Department of Search

Podcast (English)

Podcast (Dutch)

The Department of Search was established in 2014 at Science Park Utrecht by Cynthia Hathaway, Carlijn Diesfelt, and Melle Smets. For three years this artist run organization experimented with action research interventions in the Science Park to explore new forms of encounters between artists and scientists. The key question was how to search together and make pheripheral knowledge part of the discourse of knowledge production.

Step 1: Non Expert Experts

The same small circle of experts circulate on the world’s conference stages… but what of all the specialist knowledge under our noses? Who are the unacknowledged experts in our midst? The maker movement has done a good job of uncovering hidden technological talents, but which other domains are developing innovative techniques with possible wider impacts?
In collaboration with V2 Institute for Unstable Media, System D academy Sandberg Institute, and the Open Design students at the Willem de Kooning Academy, we have been on a hunt for the most interesting ‘non-expert experts’ in the Netherlands. We found three hobbyists working on growth in life sciences. The hobbyists were Eugene Homan, a fitness champion, Sandra Deegenaars, a dog breeder of American Bullies, and Brad Wursten, a world record giant vegetable grower.

Step 2: System D Stress Test

Podcast System D (ENG)

Podcast System D (NL)

The Uithof was designed in the 1960ies following the U.S.A. modernist vision of the university campus outside the city centre. In 2014 the monofunctional campus started the transformation into a Science Park, combining the university with student housing, a commercial bussines quarter, restaurants and shops. A high tech city for the brightest minds. The public space had to become a high end meeting point instead of the mono functional transit space between university buildings.

The Utrecht art in public space department assigned Cynthia Hathaway, Melle Smets, and Carlijn Diesfeldt to research the potential for a public art program. For the first action research program the research team of twelve students from the System D Academy (Sandberg Institute) occupied the 13th floor of the vacant Van Unnik building. The assigment to the students was to formulate a search topic where the science community could team up with artists.
The public space was put to the test whilst students stayed 24-7 on campus and inside the office buildings. Meanwhile the 13th floor of the Van Unnik building changed into the Department of Search with an intense lecture program of scientists, hobbyists, artists, and journalists about the common ground of tinkering. The offices became studios where students envisioned their ideas of typical search topics.

Step 3: Giant Corn Field

The second action research was the Giant Corn Field, a communal giant vegtable field at the Utrecht Science Park. The campus has a lot of meadows who function as fire walls between the science departments. These are permanently enclosed by fences and gates, maintained by 325 sheep from the university research farm. The other half of the landscape is for the 70,000 academics who hardly have any room for experiments and meetingspaces. How can the grasslands become part of the productive thinkering space, and still function as a fire wall?

The Department of Search squated the most central meadow and build a pedestrian bridge so everybody could enter. The Giant Corn Field was set up as a competition field to grow the heighest corn field in the world. 200 Yala corn plants were distributed to a wide range of people on campus who were willing to compete. The higest corn plant was sent to the National giant vegtable competition 2015. Unfortunally the scientists lost the battle with the hobbyists. But the connection was made and since then every year the Giant Vegetable competition is organised in the Botanical gardens of the Utrecht Science Park.

Step 4: Zero Foot Print Campus

To make the Utrecht Science Park a center of ‘bright minds and better futures’ the campus needs meeting places where people can share ideas. Art can play a key role in creating an inspiring encounter and connect disciplines in an unexpected way. After two action research projects on the Utrecht Science Park the Department of Search got the support of the university to scale up an artistic search program.

For an entire year twelve artists worked embedded on a search proposal with the working title Zero footprint campus, which shed a new light on the campus of the future. The Artists got their inspiration from whatever the campus had to offer, from the landscape and the animals that wander around, to the knowledge that scientists produce.
In June 2017 the Zero Foot Print Campus manifestation took place at the heart of the campus. The Geneve square transformed for one month into a collection of prototypes made by the artists in collaboration with scientists. The public could experience their search results in a public program of lectures, guided tours and workshops.

Step 5: Publication Department of Search

The Department of Search action research ended in 2017. For three years this artist run organization experimented with action research interventions, to explore new forms of encounters between artists and scientists. The book unfolds the findings and speculates on the potential of a shared space to formulate fundamental questions of the future.

The Department’s basic procedure is simple: artists thoroughly search University premises and the spaces inside, around and between the buildings, for clues, cues and ideas they can use. They share their findings, models, and project ideas with local scientists. A search is conducted for shared values and what they may lead up to. Often from this intensive adventure a wide panorama of potential, a collection of debatable futures, emerged. Unfortunaly the University management did not see the benefit of a shared search program for the future.

Location Utrecht Science Park de Uithof

Period 2014 – 2017
Team Non Expert Experts Mat Wijn, Marten Minkema, Melle Smets
Team Giant Corn Field Artisitic team: Melle Smets, Cynthia Hathaway, Kris de Decker, Gardening: Brad Wursten, Mark Thur Interns: Theofanis Dalezios, Dennis Munoz Espadina Graphic design: Jorgen Koolwijk
Team Zero Footprint Campus Artistic: Carlijn Diesfeldt, Melle Smets, Cynthia Hathaway
Production: Antwan Cornelissen
Project coordination: Monique Dirven, Nicoline Meijer, Gary Sheikkariem
Coordination participants & volunteers: Hanneke Hulshof
Communication: Eveline Mulckhuyse
Campaign concept & design: Dietwee

Non Expert Experts was commisioned by V2_lab for unstable media
Giant Corn Field & Zero Footprint Campus were commisioned by Utrecht Science Park foundation

Giant Corn Field was funded by Utrecht municipality, Stichting DOEN
Zero Footprint Campus was funded by The Art Of Impact (Mondriaan Foundation), Utrecht Province, kfHein Foundation, Prince Bernhard Culture Foundation & DOEN Foundation.

Non Expert Experts was in collaboration with Michelle Kasprzak, Elise van Beurden, Djip Minderman, Niels Buwalda and Tom van der Heiden

Partners Non Expert Experts V2 Institute for Unstable Media, Willem de Kooning Academy, System D academy Sandberg Institute
Partners Giant Corn Field Dutch Giant Vegetable Growers Association, Botanical Gardens Utrecht, Utrecht Science Park foundation, Tolakker farm, The Farm Animal Health Clinic, Sodexo, Brouwvereniging Rotterdam, Future Food 2015
Partners Zero Footprint Campus Gemeente Utrecht, Stichting Utrecht Science Park, Universiteit Utrecht en Stichting Aardschap

Giant Corn Field – special thanks Hans Lutz, Jorn Vernooij, Gerard van Buiten, Ivo van Capel, Fred van Mosel, Timo Bierhoff, Corné Pieterse, Vincent Kranenburg, Wesley Bosma