In a complex world, it is increasingly difficult to foresee what tomorrow might bring. As a result, organizations struggle to react to changes when they should be shaping them proactively. A recent Harvard Business Review articlesuggested using a wider range of data sources, including atypical ones, to stay better on the pulse.
My way to do that has been through art, design, and culture. In this blog, I summarize eight interesting themes from the rich insight of these two forward-looking exhibitions.
Our world is in the midst of several serious crises. That's why the general mood of the exhibitions was a surprise. Both exhibitions were marked by empathy and, dare I say it, even a strong faith in the future. The mood was different three years ago when the Triennale's dystopian images made big headlines in the media.
Keeping global warming at the 1.5 degree threshold is the biggest challenge of our time. The war in Ukraine and the many challenges of society were also featured in the exhibitions. We need to rethink many aspects of our world and take action. Milan invited all visitors to explore the unknown future with the attitude of those who choose the challenge of empathy.
2 Listening to Nature
King Charles of England was laughed at in the 80s when he revealed that he listens to his plants. There is no more laughing. In Milan, the Greenhouse silent disco installation, based on research from the University of Warsaw, allowed the visitor to hear the silent "language" of plants, digitally converted into sound. Plants are not people, but their sensory sensitivity and ability to react to stimuli clearly exceeds what was previously thought.
People's changing relationship with nature was a strong theme In both exhibitions. We are part of nature and our task is now to find ways to listen to nature better than before. As a result, ecosystem-based planning is becoming more common.
3 The secrets of the Microbiome
Microbiome research is still in the early stage, but the new information provided by it has already been compared to the discovery of a planet. With the help of microbes, we learn to perceive our world with totally new eyes.
What are for instance the “body boundaries” of a human body, asked the artist Sonja Baumel in Milano. In the end, they don't even exist. The human being is a walking biotope, hundreds of thousands of microorganisms live in, on, and around human bodies. By understanding the microbes of humans and nature, we can support sustainable food production, promote human health, and change the treatment and diagnostics of many diseases.
4 Space Design
Along with microbes, we are also making discoveries in space, and that is also changing our perspective. New space design was already on display in Milan, and the art of Venice was also clearly fascinated by space exploration.
For instance, when settlements are planned for the Moon, people's need for their own quiet space, but also the need to connect must be taken into account in a totally new way. What is interesting is that some of these new design principles may well be seen on Earth even before any of us live in outer space.
5 Regenerative farming
The green revolution in agriculture is gaining momentum. But did you know that according to the first studies, regenerative farms are clearly more profitable than traditional farms? These farms are at the forefront of green agriculture by aiming not only to sustainable production but also at restoring the health of the soil. This is critically important for combating climate change.
The innovative farm Bodemzicht, founded in 2020 in the Netherlands and exhibited in Milan, grows living soil, captures CO2, builds multispecies communities, increases biodiversity, and produces food for humans – all while running a profit. They also share their learning with other farms.
6 AI-powered Life
Artificial intelligence has been talked about for years, but now its various applications are starting to appear in a completely new way in people's everyday lives. In Milan, concerns about the surveillance society were raised as the number of sensors increases dramatically. In Venice, there was even a working QR code in one of the paintings.
For the first time, an artwork made with artificial intelligence has already won the main prize in an art competition. The judges found the work more impressive than the traditionally made art by people. Imagine!
With the constant flow of easy-to-use AI solutions at our hands, we are heading towards a totally new world where old skills mix with new ones. In Milan, African nations raised a question about how the centuries-old construction skills will be preserved when 3D printing becomes more common.
7 New Unique Experiences
Many future predictions have failed due to an unfounded belief in rationality. Humans never replaced eating with a pill and will never do so in the future. People will always want to experience something unique. The world-famous designer Paul Milinski reminded in Milan that “in order to reach new utopias boundaries must be pushed and the status quo challenged.”
What our new dreams and utopias look like was als the big question in Venice. The answer: more individualistic, diverse, and novel. But many old, even ancient forms remain as well. One of the most popular exhibits showed videos of children playing. What a better way to relax! No wonder the growing "Kidults" trend is here to stay and now shows, indeed, an Increase of adults playing even with children's toys.
8 Global Diversity
As migration increases, there are more and more people in between cultures, and creating new interpretations of old cultures. A new type of dialogue between different cultures at the level of individuals and societies was visible in both exhibitions.
At the same time, the dominant role of Western culture is decreasing, and attention is turning more and more to the east and south. In Venice, this was very concretely visible; artworks came this time from almost 60 countries. A clear majority of the works were also made by women, as a conscious move to correct history. Our world and our everyday life will look more and more diverse, in all spheres of our lives, in the coming years.
9 Together! Era of Collaboration
We often see the world as objects or as separate actors. Many of the works drew attention to the space in between, the interaction, interconnection, or cooperation between different entities. By creating new connections, there are countless opportunities to bring more content to the present.
What can happen, for example, when we start collaborating with an old competitor? Or when we unite the silos that keep different activities apart? The silo-based rules of the Old World Order may for sure see more cracks in the future.
At the same time, of course, in politics nationalism is strengthening. However, In Venice, the exhibition palaces operated by different nation-states were now strongly criticized for being old-fashioned. Where is the bold cooperation between different countries and different professionals, asked, for instance, New York Times in its article about the Biennale.
New threats? Well, sort of...
Art reacts sensitively and, of course, there were also a lot of fears. In Milan, even a "new" big threat was brought up as an impressive installation. The huge Andromeda galaxy is heading our way. A collision is inevitable. However, according to scientists' estimates, it will only happen after circa 4 billion years.
So, no worries there, we still have all eternity to focus on the big threats of today, which we can influence. And to put our focus on identifying opportunities, and new routes to go forward. There are a lot of them in sight.
Perhaps the biggest threat to us is if we don't act now. The best tomorrow is built today.
The Milan Triennal (in Italian Triennale di Milano) is a famous international taideteollisuusnäyttely and event. It is organized in Milan every three years. Milanossa Italiassa.
The Venice Biennale is the most important global biennial of contemporary art. Every other year, various countries showcase their exhibitions at the Venice