How do you think technology affects the way we interact with other cultures?
Technology makes us feel as if we live in a larger world than we actually do. We feel like we’ve met people or visited places without leaving home. But visiting someplace online is only half the story, probably less, because we miss the sensory experience, the nervous energy, the smells, and tastes and personal contact. These experiences only come from interacting with another culture face-to-face.
Yes, technology is a powerful tool for connecting us virtually, making introductions, and building coalitions. Ideally this will help ease contact in the real world and allow new relationships to deepen within a shorter period of time. But that means we must step away from the screen, too. We need to cross the street, the border, or the time zone and meet our neighbours face-to-face.
Can you talk to us a little bit about how GTT uses technology in your projects?
We depend on technology, in particular the Internet, for connecting with think tanks around the world, as many are in places we have not and cannot visit. Yet because of this dependence on the web, we institute safeguards to resist the flattening effects of networked technology. We seek out individuals who are diverse in many ways, including in their technological backgrounds. We work with a group of bike mechanics in Ghana, a group of workers at a rural radio station in El Salvador, and Sudanese asylum seekers in an internment camp in Israel. We actively avoid working with artists or international development workers because we want to ensure the solution-offering voices are from other places and groups. Also, we ask the think tanks to meet face to face, in 3-4 hour blocks of time together, usually over a meal.
So it's clear for you that digital technology can never truly replace a 'real' human interaction. Can you tell us what you'll be presenting at FACT as part of the showcase 6 - 29 November?
We are introducing new Ghana ThinkTank software embedded in the belly of a goat. It’s a kiosk, and a sculpture, and a way for visitors to participate in the Ghana ThinkTank process. We have a history of building extravagantly strange kiosks — including one here at FACT in 2009. These are important structures that collect problems, share solutions, invite participation, and express a mixture of art, history, and vernacular architecture.
We were inspired to create the goat sculpture after seeing a medieval painting of a young maiden with a unicorn resting on her lap. Goats are very odd creatures, semi-domesticated and yet still extremely strong for their size. Revealing and struggling with power dynamics is key to Ghana ThinkTank. The sculpture expresses some of our ideas about power, how it is gained and neutered, resilient and invisible.
Can you tell us more about the software? How can people try it?
The software is new and very exciting for us - we developed it at FACT this summer during our residency. We looked internationally for a web developer who could faciliate the next stage of our web presence and Damibu here in Liverpool fit the profile. Damibu is a software development studio who specialise in web and mobile applications for the public and health sector, and like to focus on impact projects which can benefit society.
This is a soft-launch, quite literally. Right now it’s going to be available to try out on, or in, the goat, whose fur is very soft - be sure to touch it. The program runs on the tablet computer in the goat’s belly, so step right up and try it out. You can submit a problem of your own, and the software knows where you are and decides whether you are in a so-called developing or developed country. The software is a new and deeper investment in technology for us so we are monitoring the rollout closely. We want to see how it is used by problem-submitters as well as by think thanks offering solutions. After Human Futures, our plan is to take the goat and the software to think tanks in person and explain and introduce it.
What do you hope people will take away form the project?
We hope people leave thinking about global relationships differently. The sculpture and software are an introduction our work, and to some very serious ideas. Before starting Ghana ThinkTank many of our members worked abroad and saw the dark side of good intentions – the mistakes, the biases, the infantilization of people in developing countries. We saw the unfair power dynamics, and the damage that was sometimes caused by outsiders intervening into the lives of a people and a culture they had not grown up in.
The goal of Ghana ThinkTank is to “develop the first world.” Our main objective is not actually to solve problems, but to use this problem-solving mechanism to help people notice and question the stereotypes they have about groups of people, and the stereotypes others have about them. Ghana ThinkTank is about taking a piece of one culture and inserting it into someone else’s, maybe your own. The result is usually a collision. Solutions offered don’t often fit the problem when looked at from the view of the person with the problem, and seeing a solution that feels off-base about something you care about can be disorienting, which is a good thing. Life is unstable. We want the goat to supply an extra dose of disorientation, and also to inspire people to log in here at FACT and again later at home.
You can see the installation and try out the new app for yourself from Friday 6 November, when the Ghana ThinkTank showcase will be on display in the FACT foyer. With the support of the Culture Programme of the European Union