Navigating towards the NEMO POINT

Words: Anna Ochmann
Graphic: Katarzyna Baranek-Stachura

The NEMO POINT is the common name of the oceanic pole of inaccessibility (48°52.5′S 123°23.6′W). It is the geographical place on the ocean, which is the farthest possible point from any land. It lies in the South Pacific Ocean, and it is known as “the Nemo Point” with reference to Jules Verne’s main character, Captain Nemo.

NAVIGATING TO THE UNKNOWN

For me this figurative construct symbolises the place to which we are trying to navigate during discussions about the challenges of the future. This also includes challenges related to modern education or to creating cultural policies for tomorrow. We are navigating further and further away from familiar and solid “land” and also from proven solutions worked out before the coronavirus pandemic. We are diving deeper and deeper into the world of liquid modernity with its ballast of fragmentary and episodic nature.

VUCA – the acronym which describes this reality, was created over 30 years ago (in 1987), and it seems to be more accurate and up-to-date every day. Volatility, Uncertainty, Complexity and Ambiguity are becoming more and more common feelings, which are probably overwhelming all of us nowadays. At the same time, we need, like never before, long-term planning, out-of-the-box thinking, courageous political decisions, that are made collectively and not by privileged decision-makers hidden in their offices. We need decisions which on one hand take human needs into account, but which are also made according to ethical principles, particularly in the face of  technological developments and  the limited natural resources of the planet.

We need to discuss these topics very quickly, as they are associated with the dynamic development of new technologies and with incredible progress in fields such as biotechnology.

These ethical dilemmas are the result of reflection on a hybrid universe in which humans, time and information blend together into one endless digital cyberspace. These considerations are necessary to form the basis for shaping new public policies, which include those facing education today.

THE COMPETENCES FOR THE NEW EVERYDAY

By navigating to the symbolic NEMO POINT and taking up the challenge to discuss new policy directions or the future of education we move further and further from the familiar shore of the direct forms of teaching which have developed and refined in all European countries. However, we are also moving away from the familiar shore of the existing curricula, trying to outline competences that will be useful in the new everyday life.

From the fog of intuition several competences emerge: the ability to think laterally, the ability to learn new things constantly while at the same time competences which are losing their importance are extinguished. This is connected with the ability to adapt to changes. This is not understood as the implementation of specific tools, but as having an openness to a new, comprehensive culture of remote work. Here it is worth mentioning the skill to use new technologies efficiently – it is easy to observe that VR technology is already revolutionizing our thinking about remote communication. It is already used in STEAM education (Science, Technology, Engineering, Art, Mathematics) and offers so much more than the popular conference calls currently organised via Skype or ZOOM. [1]

Our intuition tells us that teachers (or rather mentors) will also need key support in the development of their soft skills (e.g. work-life balance skills or the ability to do a “technological detox”). They will also need the support in developing their online communication skills – the ability to conduct their classes in an engaging way (and this is a different set of features than usually needed in ‘traditional’ classrooms or lecture rooms).

Another important challenge seems to be the need to ensure asynchronous access to the educational materials and to ensure the mobility of knowledge transfer.

It will also be important to work on the development of competences in the field of design thinking, including such predispositions as openness to people and their needs, curiosity about what is new, courage in taking initiatives and creating new solutions, but also determination in pursuing a goal, even if it is associated with taking a risk.

The “Future of Jobs Survey 2018” conducted by the World Economic Forum [2] indicates the set of skills which will gain in importance in 2022, comparing the demand for skills in 2018 vs 2022. These are: critical, analytical and innovative thinking, active and strategic learning, creativity, originality and taking the initiative, the ability to design and program technologies, the ability to solve complex problems, emotional intelligence and, finally, leadership qualities and the ability to exert social influence. However, what is surprising when reading the full list is the fact that these forecasts were made for only 4 years into the future. The coronavirus pandemic has not only accelerated the change itself, but has also set completely new coordinates…

ARTISTS INTUITION

Culture and art in the world of uncertainty and contingency set a specific NEMO POINT before us by deconstructing of the meanings of these notions over and over again and by arriving at diverse interpretations. However, art is very often a kind of litmus test. It also often becomes a commentary on economic and social conditions, and – especially recently – on climate change. Technology, in turn, is increasingly becoming one of the forms of artistic expression or a creative tool for artists.

Artists are experimenting more and more boldly with artificial intelligence (AI), virtual (VR) and augmented reality (AR). More and more often they are using other elements such as those from biological sciences, biotechnology or ecology. [3] They experiment with generative arts, bioart, 3d mapping, and brainwave controlled works. [4] Creators of the trend indicate dematerialism as one of the trends of the future in art. This is the idea that it is an impression or a feeling that becomes art, not a material object.

“Postdigital art” is another important term, which has  appeared more and more in recent years. Mel Alexenberg in “The Future of Art in a Postdigital Age” [5] defines this concept as art which refers to the humanization of digital technology. This means the interaction between digital, biological, cultural and spiritual systems and the interaction between real space and cyberspace or virtual space; between advanced technologies and the involvement of personal attention (“high touch experience”), and also the interaction between local and globalization, between self-reflection, personal experience and broad cultural, political, social meanings and narratives. The postdigital concept opens discussion on the nature of participation, interaction and cooperation and the role of the artist. The term “postdigital” seems to best describe the reality in which we find ourselves today – not only in the world of art. Nowadays this is becoming a word that aptly defines the complexity of our present relationship with technology. [6]

In recent years artists have created a number of interesting works on the topic of the challenges posed by the digitization of the present world, or on their vision of the future. Interesting examples can be found in the project: “What Will Art Look Like in 100 Years? Sixteen Contemporary Artists Predict the Future ”[7] or at the exhibition by Paweł Janicki titled “Point Nemo” (!) and organized in the second half of 2020 at the WRO ART Center. [8]

And maybe it is the intuition of artists that may help us to navigate towards the unknown pole of inaccessibility – the NEMO POINT.


[1] A number of social platforms which use VR technology have gained popularity in recent months and they allow their users to meet from any global location. They include: AltspcaeVR (https://altvr.com/), VRChat (https://hello.vrchat.com/) or MootVR (https://mootup.com/). Most of them are supported by well known VR glasses, e.g. a few models of Oculus (https://www.oculus.com/) or HTC Vive (https://www.vive.com/us/)

[2] http://www3.weforum.org/docs/WEF_Future_of_Jobs_2018.pdf

[3] An interesting example of an artistic commentary on an environment which has been irretrievably changed by industry and the policy of economic development is the “classic” art work by Diana Lelonek “Center for the living things” 2016

http://wro2017.wrocenter.pl/en/works/instytutdlazywychrzeczy/

[4] ‘Crystal Universe / FUTURE WORLD: WHERE ART MEETS SCIENCE’ Singapore 2016 – Permanent ArtScience Museum https://youtu.be/HYrKVUYNO9U and https://www.teamlab.art/e/artsciencemuseum/

[5] Alexenberg, Mel, (2011), The Future of Art in a Postdigital Age: From Hellenistic to Hebraic Consciousness. Bristol and Chicago: Intellect Books/University of Chicago Press; ISBN 978-1-84150-377-6.

[6] https://er.educause.edu/articles/2014/5/postdigital-humanities-computation-and-cultural-critique-in-the-arts-and-humanities

[7] “What Will Art Look Like in 100 Years? Sixteen Contemporary Artists Predict the Future” http://momus.ca/what-will-art-look-like-in-100-years-sixteen-contemporary-artists-predict-the-future/

[8] Paweł Janicki “Point Nemo” exhibition trailer, WRO Art Center https://vimeo.com/443056141

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