History of a Collaboration
What happens when a cultural theorist, a medievalist, and a molecular biologist are thrown into a room together and asked for their give-and-take on any subject? They can fight it out, argue, and go their own disciplined ways. Or, they can choose an intersection where all the busy boulevards of knowledge and information converge, taking up, together, the labor of thought. This is what we have attempted to do for over half a decade, from co-teaching the yearlong seminar we developed on Research Design and Methods to joint papers and projects. Throughout our collaborations over the years, we have insisted on one principle more than any other: the free and direct communication and exchange of ideas.
What we have found is that if collaboration is to prove salutary rather than merely distracting, it must be subjected to serious thought and critique. This may be why the term collaborator has both a positive and negative meaning. As the stakes grow higher, the consequences grow increasingly consequential. Indeed, what is at stake today is nothing less than the future of the planet. (Punch the phrase “end of the planet” into Google, and the responses total 189,000,000.) Given the consequences, we can no longer afford the kind of false consensus that has too often characterized enterprises attempting to bring together artists, humanists, and scientists.
Why and Why Now
The Oregon Institute for Creative Research seeks to create new models for research and learning at a time when current enterprises seem increasingly fragile, economically out of reach, and oftentimes misguided. The time has come to resurrect and revivify the goals and ideals of Black Mountain College, the most important of the experimental colleges of North America that have had at the center of their mission and their curriculum the unifying power of the arts. Indeed, to our minds, the ultimate accolade would be something like: “If Black Mountain College were alive today, it might look like this.”
In OICR, students and research associates devote themselves to the historical, theoretical, and aesthetic exploration of major concepts. At the end of each term, knowledge is translated into actionable ideas during an intensive charrette and workshop. The structure is synergistic, giving the program a rare coherence and unity of purpose and creating the conditions for fostering critical thinkers who are able to cross back and forth between the verbal and visual, melding them in significant ways; who think in a rigorous and creative way about major questions and challenges; and who are at home in a number of domains. The rigorous exploration of ideas continues throughout the year through a series of transdisciplinary seminars, guest lectures, workshops, conversations and conferences, and innovative new platforms that facilitate the intelligent exchange of ideas and solutions across borders, national and international. Our alliance with the University of Iowa’s International Writers Program (IWP) provides opportunities for interacting with published writers from around the globe attending OICR Theory Studios.
In addition to its mission of teaching and learning at the highest levels, the OICR is a research institute and archive. Combining theory and practice in equal measure, it brings people together to think through contemporary crises and to work on addressing them through the emerging domain of creative research. The Institute sponsors and organizes collaborative and individual research, events, and conferences as well as interventions, social practices, and social-justice projects on matters of critical concern that reach far into the community. It is particularly interested in fostering critical investigations of the role played by aesthetics in contemporary developments, given that the basis for thought, behavior, and action is never information alone, intelligence and judgment being embedded in perception itself. The OICR aspires to become a major, influential center for research, learning, outreach, and intervention for the 21st century.
The Power of Unified Knowledge: Ethics, Æsthetics, Ecology, Education (E4)
Moving beyond traditional divides while reinstating the ideals of rigorous critique, authentic collaboration, common purpose, and unified knowledge, the OICR works to foster conditions for rethinking critically and creatively the most urgent issues of our time, expanding the alternative worlds and actionable futures made possible by art and the imagination. We are guided by the mantra of E4—Ethics, Æsthetics, Ecology, Education. Indeed, all the activities of the OICR take place at their critical junction. The insularity of the various fields of learning is now greater than ever before and functions increasingly as a hindrance to thought, judgment, social change: an optimal future.
The OICR aims to create, develop, and test new models for the transmission of knowledge as well as new models for living in the 21st century.
It brings together groups of people to make things happen in the form of seminars, conferences, roundtable discussions, hands-on projects, grassroots initiatives, positive interventions, and acts of social justice. Given the high stakes, it insists on true dialogue between those in the arts, humanities, sciences, and social sciences, rejecting simplistic assumptions and false consensus.
It addresses major problems, whether heavy metals in the air we breathe to homelessness to a failed educational system now based largely on commerce rather than the transmission from one generation to the next of everything deemed indispensable for the continuation of life and culture.
It sponsors collaborations with individuals committed to the same ideals and core values, which include the power of critique to effectuate positive social change, rigorous conceptualization, unified knowledge, authentic collaboration, and an indefatigable emphasis on ethics as the starting point for, and solid basis of, all endeavors.
It seeks to establish modes of verification, discernment, and judgment at a time when all the old protocols have been radically weakened and damaged—and, in many cases, eliminated entirely.
It fosters and supports intelligence, commitment, and courage—and the infrastructure necessary for intervention. It facilitates the work of those able to hold true to principle in the face of great pressure to do otherwise.