Here's to the future
reading time 10 minutes
April 8 –– 2019
STRP is one of the most known festivals in Eindhoven. Some say it's a DNA event, which means it has that typical Eindhoven mix of tech and creativity. But STRP doesn't want to be a traditional art-tech festival anymore. And not the biggest one either. Together with visitors, it wants to explore the future. A look behind the scenes.
‘We no longer want to join the rat race for more and more visitors', says Ton van Gool a few weeks before the festival starts. He’s the festival’s director since last year and sitting with a cup of coffee this morning in a meeting room at the office at Strijp-S. Around him, producers, communication staff and trainees are running around. He quietly explains where he wants to go with STRP.
‘We no longer want to join the rat race for more visitors.’
Ton van Gool
To start with, the format: time demands permanent visibility of festivals. STRP, therefore, chooses to stop being a biennial event and to focus on an annual festival with several smaller workshops, sessions, and debates throughout the year.
And then the content. All over the world festivals are responding to the questions of the current tech era. It forced STRP to rethink its own position. ‘Many festivals get stuck in dystopian thinking', Van Gool observes. With criticism on the tech giants and concerns about where things are going to. Anti-this and anti-that. It’s lacking energy.’ And that's the last thing you want as a festival.
Topics like artificial intelligence, privacy, and bitcoins: they're all equally relevant, but the STRP team decides to zoom out further. ‘Some will say that we have become more abstract or philosophical. Our initial question is: how can we look to the future with an open eye? People seem to be stuck in images of fear at the moment. They dive back into the past. Even our science fiction is retro. What is stopping us from looking at the future again? Without fear, but also without naivety that technology will solve all our problems.’
STRP has given itself a period of two years to investigate this question. The festival in 2019 will be the kick-off.
“ "We need to talk about the future." ”
Chief story collector
Four weeks later we’re at the opening night in the Klokgebouw. ‘We need to talk about the future', the words bounce through the venue on the beats of the DJ. The future: it's not an easy topic for discussion. The future is uncertain, for many people a flight to the past is, therefore, more pleasant. ‘Future phobia', fear of the future, even appears to be an official diagnosis in the US.
STRP is an invitation to talk about that future, the host of this evening explains. To explore different scenarios and to form an opinion about the possibilities that lie ahead.
‘You don't leave this place with answers', says Robin Berkelmans cheerfully a little later. ‘Only with more questions.’ Robin has been described by Ton as 'a typical STRP visitor'. She is also named Chief Story Collector this week. She previously studied design and communication, and in the coming days, she will be looking for stories from the public. What the outcome will be? Again cheerfully: ‘I don't know.’ For Robin, uncertainty is in principle something positive. It is the place where everything is still possible.
Longing for the future
Talking about the future has everything to do with imagination. During lunch, on day six of the festival, we meet Tom Loois, who makes podcasts about speculative fiction. There is a need for fresh stories about the future, he notes. He has just attended the STRP workshop on new scenarios for sci-fi.
A few tables away, together with Gisèle Mambre and Aaltsje Hoekstra from STRP, Robin has set up a small office with laptops and post-it notes on a notice board with quotes from visitors. Please note: this quote is just a low-res copy of a more interesting conversation, we read on one of the notes. It pretty much sums up the challenge of their work this week. To capture something in words that is difficult to grasp. How do you describe a VR experience, how do you express the unique laser show at the entrance, what can you say about Motus Mori, Katja Heitmann's intense performance in which five almost naked dancers analyse and record movements for the future? This STRP is all about tech and about that future, but the tone is soft. Poetic is a word that is often used these days.
Under the notice board, we get into an engaging conversation about nostalgia and whether that necessarily relates to the past. Can you also be homesick for the future?
In front of the Klokgebouw a group of visitors started the Augmented Reality Tour with Jessica Hoffmann and Paul Clarke, two ‘archaeologists of the future’. The two from the British collective Uninvited Guests will take the group on a journey into the past and future of Strijp-S. It starts with a fascinating sketch of the forbidden city, the time when thousands of people worked here in the Philips' factories and secret innovations were built in the Natlab.
For the future of Strijp-S, they have developed two possible scenarios, one set in 2030 and the other in 2090. One scenario paints a rosy picture of the future, the other certainly does not.
But the main purpose of this expedition is to allow the eleven participants to form their own image of their Strijp-S. How do you see this area? What would you like it to be? It takes a bit of warming up, but when suggestions are immediately converted into augmented reality images on the smartphones, the group starts generating ideas quickly. ‘More trees!', someone shouts as we stand on the now rather bare square. More sports (drone soccer to be precise) and a market with local products. But also a slide from the roof of the Klokgebouw.
It's an unusual experience to look at your own city like this. To ask yourself how things can be done differently. And also to see your ideas being implemented immediately. Afterwards, we hand in our AR phones. A tall guy from the group suddenly grabs the two little Brits. ‘Thank you for this experience', he says with a Russian accent. He shows his forearm. ‘I got goosebumps all over.’
The education program is an important part of STRP Festival.
How to change your mind?
5600 children attended this year's STRP Festival with their school. This edition wasn’t about the number of visitors, but Ton mentions it a few times when we meet him again a few days after the festival. The education program is clearly an important part of STRP to him.
But even more than with the numbers, he is happy with the fact that the festival turned out to meet a need. Teachers talked to him about conversations they have with students about their expectations of the world. These expectations are often not very positive.
STRP is an attempt to talk about the world in a different way. Practice in forming opinions is important in this respect. How do you view development? What does an artist mean to say? And what do you think of that? How do you express your opinion if everyone else has a different one? And is it possible to change your mind?
A look ahead
Next year STRP will be more compact. Only four days, but at the same time, some works will continue to be on display after the festival. The team is also thinking about organizing exhibitions in the city centre. All this will be investigated in the coming months, but it is clear that STRP likes to increase its physical visibility in the future.
The next morning there’s a Whatsapp message from Robin: 'Have you landed after all the philosophical hovering during STRP?’ She definitely did. The team of story collectors put a treasure trove of stories online. This is STRP new style: the kick-off of a good conversation about the future.