Paul Noble – new work – interiors

Paul Noble’s latest work is now showing at the Gagosian Gallery in San Francisco – [Link]

G is for ear

Nobson New Town, Paul’s extraordinary world, appears in the drawings he has produced since the mid 1990s. I met Paul in 2013, wrote an essay for the great exhibition of his work at Boijmans Van Beuningen in 2014 [Link below], and we published an extended conversation about Nobson online – [Link] [Link – the exhibition]

One of the later large drawings of Nobson’s landscape/cityscape included a large leg emerging from a forest of leafless trees. In the foreground was a door in a frame, without a wall, just as the leg is without a body. In this latest series Paul is taking us into the interior world of Nobson by means of leg and door. It’s quite surreal, with word play, body parts, closed doors, and clocks stuck at Nobson’s universal time of 10.45 am, the time that daylight strikes an angle of 45 degrees. And a giant magic wand.

Wonderful stuff in the way of world building and cosmology.

Here are some posts and writings on and with Paul –

[Link] – Paul Noble – artist|archaeologist

The archaeological world of artist Paul Noble – a version of the essay I wrote for the catalogue that accompanied the exhibition of Paul’s work at Museum Boijmans Van Beuningen in 2014. Also at – [Link]

[Link] [Link] [Link] – Hylography

[Link] – media materialities

[Link] – Nobson Newtown – the guide

urban futures – the cultural field

For nearly ten years I have been serving on the International Advisory Board in Rotterdam [Link] – offering comment on the city’s life and plans.

This year we turned to culture in the city. A group of us joined a year long process to reach out to stakeholder groups and institutions, to the people of Rotterdam to listen, to bring us all together to reflect upon what might be done to culturally enrichen the city.

When I first joined the Board it was primarily, and appropriately, concerned with economic development in this biggest oil port in the world and the shipping gateway to Europe. It is now lost on no one that cultural values, personal, class, ethnic, gender and community identities, cultural movements, indeed cultural heritage lie at the heart of political economy. Shifts in employment, jobs, manufacturing, corporate culture connect with an IT facilitated “gig” economy (and all its implications), challenges to empower people and organizations to be open and flexible, emphasizing the need more than ever for us to embrace life long learning, a culture of learning. Great movements, migrations of people are again shaking up comfortable notions of roots and belonging. Cultural diversity is ever more apparent as an issue in a globalist connected world. Nearly 200 languages are spoken in Rotterdam.

How might we put people and their cultures first in our collective efforts to face the future with creative competency?

This is a key agenda item in our Foresight and Innovation group within Stanford’s Center for Design Research – our Urban Futures project.

Is it a matter of cultural “policy”? Well, of course, this is part of the landscape of national and city governance. Though a common notion is that of the “cultural sector”, we emphasized that culture is not just the arts and arts institutions, while addressing how the city, the municipality with its elected representatives and executive might look to cultural policy. And public subsidy for the arts, for example, is substantial in the Netherlands.

Above all, and this is what I really appreciated, is the cultural vitality of the city. This shows in its history – the rebuilding after the Second World War that has encompassed extraordinary architectural manifestation this last 20 years, and continues with the new Collections Depot for Museum Boijmans Van Beuningen [Link]. It shows in the informal cultures as well as the institutions, businesses and many organizations like V2 or MVRDV, the extraordinary small studios and creative businesses I have been so lucky to meet over the years.

Vitality suggests energy, and this we highlighted in our report. What is “appropriate” cultural energy? We introduced the importance of “authenticity” – a concept contested precisely, I suggest, because of its importance. Above all “energy” – a dynamic capacity to act creatively – relates to agency – the capacity to simply get things done. We must always ask awkward questions of agency – who is being empowered, and to what ends?

Culture is well conceived as an energy “field” – charged, intersecting, vectors of connection and connectivity, of potentialities and realizations within which our experiences, our creative efforts take shape and form.

And such a cultural field is not at all necessarily harmonious, of course. Electro-cultural charges can interfere with each other. Disagreement is the heart of diversity. We suggested the city take all this well into account – looking to foster manifolds of networking and interconnectivity – the conversations and collaborations that are our cultural milieu.

Here is the report.


Building the new Market Hall

the future of the museum

The new Collections Depot for Rotterdam’s Museum Boijmans Van Beuningen in Rotterdam is under construction.

I visited a couple of weeks ago and had a chat with Sjarel Ex, Director of Boijmans.

This is opening the doors of the museum and gallery in a new way – all 150,000 items in the collection will be available to everyone in this great treasure bowl, reflecting the city, a singing bowl, as Connie Svabo sees it, resonating, re-sounding, punctuating a city mindful of itself. A project in Archive 3.0, or more – as Gabriella (Giannachi) would have it [Link].

There are more comments about this game-changing project, this daring cultural innovation on my Vimeo site – [Link]

Boijmans has an extraordinary record for addressing key questions about the future of museums and art galleries – for example, I was proud to be part of curator Annemartine Van Kesteren’s extraordinary “design Column” – a series of “critical design” exhibitions commenting on current events through the works of design studios – [Link]

Director Sjarel Ex and architect Winy Maas of MVRDV are coming to Stanford in December to share their ideas. Watch out for the events – a conversation and a workshop December 4,5,6.

Here is what we are saying:

Museum Boijmans Van Beuningen in Rotterdam is one of the top art and design museums of Europe – [Link]

Under construction is a new extension that will change the way we think of art galleries and museums. We are calling it a Collections Depot.

Art is one of the greatest catalysts for change; it has the rare capacity to move us, to forge new connections, to inspire and provoke new ideas. Yet people rarely associate art museums with innovation. In Rotterdam we aim to change this by creating a new kind of building with the highest density of art works on earth, with 100% of our collection available to visitors through rich user-centered experiences, facilitated by the latest tech, where we can all connect our diverse interests in art, culture and design with our different hopes and visions for the future.

We invite you to join us in designing this museum of the future.

Why art matters

What truly moves people? A great painting, a singular sculpture or piece of music, a remarkable piece of design. Art has the rare capacity to speak to all of us about what really matters. Art reminds us of what it is to be human, what makes us who we are, and what propels us forward. Museums are laboratories of ideas and hubs of marvelous experience where creative effort from all periods and places can help us understand better our own place in the world.

Democratizing art

Museums worldwide show only 8% of their art to the public. The rest is locked away. At Museum Boijmans Van Beuningen, when the time came to upgrade our storage, we let our imagination run free. We imagined a place where 100% of the collection is available to everyone, where people will be free to explore on their own, making their way through a buzzing beehive of activity where art works packed and unpacked, restored and studied in dazzling quantities.

We imagined how we might open up the museum to complete democratic access, with everyone as a curator.

Rotterdam architect Winy Maas, co-founder of MVRDV, one of the world’s great architecture studios, has designed an extraordinary forty-meter high silvered bowl — the worlds first public art Collections Depot that breaks with museum standards and gives unlimited access to 150,000 treasures.

In 2018 the building will stand tall. We are now addressing the challenge to make the museum experience completely transformative for everyone.

Let your imagination run free

For this dream, there are no templates, no rules, no precedents. In true Rotterdam spirit, we are free to be pioneers – to do things differently. How might we navigate through a warehouse filled with more art than any other place on earth, and without a curator?

We invite you to push our ideas forward, to strengthen, challenge and question them. To make us reach higher so that we can connect with more people in more profound, moving and enduring ways.

Let your imagination run free. What kind of experience do you dream of?

More about the collections of Museum Boijmans Van Beuningen

Located in the heart of the city of Rotterdam, Museum Boijmans Van Beuningen is one of the oldest museums in the Netherlands, built from the passions of private collectors. It is the only art museum in The Netherlands where visitors can travel through time, exploring art from the 14th century to the 21st; from Bosch, Rembrandt and Cézanne to Dalí and contemporary Dutch Design. Museum Boijmans Van Beuningen is international in focus, including works by American artists such as Warhol, Rothko, Basquiat and Serra and is widely known for its design collection, surrealist art, for its prints and drawings, and for its daring experiments in exhibition design. [Link]

materiality of the invisible

Yesterday I had the great honor to open a remarkable exhibition of artworks at the Van Eyck Academie in Maastricht.

multiform institute for fine art, design and reflection

Curators: Lex ter Braak, Director of Van Eyck and Huib Haye van der Werf, Head of Artistic Program. The exhibition runs through The Van Eyck Academie, Marres, and Bureau Europe in Maastricht.

I have no doubt that this is one of the most sophisticated explorations I have encountered of what I call the archaeological imagination. Stunning!

I have expanded the talk I gave at the opening – and I am still hardly doing justice to this gathering of artists, works, ideas, provocations … and so much more. Here is the slide deck.


Sema Bekirovic – Ovid’s Pygmalion — cold plaster coming alive through the touch of a warm hand

RAAAF – models in a basement of WWII bunkers

Fernando Sánchez Castillo – Franco’s yacht

Daniel Silver – we rework, revive, reinvent, remediate ancient monumental forms

Update – Summer 2017

July 2017.

While over the last few months I’ve neglected posting my ideas, thoughts, news and commentary here at, I’ve had a fascinating series of encounters with some wonderful people, organizations and businesses.

And I am preparing some posts – I greatly value the process of logging this learning journey I am so lucky to be following. The rumination certainly gets me thinking.

From the field of “design”, and my perspective as a kind of design archaeologist, my attention has really shifted to understanding creativity and innovation, and yes, under a long term human centered archaeological perspective.

It seems so important that we embrace human creative capacities to reframe and renew, in a world of runaway change and so-called disruptive innovation.

The great book with Gary is still underway, and definitely has a major theme of social and cultural innovation in antiquity, and much more explicitly now using the tool kit I share in the growing activities of Stanford Foresight and Innovation [Link]. I’ve been working with all sorts of organizations large and small  to understand and implement creative cultures of learning and innovation — including SAP, Tesla, Elon University, Roskilde University, Brazil’s National Confederation of Transport. A favorite remains the world of automotive design; I am proud of my affiliation with the Historic Vehicle Association of America. We ran a pop-up museum in Manhattan last December 2016 and then Mark Gessler and I hosted an event at the Detroit Motor Show in January on the future past of the automobile. This year too my work with the International Advisory Board in Rotterdam took on a review of culture and the arts in this extraordinary Dutch city, where I also continue to work with Janne Vereiken’s Spring Company.

Our group Foresight and Innovation has established great new relationships with old friends in Stanford Continuing Studies with an online program,, offering classes in strategic foresight and design innovation. We also have a fruitful relationship with Stanford’s MediaX around futures – of learning, of mobility, of the past.

My authoring and composition has definitely taken not so much a fresh turn to what Connie Svabo and I are calling “scholartistry” (the convergence of experimental research and scholarship with arts practice), but certainly I am making a new much enlarged investment in creative scholarship. I have been so inspired by the performance design group at Roskilde, and the long term field project in the English Scottish borders is taking on a curious life of its own as I pursue my deep mapping of the prehistoric and Roman north, and everything before and after – not so much psychogeography as a cosmogenic mythogeography – inspiration from from Hesiod to Sebald via Ovid and John Wallis (the obscure 18th century antiquarian and curate whose alchemical itinerary continues to fascinate).

In December Mike Pearson and I were artists in residence at Bard Graduate Center – five works of theater archaeology on the theme of staging evidence.

The studio lab in Stanford – Metamedia|Pragmatology has undergone a complete clear out in the wake of this shift to exploring creativity. A saturated creative maker space. I am looking forward to a new class next year – Design thinking for the creative Humanities. There are great collections of Lego blocks ready to stimulate wild model making (courtesy of Benjamin Finley Shanks). Old friends and colleagues will nevertheless  still recognize what it’s all about – the ongoing conversation around fresh thinking and intervention in matters of common and pressing human concern.

Prehistoric carvings at the extraordinary corporeal rock at Routin Linn, Northumberland. June 2017.


Solon and Croesus – a myth about future time and foresight


Solon the Athenian was renowned for his wisdom. Having set his city to rights with revolutionary new legislation, he set out on a ten year journey, that his constitution might take effect, and that he might find out about the world.

In his travels Solon came to the court of Croesus, the most wealthy king of ancient Lydia. Received as a guest, he was shown round the palace, with all its treasures and opulence.

Over dinner, Croesus posed a question: “Stranger of Athens, we have heard much of your wisdom, and of your travels through many lands, driven by your love of knowledge and a wish to see the world. I am curious therefore and want to ask you — Who, of all the people you have encountered, do you consider the most happy?”

Of course the king thought Solon would instantly answer that he, Croesus, was the happiest man he had ever met, on account of his power and wealth.

Instead Solon thought a little while and answered. “Tellus of Athens, my Lord”

“What!? Who on earth is Tellus of Athens? Why is he the happiest?”

“His community was flourishing in his days,” said Solon. “Tellus had sons both beautiful and of good character. He lived to see children born to each of them, and these children all grew up. What’s more, after a life spent in what our people look upon as comfort, his end was surpassingly glorious. In a battle between the Athenians and their neighbours near Eleusis, he came to the assistance of his friends, and died as he protected them. The Athenians gave him a public funeral on the spot where he fell, and paid him the highest honours.”

“But he’s dead”, said Croesus.

“OK — so who’s the second happiest person you’ve met?”

Again there was no quick answer. “Cleobis and Biton of Argos.”

“What!? Who are they?”

“Two strong strapping sons of the Priestess of Hera. They won prizes in the games. And there’s a story about them that reveals their great fortune.

It goes like this.

“Their mother was due to preside over an important festival. She lived some distance from the temple, and the oxen, used to pull her carriage, hadn’t arrived back from the fields. So her sons, Cleobis and Biton, hitched themselves to her carriage and took her to the festival.

“The people at the temple thought this was wonderful. The Priestess, standing before the image of the goddess, asked her to bestow on Cleobis and Biton, the sons who had so mightily honoured her, the highest blessing which mortals can attain.

“They offered sacrifice and dined in the sanctuary, after which the two young men fell asleep in the temple.

And they never woke up. Sleeping dreams they passed from this world. The goddess took them.

Everyone thought this was perfect. They had statues made of Cleobis and Biton, which they gave to the shrine at Delphi.”

And you can still see those statues to this day.

Croesus: “They are dead too!” “What about my good fortune and happiness? Surely it vastly surpasses these ordinary mortals?”

“Lord Croesus, you asked me a question concerning a condition of humankind — happiness. I reckon 70 years to be a long life. Of those 26,250 days, no two will be the same. We are wholly accident. Good fortune is always mixed with misery. In the journey of our lives there is an infinity of twists and turns, and the weather can change from calm to whirlwind in an instant. We can never know what might come next. The gods are jealous and like to mess with mortals. Sometimes we get a glimpse of happiness, and then are plunged into ruin. Yes you are fortunate, wonderfully rich, lord of many peoples. But with respect to the question you asked, I have no answer, until I hear that you have closed your life happily.

”Consider no one happy until they are dead!”

Croesus was stunned.

Unimpressed with Solon, he finished the dinner quite sullen.

Solon left and soon after Cyrus of Persia arrived with a vast army to take Lydia into his empire. Croesus was captured and placed upon a pyre to be burned. As the stakes were lit, Cyrus heard Croesus speak Solon’s name, saying how right he had been. Cyrus asked him to elaborate and Croesus explained: that it is only looking back with hindsight that we know where we are, what we are, who we are, where we have come from and where we are going to. It is the future that makes the present what it is.

Cyrus was so impressed with this that he had Croesus released and he reinstated him as King of Lydia.

So — how might we act in planning ahead? We will not be successful in predicting the future. Croesus asked all the oracles of antiquity what lay in store for him, and the answers were no help. Instead we might use our imaginations to jump ahead to where we might desire to be, and look back from that imagined vantage point to plot possible pathways that might lead from the present to that future. But we must always be ready for the twists and turns, agile and adaptive, mindful and aware of the moment as the pathways unfold. This is foresight.

(After Herodotus)