Thursday, 4 December 2008

Mapping Science Fiction in Bern

I spent a remarkably stimulating day last week with a group of Communication Design students at the Hochschule der Künste Bern in Switzerland. After delivering a talk, ‘Information As Art Form’, which outlined the development of my work as a writer and looked at some of the themes and ideas explored in ‘Welcome to Mars’, I was invited to lead the students in an afternoon workshop.

Joining in with the running of the exercise was Axel Vogelsang from the Lucerne University of Sciences and the Arts. Together we distributed a number of journals and magazines selected from the school’s basement library and distributed them at random among the students. They were then given exactly 20 minutes to find some fragment of text or isolated image that referenced in some way the concept of ‘science fiction’ – what it might mean in terms of identifiable shifts in thinking, altered attitudes towards history, progress, technology and nature, the body etc.

The students’ discoveries were then transformed into a network of key ideas and terms, worked out in a group seminar using a whiteboard and post-it notes. The first text proposed by a student to go up on the board set the tone for what was to come: ‘The first quality required of a prophet is a good memory.' What followed was an intense two hours of spirited debate and exposition.

Axel’s penmanship was considerably better than mine, which helps to explain the particularly graceful arrangement of ideas in the photographs displayed above. The picture of Axel addressing the whiteboard gives an accurate indication of the overall intensity of the session. My admiration, however, is entirely for the students, who helped generate the network of ideas. Thank you all for such an inspiring exchange.

One of the things I particularly loved about the Bern Hochschule was its ultramodern completely unfinished nature: the walls of raw concrete and plaster, the glistening lines of exposed heating ducts and naked track wiring. Everyone seemed so perfectly at home in this permanently hopeful environment, so it seemed entirely appropriate that we should have left behind only a temporary network of nodes and links fashioned out of marker-pen ink and post-its. These pictures are all that now remain of it.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

... took me ages to get around reading this. Ironically I first had to get back to London. I also enjoyed your talk and our session very much and yes the students were great and inspiring. What you say about the influence of the building in Bern is true as well. I'm always quite astonished about the power of buildings to evoke emotions and even a certain mindset. In that respect I'm actually struggling quite a bit with the building that my office is siutated in... BTW: I'm almost sure I'll make it to the Plight on the 17th. You should maybe post the location details somewhere. Or have I overlooked something?