning Academy