Over the three years of the CreaTures project, a massive amount of creative experimentation around eco-social change and better futures has happened. No less than twenty ‘experimental productions’ (ExPs) sprang to life under the careful guidance of the CreaTures team. A number of these experiments already had long histories of practice; and many were realized across different places in Europe, adapting and changing as they went along. All of this work came together at the 2022 CreaTures Festival in Seville, a truly spectacular gathering of works and projects with transformative intentions.
At the same time, the CreaTures researchers were investigating how to make the richness of transformative creative practices a highly visible, and meaningful part of the dialogues, reflections and evaluations between creatives, funders, policy makers and researchers. An in-depth interactive research and design process, drawing on the perspectives of all of these groups and many research fields, led to the development of the ‘Nine Dimensions’ tool for reflecting on and evaluating creative practice. This is oriented around three types of change: changing meanings (embodying, learning, imagining); changing connections (caring, organizing, inspiring); and changing power (co-creating, empowering, subverting). For more information about the journey that led to these dimensions, and their implications for different bodies of research, please see here.
This nine-dimensional approach to thinking about creative practice allowed CreaTures researchers to investigate the CreaTures ExPs in a way that offers space for bringing up different aspects of the richness of creative practice, while also providing common ground for comparative analysis. It has been helpful to have synthesis-level insights about the ExPs, especially because they were incredibly diverse. For the full, in-depth analysis, see here [link to Deliverable 4.4]. Below, we provide a sample of the insights and learnings found when looking at the 20 experiments through each dimension. We will provide examples from different ExPs to help illustrate the analysis. To see the full richness the CreaTures experiments, see the wonderful Co-Laboratory Catalogue.
1. Changing meanings
Many CreaTures ExPs focused on changing meanings through a tightly interconnected dynamic of embodiment, learning and imagining.
Embodiment played an important role in CreaTures projects. Many ExPs combined embodied experience (touch, making etc.), an engagement with role and identity and place/contextualization, in order to engage with the full range of possibilities of embodiment. Embodiment also became the experiential grounding and provided richness for many of the other dimensions.
For instance, the Treaty of Finsbury Park 2025 is a live role and on-line playing game in which players embody different species in this London park, playing as their ambassadors. Our evaluations are full of player reports describing their embodiment of the species they represented as a wholly new experience. Being witness to and interacting with other players’ role playing and embodiment helped strengthen this experience all the more.
The project Nocturne experimented with the experience of shrines in a neighborhood, mixed with social media engagement, that inspired people’s reflections on these unexpected new entities in their community and environments.
The Invocation for Hope installation at the 2021 Vienna Biennale invited people into a burnt but secretly alive indoor woodland, and evoked many reflections on new embodied experiences among participants, describing complex feelings about the desolation and aliveness they were immersing themselves in.
The Treaty of Finsbury Park 2025
In terms of learning, the most powerful potential among CreaTures projects seems to be learning couched in other dimensions - embodying, imagining, relating, and so on. Furthermore, collective and relational learning seem to be powerful among ExPs. Finally, the repetition and the learning of new skills appears as an important pathway to change.
A powerful example is The Hologram – a project where people embody different types of support for another person as an act of anti-capitalist resistance. Participants reported discovering a whole new relational skillset through this practice.
Through the Glossary project, people are encouraged to embody and personify different concepts, opening up the possibility for rich experiential learning.
The Sustainable Futures Game helps people develop future thinking skills by essentially providing a gamified scenario development structure for planning desired future visions and discussing how to reach them.
Across the ExPs, shared and relational imagining stands out. People reflected on the power of making and telling stories together about concrete, situated experiences and insights. Another common theme with high potential is the shared imagining and experimenting with new institutions, practices and other patterns of meaning that represent transformative change.
In the Treaty of Finsbury Park, imagination is really central. Players work together to imagine festival activities and other shared plans that help support and foster the different species in the part. These plans have a fictional imaginative basis but their intent is to serve as inspiration for real action.
In the Fallen Clouds film, the narrative follows a digital cloud searching for its body and origin that is extended from submarine cables in the Pacific ocean to data centers in Santiago and lithium extraction in the Atacama desert. This journey opens a new imaginative space around data and physical systems.
In the installation Refuge for Resurgence, visitors are invited into an experiential imagination of a multi-species dinner table. The worldbuilding of the fictional scenario is brought alive by the concreteness and materiality of the installation.
Refuge for Resurgence
2. Changing connections
Changing meanings was in turn strongly linked, but also sometimes contrasted, with changing connections:
Several ExPs really focused on care as a force for transformational change. The way care reconfigures what it means to relate and to be in the world appears to have powerful potential for wider change. The focus on care brings important ethical, relational and emotional elements to creative practices.
The Hologram as a project focused entirely on care as a form of anti-capitalist resistance. By re-imagining care as fundamentally non-transactional, the project helped develop care skills and create connections between people that can form the basis for real change.
The project View from the Window involved an urban community around an art space in developing new relationships to that space and to their community, fostering a sense of connectedness and relationality among people living in precarious conditions. The fact that this project was continuous over a longer period of time strengthened possibilities of caring and relating.
Another community-focused project, Yarmouth Springs Eternal, focused on supporting community members to organize local projects. These were people who had before been in challenging situations and dependent on institutional support – and the project linked care and empowerment.
View from the Window
ExPs with a strong focus on organizing often had a very different emphasis more generally than other ExPs. Some ExPs were more focused toward creating and stimulating structures for collaboration. While they were typically effective at this core function, they engaged comparatively less with experiential and embodied elements. Conversely, there is potential for more organizational activity and structures of collaboration beyond the immediate activity among the more 'embodied' practices. Several ExPs did combine both.
The Pixelache festival has a long time standing as an influential new media festival. It has served as a hub for organizing learning and collaborations among those involved in emerging media, and its model has been adapted around the world.
Another experimental production, the Hackcamp, focused on creating a shared space for learning and organizing among people interested in co-creative experimentation.
Commonspoly is a commons-focused version of Monopoly, helping people experiment with commons thinking through play and discussion. What makes Commonspoly a strong example of organizing is the fact that the project has actively focused on developing alternative networks for its production and distribution, involving people in this process.
Tracking inspiration requires a very different way of conducting research than the other dimensions. A number of the CreaTures ExPs were expressly set up in a way that is more networked, focused on replicating and adapting approaches and methods; or in a way that adapts and draws on previous work. This ecological and networked design appears to have strong potential for stimulating change, since it appears to reach many different groups and settings.
The Baltic Sea Lab has been organized as a project that focuses on experiential engagement with sea ecology through sea visits, dives, encounters with sea weed, installations and more. It was designed as a growing network, adapting existing methods and inspiring other initiatives across creative practice and science.
The Open Forest project, which took participants out in the woods for unscripted investigations and explorations, fostering tactile and experiential relationships with the environments people were exploring. This project was designed as a ‘feral method’ that could be adapted by others, and this method focus allowed it to spread.
The Sustainable Futures Game sought to be a game-based future planning, exploration and storytelling tool. A number of its players saw future opportunities for using this tool in their own organizations.
3. Changing power
Finally, ExPs had very different ways of engaging with changing power:
Co-creating almost always appeared as a powerful approach in terms of transformative possibilities - because it gives participants opportunities for engaging with the creative practice across all other dimensions, and creates co-ownership. It is hard to see an argument against including co-creative elements to much work engaged with sustainability transformations. Of course, this brings up questions of who is enabled to co-create, how this can occur, and when this can take place.
In the MyCoBiont project, researchers and artists, including trainees, from different disciplines worked together to make fungal art micro-worlds. Co-creation was at the heart of this project – through a series of workshops, participants learned about the life cycle of fungi and how to work with these living organisms.
Another living art project, Cyano Automaton, focused on the co-creative process between artist and living organisms in a context of bacterial, terrestrial and interplanetary colonialism – and allowed the bacteria to communicate through digital information.
The Open Urban Forest was a project focused on students co-creating reflections in a living urban forest. Students worked together with a number of artists and experts in this project to elaborate on different dimensions of the forest landscape.
Projects that focused on developing new skills, ways of relating, and on co-creating tended to have the most potential for empowering. This, however, raises important questions about who is empowered – who is included in the practice? Whose voices are heard and fore-fronted? Empowerment in ways that shift power are often a matter of longer-term effects and potential.
View From the Window focused on the empowerment of a precarious urban community by involving them into new relationships with the art space they were living around, getting them involved as artists and with artists, and developing relationships among different community members. People came to cherish these connections and their community.
The community project Yarmouth Springs Eternal empowered people with a history of institutional care by giving them the tools and space to become project leaders in their own right. Participants reported a growing sense of confidence through this process.
The Pixelache association, with its diverse creative activities and projects, has helped to empower creators working in experimental and new media arts areas to find new collaborative possibilities and platforms.
Yarmouth Springs Eternal
CreaTures ExPs that were subversive, were mostly subversive in fairly gentle ways - subverting dominant ways of working, relating and understanding. These types of subversion can be quite effective and powerful, and sometimes even emerged from frustration with more overt, hostile subversion and its limitations among the ExPs. There is a lot of benefit in discussing the role of subverting in this sense. When are more challenging and more gentle types of subversion more appropriate?
An example of gentle subversion is The Hologram. The project’s creator Cassie Thornton set up this project specifically in response to her earlier, more overtly challenging subversive work. Care as a form of subversive practice and rebellion is at the core of this project.
The Experimental Food Design for Sustainable Futures project focused on co-creative futures practices around food – including the use of materials, cooking and other experiential elements. It had a subversive element in that it aimed to open the co-creation of food futures beyond academia, for instance by refusing a session at a conference unless non-academic participants could take part.
reProductive Narratives focused on subversion by using menstrual blood and lab methods as a basis for artistic expression. The project aimed to subvert perspectives and understandings of the politics of female bodies and reproduction.
Insights across the 20 Experimental Productions
Overall, a conclusion emerges that creative practices with the most transformative potential combined 1) learning and imagining based in deep, situated embodiment with 2) lots of possibilities for networked growth, adaptation and mutation of the practice by others. In CreaTures, many projects tended to be strongest in one of these two things. Others did combine both in potentially powerful ways however. Overall, care stood out as a powerful dimension in CreaTures that is far less of a focus outside the project but that theory and practice show as having strong transformative potential. Co-creative approaches almost always seem to offer many benefits over less co-creative approaches – allowing participants to develop co-ownership, share ideas, develop relationships, and develop skills. Furthermore, empowerment and subversion were components of many of the ExPs, but there is scope for more development here – about the ‘who’ of empowerment, and about how challenging or subversive transformative creative work should be.
It's exciting to be able to reflect at such a high level on all the dynamic and lively creative work that has made up the CreaTures project. We are looking forward to taking these lessons into the future and we hope they inspire you to do the same. For the full, in-depth analysis, see here.