Transdisciplinary Exchange and Residencies

The ZK/U sees itself as a laboratory for inter- and trans-disciplinary activities centered on the phenomenon of “the city”.
ZK/U promotes international exchange on global issues, in the light of what is happening in one’s own backyard. Working with local and international partners, ZK/U residencies brings together critical minds at the cutting-edge of artistic production and urban research.

Contemporary artistic positions, ranging from contextual and interventionist to conceptual and street art, address selected themes.
Work at ZK/U is informed by theoretical and practice-based critiques developed in the disciplines of geography, anthropology, urban planning, architecture and the humanities.

The ZK/U residency is a production space where artists, researchers and practitioners can meet and work on individual or collaborative projects and ideas. The programme consists of an active-collaborative format for mutual exchange, weekly Thursday Dinners, where the residents get the opportunity to introduce their practice to a selected audience, and monthly studio visits by professionals from ZK/U’s network. ZK/U’s residents furthermore have the possibility to share their work with a broader public during the OPENHAUS, a monthly open studio format, and by proposing their own public events and projects. Since the ZK/U sees itself as a constantly evolving space, fellows are encouraged to bring their own inputs into the communal life, be it in terms of actions, creating collectives or simply contributing to the maintenance of the space.

Open Call Conceptual Frame

General themes

"Is not it nice to think that tomorrow is a new day 
with no mistakes in it yet?" (L.M. Montgomery)

In the frame of this Open Call, ZK/U wants to encourage thinking and acting that is unencumbered by ecological, economic and social crisis, foster questions about citizen participation in the urban and artistic field. We argue, like Chantal Mouffe, in the favor of a society of agonism, that foster debates and dissensus.

Research ranging from looking at Kibbutzim to the myth of the 'benevolent dictator', from anarchy to the commune, from Freemasons to the colonization of Mars, from community gardens to gated communities, how can 'living together' be looked at in a radical and unobstructed way, while taking into account the need for individual distinction.

We would like to explore the idea of community without referring to or attempting to finding solutions for current disasters or crisis. We want to discuss past and present, structured and informal, radically democratic and non-hierarchical models of community and society. ZK/U places itself in the interim space between utopias and today’s reality, confronting and challenging them. What does it  mean to demand participatory industries, decentralised energy production, co-owning systems and time banks? What do we demand, when opposing gentrification, still wanting to improve living conditions for all? Is that possible?

In fact, ZK/U welcomes research projects and artistic practices that examine, question and present forms of community beyond the boundaries of crisis management. We aim to foster the resident’s initiatives to use ZK/U as an experimental platform for conversational formats and research projects. Like Augusto Boal, with his “invisible theater” or Stephen Wright’s affection for “stealth” art, we’re interested in engagement with random sectors of the population rather than with a trusted group of fellow artists and people used to the art language. “The artist is a secret agent in the real world, with an artistic agenda”. (Stephen Wright quoted by Pablo Helguera, Education for Socially Engaged Art, JPB 2011).

Our conceptual position naturally implies the breach of traditional medium-discipline frames. Is there a common ground in the merging of arts and sciences that is inclusive of, while not being restricted by, the complex dogmas of conventional disciplinary thinking? Through theory and practice we aim to locate a third space for such thinking, while at the same time asking ourselves if this conversation between disciplines can be accessed and gain new autonomy.

Over the past decade, a discussion has emerged on how academic and artistic forms of knowledge production can mutually engage each other. These discourses first became visible in interdisciplinary research and practice fields and have recently arrived in academic and artistic institutions. These debates usually refer to such collaborative work as 'artistic research' and depending on the perspective, lament what is thought to be lost in the process: freedoms (art) or the lack of a systematic basis (science). Seldom is the concept of a third space uniting those seemingly incongruous poles in an unknown mode of knowledge production taken into consideration.

Instead of looking at was is lost, ZK/U invites speculation on a third space of knowledge production by focusing on the benefits and synergies that materialize through disciplinary encounters.

The incipient third space is not concerned with effects and results (in art: 'work of art', in the sciences: publication / report), but rather with the processes coming from each field. We aim to create an environment in which it is not the outcome but the inherent processes of trial and error which are made visible to the public and laid bare for critique.

"Whenever Art altered its status as commodity and means of social distinction, it has been able to intervene in social reality…hardly being recognizable as art. If this were possible in artistic research, then strangely we'd have a true avant-garde." (Quote Möllmann Dirck, Book Review: "A Portrait of the Artist as a Researcher," Other Sinema / AS Mediatijdschrift, edited by Dieter Lesage and Kathrin Busch, No. 179 (2007), Antwerp (English-speaking).)

Investigation leads for the Open Call


Next to its general themes ZK/U has defined four main investigation leads along which it shapes and develops its projects. ZK/U invites the coming generations of residents to think along and possibly contribute to these thematic objectives. Aspiring residents are encouraged to look for overlaps between their own interests and the activities of ZK/U, and to outline in their application how they envisage their involvement in our vision. Apart from engaging in the existing discourses within ZK/U, fellows are expected to come up with proposals and initiatives for new individual or group projects, programmes and formats that resonate with ZK/U’s concept but bring in fresh, alternative and inspiring perspectives.


1) SELF-EMPOWERMENT: Practical Guides and Solidarity in Urban Learning


Nowadays the term empowerment is used abundantly, most often in relation to ‘the people’. Platforms that claim to offer instant solutions to entitle and educate the poor and ignored pop up on a daily basis, without an in-depth understanding of the context they are working in. Paradoxically enough, self-criticality about one’s own advocacy is often absent. In ZK/U’s view, real empowerment and education begins and ends with a question. It requires problematizing existing hierarchies of learning, and creating inclusive spaces for sharing knowledge - spaces of non-formal and self-education. Instead of empowering citizens from a position of authority, ZK/U wants to create spaces for self-empowerment. This involves eradicating the roles of the professional or expert and the amateur, and replace them with an emphasis on learning by doing.

ZK/U works on establishing hands-on platforms for reciprocal exchange between citizens from diverse backgrounds and with varied foreknowledge. One of these platforms is the CityToolBox: a freely accessible online-learning format where citizens from all walks of life can share and reach guidelines, methodological frameworks, tools and manuals for urban actions. ZK/U welcomes initiatives and projects that aim at making urban knowledge, processes and practices approachable and transferrable with the active self-empowerment of citizens in mind.

Our leading questions are:

How can everyday wisdom be linked to acknowledged research?
How can academic knowledge production become more accessible to a wider audience?
How can consumers become (co-)producers?
How to work outside of your own professional bubble?
How to practically work interdisciplinary?
How can visionaries talk to conservative powers?
How can newcomers talk to established forces?

Related ZK/U projects: Artist Dis-Placement, CityToolBox, CCC, Z/education, ZK/U Press


2) RESETTING: Urban Infrastructure Revisited


Street lights, benches, bus stops…have you ever noticed that they look more and more alike? Have you ever wondered who decides what they should look like and what purposes they should serve? Have you ever been asked how you would imagine them? In response to the increasing privatization of public goods and spaces, ZK/U would like to place urban furniture and public infrastructure within the debate of the urban commons. Through the critical examination of urban infrastructure and public services, new possibilities and models can be realized for citizens to shape and influence their surroundings, and utilize public space for their common interests and good. As such, ZK/U proposes to reclaim collective ownership of public space in the city. In this framework artists, urban planners, experts, economists, designers, activists, policy-makers and citizens are invited to contribute to an open source pool of practices and production manuals that propose new, cooperative ways of planning and producing urban infrastructure, and allow citizens to become public space co-producers.

Our leading questions are:

How accessible are public spaces in the city?How can the cityscape be built in a bottom-up manner? 
How can administrations talk to citizens and vice versa?
How can urban commons like water, energy, streets, train tracks be recommunalised?
How can citizens engage and be part of supply processes and other public services for their city? Which potential new economic models can derive from citizen engagement?
How can citizens become co-curators/-producers of the public space?
How can recognised participation in planning processes be shaped?
Which planning tools and methods can be used for recognized participation processes?
What possibilities of urban self-sustainability exist? Are they upscalable prototypes, or individualistic leisure-time ‘extras’?

Related ZK/U projects: Hacking Urban Furniture, Artist Dis-Placement, Ständige Vertretung


3) BRIDGING Global Discourse and Local Practice


The idea that our lives and surroundings are increasingly affected by globalization has become a meaningless commonplace.The focus point is no longer to adapt to new socio-political and economic situations; rather, it is to scale our individuality and locality according to the inherently globalized state of the world. The complexities engendered by worldwide interconnection are often difficult to grasp - personal relations to or involvements with global events are generally the only moments when these larger intricacies become tangible.

ZK/U focuses on making the global processes and complexities that hold the world in their grip sensible and experienceable on a personal level through research and artistic practices. There is a need to explore new ways of designing global systems within the conditions specific to individual people and places. In the context of the financial crisis for instance, an alternative to the global finance market can be provided by experimenting with non-monetary economic alternatives for the exchange of goods, time and knowledge in the city. Artists, researchers, activists, and visionaries are needed to imagine and realize sustainable and independent formats for the exchange of financial means, public goods, and knowledge that are tangible on a personal and local level.

Our leading questions are:

How can we respond to and act upon the most pressing challenges of a globally connected world, in ways that are tangible, understandable and still reflect the complexity of larger systems?
How can we act locally within a global frame of mind?
How can we design for a new sustainable system of production of knowledge and public goods?
How can we bring diversity and local identities into our research and artistic practices?
Is it possible to imagine and create systems of development that radically challenge the current monotonous globalized economy?
What can a social-economic model of exchange look like? How do we integrate the public interests of different layers of society in the distribution of financial means, public goods, and knowledge?
What forms of non-monetary exchange of knowledge are there in the city?
Can we create sustainable and independent value exchange systems beyond the global finance market?

Related ZK/U projects: Gütermarkt, Güterverkehr, Speisekino, Fußballaballa, Archipel InVest, Simulizi Mijini


4) RE-THINKING: Resilient Cities in Post-Migrant Societies


Migration is often regarded as a challenge or even a threat, despite its continuity in world history and the significant role it has played in the building of our current societies. In the context of ongoing migration movements and social reconfigurations, many countries are faced with economic, social and political challenges on a regional, national and transnational level. ZK/U aspires to explore the potentials of artistic work as a transformative tool in post-migrant societies, to shift the perspective on migration from instantaneous and threatening to continuous and offering opportunities. It has become apparent that the current global demographic situation is not temporary but ongoing and will thus have a lasting effect on the social figuration of neighbourhoods and cities. Therefore we need to re-think the notion of community as a set of inclusive practices and mutual processes of integration, and realize that what is often conceived as a ‘crisis’ is actually a chance that needs to be taken proactively.

The imagination of forms of local belonging that are inclusive of international backgrounds through social, artistic and creative activities thus plays an important role within ZK/U’s vision and practices. For example, ZUsammenKUNFT, a satellite project of ZK/U, provides a space for the encounter of creatives, newly arrived citizens and existing Berliners, with inclusion as an active and reciprocal process in mind. ZK/U is interested in welcoming residents, groups, projects and utopias that aim for the same goal through various approaches.

Our leading questions are:

How can we overcome social and legal restrictions for immigrants and create a sense of mobility and inclusion?
How can we build a space for inclusive practices that mediates locality and diversity?
What is the unique potential of bringing together culture, education and social engagement?
How can art, culture and craft offer a way out of social displacement and generate a sense of belonging?
How do we mediate the global and the local in the context of migration and refuge?

Related ZK/U projects: Haus der Statistik, ZUsammenKUNFT, ZK/U Residency, nomadicArt / Gyalpa

Landreform Karussel, KUNSTrePUBLIK, 2008