Department of Search

Podcast (English)

Podcast (Dutch)

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

Non Expert Experts (2014)

The same small circle of experts circulate on the world’s conference stages… but what with all the specialist knowledge right 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 what 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, Hathaway, Diesfeldt and Smets went 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.

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System D Stress Test (2015)

The Uithof was designed in the 1960s following the U.S. modernist vision of the university campus outside the city centre. In 2014, the monofunctional campus started its transformation into a Science Park, combining the university with student housing, a commercial business 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 monofunctional transit space between university buildings.

The Utrecht Art in Public Space department assigned Cynthia Hathaway, Carlijn Diesfeldt, and Melle Smets, to research the potential for a public art program. For the first action search program the search team of twelve students from the System D Academy (Sandberg Institute) occupied the 13th floor of the vacant Van Unnik building. The students’ task 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 on campus 24/7 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 thinkering. The offices became studios where students envisioned their ideas of what could be typical search topics.

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2015 Giant Corn Field

The second action search was the Giant Corn Field, a communal giant vegetable field at the Utrecht Science Park. The campus has a lot of meadows that 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 space to conduct experiments and hold meetings. How can the grasslands become part of the productive thinkering space, and still function as a fire wall?

The Department of Search squatted the most central meadow and built a pedestrian bridge so everyone could get in. The Giant Corn Field was set up as a competition field to grow the highest corn field in the world. 200 Jala corn plants were distributed to a wide range of people on campus who were willing to compete. The highest corn plant was sent to the National Giant Vegetable Competition 2015. Unfortunately, the scientists lost the battle from 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.

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Zero Foot Print Campus (2017)

To make the Utrecht Science Park a centre 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 in connecting disciplines in an unexpected way. After two action research projects at 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 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 on site.

In June 2017 the Zero Foot Print Campus manifestation took place at the heart of the campus. The nameless square for one month transformed into an outdoor university displaying a collection of prototypes made by the artists in collaboration with scientists. The public could discover their search results in a public program of lectures, guided tours and workshops.

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Publication Department of Search

The Department of Search’s action search ended in 2017. For three years, this artist-run organisation experimented with action search interventions, to explore new forms of encounters between artists and scientists. This 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, emerges. Unfortunately the University management did not see the value of a shared search program for the future.

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Department of Search

Location Utrecht Science Park de Uithof

Period 2014 – 2017

Non Expert Experts
Team Michelle Kasprzak, Elise van Beurden, Djip Minderman, Niels Buwalda and Tom van der Heiden
Commisioned by V2_lab for unstable media
Partners V2 Institute for Unstable Media, Willem de Kooning Academy, System D academy Sandberg Institute

System D Stress Test (2015)

Team Michelle Kasprzak, Cynthia Hathaway, Melle Smets, Nora Morton, Hans Abbink, Simon Angel, Jessica Gysel
Guests Pek van Andel, George Hathaway, Dirk van den Heuvel, Arjo Klamer, Prof Corné Pieterse
Students Janneke Absil, Dennis Munoz Espadina, Annette Kouwenhoven, Boo van der Vlist, Clement Caret, Theofanis Dalezios, Maarten Davidse, Karoline Buurman, Martina Raponi, Ming Sho Tang, Lisa Deijl, Gitte Nygaard
Commisioned by Utrecht Science Park foundation
Partners V2 Institute for Unstable Media, System D academy Sandberg Institute

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

Commisioned by Utrecht Science Park foundation
Funded by Utrecht municipality, Stichting DOEN
Partners 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

Special thanks Hans Lutz, Jorn Vernooij, Gerard van Buiten, Ivo van Capel, Fred van Mosel, Timo Bierhoff, Corné Pieterse, Vincent Kranenburg, Wesley Bosma

Zero Footprint Campus
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
Funded by The Art Of Impact (Mondriaan Foundation), Utrecht Province, kfHein Foundation, Prince Bernhard Culture Foundation & DOEN Foundation.
Partners Gemeente Utrecht, Stichting Utrecht Science Park, Universiteit Utrecht en Stichting Aardschap

Publication Department of Search

Editor: Ed van Hinte
Text: Carlijn Diesfeldt, Melle Smets, Cynthia Hathaway, Ed van Hinte (Getting Acquainted, Shared Values)
Photography: Aafke Holwerda, Jan Scheffe, Melle Smets, Cynthia Hathaway, Renate Boere, Carlijn Diesfeldt, Jokko Voogt
Drawings: Melle Smets
Concept Design: Studio Renate Boere, Den Haag
Printing & binding: Printing house Kopa
ISBN 9789082672541
Commissioned by by the Aardschap Foundation, Utrecht February 2018
This publication was made possible by the DOEN Foundation and the Municipality of Utrecht.