Functional fictions for multispecies cooperationIssue: XXVIII.2 March - April 2021
Sjef van Gaalen
The Zoöp Project, initiated by Klaas Kuitenbrouwer, aims to formulate a practical answer to the question: How can we make the world habitable for humans and nonhumans in the long term?
A zoöp is a new type of cooperative legal entity, offering membership to humans and multispecies ecological communities. Zoöp is short for zoöperation, which is a portmanteau of co-op (short for cooperation) and zoë (Greek for life). The goals of a zoöp are to strengthen the position of nonhumans, such as animals, plants, insects, and ecosystems, within human societies, and to contribute to ecological regeneration in a way that resists extractivist dynamics.
|Zoöp workshop at Het Nieuwe Instituut, Rotterdam 2019.|
The idea had its genesis in the first event of the 2018 Terraforming Earth workshop series at Het Nieuwe Instituut, the center for architecture, design, and digital culture in Rotterdam, where it was seeded by a session exploring principles for a collaborative, 21st-century society of humans, multispecies organisms, and machines. By the end of the year, it was decided the most interesting course of action would be to actually make this fiction real.
The goals of a zoöp are to strengthen the position of nonhumans within human societies.
In 2019 the zoöp became part of the Neuhaus academy for more-than-human knowledge, a yearlong, multifaceted curriculum of activities decentering the human in design. To lay the groundwork for this new organizational form, one workshop series brought together a diverse collective of designers, researchers, soil builders, and legal experts to plan the near-term practical aims and structure of the nascent zoöp organization.
|Two groups combine elements from their respective zoöp models to represent their cultural exchange.|
Looking at the longer term, we wanted to further explore the idea of future cultures in which nonhuman representation was the norm. The Zoönomic Futures workshop was designed to experiment with participants inhabiting nonhuman perspectives, creating speculative cultures that place multispecies roles on an equal footing with those of humans when considering how to resolve ethical conflicts and develop as a society.
We immersed participants in an overarching story through narration, a live-performed soundscape, and overhead visuals, setting them adrift on the ocean in the latter half of the 21st century. They then worked together in groups on a series of assignments, responding to key plot points of the story that helped them to build fictional cultures. This gave rise to both conflict and cooperation, and taught us researchers a lot about the ways in which people were able to represent nonhuman interests.
In 2020 we wanted to bridge the far and near futures, exploring a scenario much closer to our current reality. The Marine Zoönomy workshop series worked through a scenario of repurposing obsolete fossil-fuel infrastructure to function as hubs for regenerative aquaculture and renewable-energy generation. This workshop engaged experts from the renewable energy sector, marine law, architecture, design, and seaweed farming.
|The zoöp "Floating Farm Nutrocia" has developed a culture centered around a nutrient pool through which all living matter is recycled.|
The goal here was not to work out the concrete details of implementing this scenario, but rather to explore a possibility space. By connecting speculative, creative, and imaginative practice with expertise in practical realms in which actual policy can be based, we can move possible future visions closer to the realm of the plausible by making them something that can (almost) be experienced. Feeling out the edges of these futures is not only valuable for the perspective shift it can cause—it also raises the enthusiasm for actually seeing them come about, thus creating levers for making them actionable.
|Two groups meet for a cultural exchange.|
Maintaining an ongoing speculative practice within the Zoöp Project allows us to probe the borders of what could be possible, providing us with ongoing inputs that are recursively looped back into subsequent research, design, and practical actions.
The Zoönomic Futures and Marine Zoönomy workshops were coauthored by Klaas Kuitenbrouwer, researcher at Het Nieuwe Instituut and initiator of the Zoöp Project.
Sjef van Gaalen is a design researcher working in the emergent field between futures studies and design. His work uses speculative and participatory methods to explore alternative futures and couple them to strategic objectives, with a focus on multispecies perspectives and regenerative ecologies. email@example.com
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