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Designing and Curating Perceptions of Vodou (Part Deux)

Posted by Plish on November 8, 2014

At the end of my last post on the Vodou Exhibition at Chicago’s Field Museum, (you might want to click the link and give it a read if you want to come up to speed,) I mentioned that I’d visit the exhibition again  and see if my thoughts changed.

I did.

They didn’t.

Friday night was an event in which Chicago’s Haitian community welcomed the new exhibit with delicious verve (See Figure 1 below).  It was a great opportunity to speak with artists and others about the exhibit, to get their opinions.

Many of theirs were similar to mine.

However, I did do something different this time. I spent more time looking up at the banners, and I spent more time on the artifacts that didn’t appear to be from secret societies.  (I didn’t just look, I studied, read, worked at really trying to understand.) In the end, this lightened the experience considerably, but did it dispel the overall dark vibe of the exhibit?

No.

What will help?

My suggestions for event would be the following.

  1. Change the banners that are used for publicity.  They contain Secret Society Lwa.  Do something lighter.
  2. Tell a story with the exhibition.  Start with the misconceptions you want to dispel, the points you want to get across. Then start dispelling and telling the story of Haiti and Vodou. Explain the day to day in Haiti and where Vodou fits.  Show how it interacts with other religions – perhaps even how families often practice Catholicism and Vodou simultaneously.
  3. Build an elevated area that is behind a red curtain (or make the curtain look like a forest covered mountainside. )  Entitle that section: “Inside Vodou’s Secret Societies”.  Maybe put a small disclaimer at the beginning saying small children might be disturbed by what’s inside.  Put those Secret Society artifacts (an example of which is in Figure 2 below), behind the curtain and out of the main stream of the exhibit.  Make sure it’s not somewhere in the middle of the exhibit.  The Secret Societies are not mainstream and mixing these artifacts in with the everyday artifacts mischaracterizes what many people experience in everday Vodou.  However, Secret Societies need to be referenced in the everyday exhibits- after all, they did indeed impact Haitian life. I also believe that ‘hiding’ the Secret Society artifacts will do another thing: people will slow down.  When people are in fearful situations, they tend to move more quickly. If you want people to move slowly and observe – hide the dark stuff.
  4. Children are noticeably absent from many of the videos and explanations.  Of the Haitians I spoke with, all of them had non-intimidating memories of Vodou as a child.  They remember the brightness, the music, the activity on Holidays.  If a child can feel it, adults will too.
  5. Move explanations closer to artifacts and make them readable without having to bend neck or body.  Bring banners closer to eye level.  Create exhibits that allow the most visitors to stand straight and tall.  Haitians wanted this (and still do!) and Vodou helped them.
  6. Include more ways for people to interact and touch.  Granted, the artifacts at the exhibition are were used in Vodou and as such, are not open to touching.  But, there are other ways to help people to hear, taste, feel, smell, touch.  Drumming is key to Vodou.  Let people make virtual drums (or real ones!) Get innovative!
  7. Provide more of the beauty of Haiti! More green, more color, breezes, salt water aroma, music, you get the idea.  Vodou is about the interconnectedness of all things, life, death, sky, earth, plants, water, etc.  Set more of the context, not just socio-politically (which incidentally, this exhibition did a better job of doing.)
  8. End the exhibition showing how Haiti is growing (albeit slowly and painfully at times) and what challenges lie ahead.  Reiterate how Vodou has been a misunderstood part of the process, that Vodou comes from the heart of the Haitian culture and it’s been responsible for establishing a spirit of  (and physical!) freedom in a nation.  Show bright artwork that comes from Haitian artists, even those works from those mounted by spirits.

With the above changes, I believe the exhibit would better accomplish its goal of dispelling misconceptions of Vodou.

I’d love to hear your thoughts and what you’d do!

Consul General of Haiti, Lesly Conde

Figure 1. Consul General of Haiti, Lesly Conde

Secret Society Lwa

Figure 2. Secret Society Lwa

Yes, I even spent more time looking at the mirrots

Figure 3  Yes, I even spent more time looking at the mirrors.  This was one of the more mellow looking mirrors

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Posted in Arts, Authenticity, Conveying Information, creativity, curation, Design, Education, Experience, Information Visualization, Politics, prayer, Religion, Spirituality, The Human Person | Tagged: , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a Comment »

How Curation and Design Didn’t Dispel the Darkness of Vodou (Which is NOT Voodoo)

Posted by Plish on November 3, 2014

I had an opportunity to go to a Member’s Only night at Chicago’s Field Museum.  The event was in honor of the opening of a new exhibition entitled: Vodou – Sacred Powers of Haiti.

One of the highlights of the night was a discussion led by Field Museum Exhibit Project Manager, Janet Hong. On the panel were Dr. Serge Pierre Louis and Kira Tippenhauer.  Both people are Haitian born, and brought unique perspectives on Vodou (which is considered different from Voodoo, which is identified with New Orleans)

From Left to Right: Dr. Serge Pierre Louis, Kira Kira Tippenhauer, and Janet Hong.

Figure 1  From Left to Right: Dr. Serge Pierre Louis, Kira Tippenhauer, and Janet Hong.

To start the discussion, Ms. Hong asked for Dr. Serge’s and Kira’s impressions of the exhibit.  Their answers were not, judging from the reaction of Ms. Hong, what she expected.

Kira’s first word was “dark”, and she spoke the word with a hint of disappointment in her voice.  Clearly she did not want to say those words.  She struggled for more words…  Dr. Serge chimed in and agreed, and used the word “ferocious”, to which Kira agreed it was the word she’d been searching for.

Dark…Ferocious…

Those are the types of words you’d expect to hear from people who are unfamiliar with Vodou.  Those words describe my impression of the exhibit and the impressions of others I spoke to as well. Unfortunately, those were the impressions that the exhibition team was trying to dispel: “…the exhibition team made a concerted effort to eschew the image of vodou as a “scary” or “spooky” subject…seemingly-macabre motifs like skulls, bones, skeletons and weaponry are represented in a reverent light, similar to the role of decorated and candy skulls as part of Dia de los Muertos in Mexican culture. Images of Vodou as dark and death-centric stem from misrepresentations the exhibition aims to dispel.”

So, where did the exhibition go wrong?  How does something that’s supposed to dispel perceptions of darkness, perpetuate it? How does darkness permeate when Haitians live in perpetual summer, lush greenery, flowers and nature, and live life filled with joyous dance, song, and savory foods?

It’s not like the exhibit was designed in an asympathetic manner.  The exhibit was co-designed by Rachel Beauvoir-Dominique, who is a PhD anthropologist and practicing Vodou priestess.  Yet, design and curation did not harmoniously weave an experience that dispelled misrepresentations of Vodou, and instead, darkness prevailed over experiential light.

Why did this happen?

The exhibition is not brightly lit. (The pictures I took below give the impression lighting was quite bright. This is a side-effect of the camera settings used because flash is not allowed)

While not necessary per se, there is scant multimedia and no interactive technology  at all.  Again, Vodou seems to be very tactile and sensory based.  Not having ways to interact in some way was a negative.

The layout was not easy to take in.  There is a wall explaining the history of Haiti’s struggles and victories and it runs into a wall at the end.  When you finish reading you are right next to the entrance to the exhibit. (This is visible in Figure 4. below.  The ending is behind the lwa in the corner by the drapes.) You literally have to start the exhibit over again, and you’re put into the flow of those entering.

Then there’s the  upper and lower displays.  Even though everything is on one floor, it is actually split into two halves, either by accident or by design.  Sculptural works are on ground level, and beautifully decorated, brightly colored ceremonial banners, as well as many artifacts, are hung high above.  As a result, artifact descriptions are not correlated directly to their artifacts in an intuitive manner, hence there’s confusion about what description belongs with what.   The descriptions are also written with uncomfortably small letters.   It forces people to bow their heads and/or hunch their shoulders and/or bend ever so slightly to read.  This posture is uncomfortable and is also one of vulnerability, and people don’t like to be vulnerable in front of something that they don’t know, especially if it looks scary!

Forcing people to look down also had an unfortunate side effect.  Beautiful, sparkling banners that radiate light,   Read the rest of this entry »

Posted in Arts, Case Studies, Conveying Information, curation, Design, Experience, Information Visualization, Politics, Religion, Society, Spirituality, The Human Person | Tagged: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 2 Comments »

Innovation in Non-Profits and Churches

Posted by Plish on April 14, 2013

Through the folks over at CreatePossible, I found out about this great event called Co-Lab, for non-profit organizations and ministries.

As part of Co-Lab, there was a session entitled “The Theology of Innovation.”  It’s a great video of two people sharing the story of their church and their quest to embrace innovation and be true to their Faith (which contrary to what many  would think, and as the session presenters point out, a conflict between innovation and religious communities doesn’t have to exist.)  There are also multiple other sessions on the Vimeo Co-Lab site on Future Trends, and the future of Non-Profits to name a few. They’re worth checking out.

Even if you’re not into Christianity, it’s a fascinating insight into how people react and deal with design thinking and innovative processes. These folks even went to IDEO for assistance in this process. (Next time, just give me a call 🙂 )

Looking forward to your thoughts!

(Note on the video: When the woman speaks in the presentation, her microphone level is lower so you may have to turn up the presentation at those times.)

Posted in Authenticity, Co-Creation, creativity, culture of innovation, Customer Focus, Design, design thinking, innovation, Religion, Social Innovation, Spirituality | Tagged: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a Comment »

Art, Lent(?), and Innovation

Posted by Plish on February 24, 2013

artlentinnovationmichaelplishka

“Art, after all, is about rearranging us, creating surprising juxtapositions, emotional openings, startling presences, flight paths to the eternal.”   – from The Art of Possibility by Benjamin, and Rosamund Stone, Zander.

A friend of mine read the above quote and said, “Sounds like the purpose of Lenten Services.”

Brilliant!

She juxtaposed art and spirituality in a wonderful manner.

I’m taking it one step further.

The purpose of being rearranged is so that people can improve their relationships with each other, with the Eternal and with themselves.

So, if we become open and have flight paths to the eternal, are emotionally vulnerable, become aware of others and their needs, what types innovations would we bring into the world?

“Every good painter paints what he is.” -Jackson Pollock

I would say that every person creates from what she is.  If we become rearranged as mentioned above, our creations naturally reflect that which we are realizing in our lives.

Try this thought experiment:

What would a doctor’s office look like if it were designed by the Dalai Lama? How would people be treated? What would waiting rooms look like? Would people feel more nervous or less than they do now? What would it sound like? What would the air taste like?

Every good painter paints what he is.

And that’s the key.  Whether in art or spirituality (and many would say there is no dichotomy in art/spirituality) we have to be willing to be rearranged.  If we aren’t willing to be open to going in new directions, to explore, to feel the discomfort of stepping off precipices and trusting we will fly, then we won’t be rearranged, and not only will we not be elevated from glory to glory, but the world will not experience light which only we can share.

So what does that mean?

Listen to music…go to the theater…meditate…pray…taste fruit you just picked off a tree and write a haiku of the experience…sculpt…sing a song…

…Paint the world with what you are…Show the world that being rearranged isn’t a singular exercise in destruction, but an empowering act of creation…

Think of what the world would be if each person lived as a surprising juxtaposition, an emotional opening, a startling presence, a flight path to the eternal…

…Start becoming rearranged…

…now…

 

Posted in Arts, Authenticity, creativity, culture of innovation, Design, innovation, meditation, prayer, Religion, Service Design, Social Innovation, Social Responsibility, Spirituality, Sustainability, The Human Person | Tagged: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a Comment »

The Goal: Making Innovation Disappear

Posted by Plish on December 29, 2012

Some years back I was involved in an inter-religious dialogue with a Muslim group.  During the course of many conversations, one thing became clear.  My Muslim friends didn’t think of themselves as belonging to a religion, per se.  They simply were living a way of life.

They weren’t, and aren’t, alone.

In fact, there are  cultures that don’t have a word for ‘religion’ in their vocabulary.  If a word is used it is a variation on the imported word, “religion.”

The reason for this is as mentioned earlier.  People view living in a “religious” manner as a holistic experience.  There is no place that an individual’s (and community’s!) world view is not influenced by the relationship between God and Humans.  It simply “is”, and if it simply is, it doesn’t need to be labelled.

This phenomenon is present in other places in our lives as well.  Ask someone to describe how she gets from point a to point b, how he cooks a souffle, and I would be extremely surprised to hear those descriptions contain the phrase, “and then I breathe in and out,” multiple times, if even once.

It just happens and is part of the process.

That’s how an innovation competency should be.  Eventually you shouldn’t need to talk about it. Everything you do, from working in an R&D lab to Finance, to Operations, to taking time to recharge your batteries should be geared towards optimizing your innovation output. (Remember the Innovation Audit)

Yes, some of this is about consistent procedures (‘ritual’ from a religious perspective), but moreso it’s about commitment; it’s about worldview which is tied into identity and brand.

Who are we? What’s our goal? What are we supposed to do and how do we do it?  Who am I?

These are the questions that, at first glance seem to have a ‘religious’ nature to them.  But, it’s not about religion as much as it’s about human authenticity.  It’s about letting people be who they are, contributing from their strengths to help make the whole be more than the sum of its parts. If people can’t be their deepest selves, and if the innovative organization does not contribute to the making of the whole person, then the person suffers and the innovative output of the organization will suffer.

So, next time you find yourself talking about how what you’re doing is innovative, do a little reflection and ask if innovation is a core competency or a way of life.  Ask yourself if you’re doing something because you have to do it, or because you’re committed to it and the company’s mission makes sense, and what you do makes sense, when you do it.

Does this mean that there’s no questioning?

No, in fact there should be, because, just as I learned in the inter-religious dialogue, growth and building relationships is more about sharing questions than sharing answers.

Not to mention, the organization that sells answers will eventually go out of business because humans don’t buy answers – fundamentally they buy a question:

“What will my life become with this product/service/etc.?”

Posted in Authenticity, creativity, culture of innovation, Design, innovation, Religion, Social Innovation, Society, Spirituality, The Human Person, Wellness, Workplace Creativity | Tagged: , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a Comment »

Be Part of an Amazing Worldwide Event – The Shaping the Future Global Conference

Posted by Plish on October 20, 2012

I wanted to share this amazing event that I’m going to be presenting at: The Shaping the Future Global Conference.   (I’m presenting separately and/or pulling together a panel discussion on “Innovating Educational Paradigms in the 21st Century”)  I’m attaching the latest communique on the event. If you’d like to participate, give a talk, create music for this event, feel free to check the info below or drop me a line.  Suggestions for topics are welcome!

People like Patch Adams, Deepak Chopra, and Archbishop Desmond Tutu are scheduled to give presentations.  This is not to be missed!

*******

4 Days 6 Continents 100 Nations

Multiple Time Zones

 1 Agenda: A world that works for all of us.

Dec 1,2,8,9

 

Peace Harmony Human Rights Health Education Quality of Life Environmental Sustainability Spiritual Fulfillment

 

“At a time of global deceit telling the truth is a revolutionary act.” (George Orwell)

 

Shaping the Future Global

The World is watching

www.shapingthefutureglobal.com

Shaping the Future Global

A Division of the Global Peace Centre

Melbourne, Australia

4 Days. 6 Continents. 100 Nations. 1 Agenda:

 October 18, 2012

 

Friends,

We’ve put out the word and the people have responded!

Great minds from six continents including  scientists, teachers, educators, city officials, students, artists, performing artists, social scientists, entrepreneurs of the future and people all around the world who wish to unite to create a world that works for all of us, in harmony and in justice for ALL.  We have secured amazing people such as yourself from organizations and associations from places such as Russia, Israel, Palestine, Nairobi, Cameroon, South Africa, Nepal, South Korea, Australia, New Zealand, Canada, Switzerland, Germany and the United States.  Naturally with a Presidential Election taking place in the States in a few weeks, we feel that once the elections are over we will pick up steam and Read the rest of this entry »

Posted in Education, Human Rights, imagination, innovation, Social Innovation, Spirituality, Sustainability, The Future, The Human Person, Web 2.0 | Tagged: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 4 Comments »

Into the Dynamic Locus of Sustainable, and Impactful, Innovation

Posted by Plish on October 12, 2012

“Let us establish ourselves in the divine milieu. There we shall find ourselves where the soul is most deep and where matter is most dense. There we shall discover, where all its beauties flow together, the ultra-vital, the ultra-sensitive, the ultra-active point of the universe. And, at the same time, we shall feel the plenitude of our powers of action and adoration effortlessly ordered within our deepest selves.”

Pierre Teilhard de Chardin,The Divine Milieu

This is the place from which to create; the font of beauty, understanding.  To experience the world from this perspective is to be swept up the in the creative making of the New.  This is from whence enduring change is born, where innovative design does not harm people or planet.  It is that place and disposition that encourages and makes possible, the infinite possibilities of the human spirit.

How is, or how can, this quest be fostered in educational, corporate, social, political and religious structures of the world?  In short, how can this orientation towards self, and all, be fostered in day-to-day living for people of all walks of life?

Posted in Authenticity, creativity, culture of innovation, Design, Evolution, Human Rights, innovation, love, Nature of Creativity, Social Responsibility, Spirituality, Sustainability, The Future, The Human Person | Tagged: , , , , , , , , | Leave a Comment »

The Contemplative Way of Design

Posted by Plish on June 4, 2011

“(Emerson wrote,)’We animate what we can, and only see what we animate.’ Contemplative beholding of art – indeed of anything – can lead to the animation of whatever is before us. New eyes, “the right eyes,” suddenly open, waking us up, and consequently awakening everything around us. ” – Physicist Arthur Zajonc in Psychology Today

Don’t just observe a situation – contemplate it.

Center

Look

Widen the gaze

See the relationships

Feel

Understand (With more than the mind)

Design

Posted in Authenticity, creativity, Design, Experience, Nature of Creativity, problem solving, Spirituality, The Human Person, The Senses | Tagged: , , , , , , , , | Leave a Comment »

Transformative, Sustainable Design Starts With An Embrace

Posted by Plish on October 18, 2010

For the majority of a 24 hour day, we take in sensory information, process and ignore it as we go about our daily routines.  We do our jobs and interact with people, objects and systems,  only really paying attention when something:

A) Causes us problems or pain

B) Brings us delight, joy, peace or any such feeling of wellness.

Everything else falls into the realm of being grey, background noise.  

That’s not necessarily bad. There’s something positive to be said for that which inhabits the grey.

Which is:

We don’t notice things in the grey because things function as they are expected to.   And, when things function like they’re supposed to, we can accomplish tasks and live our lives in relative peace and security.

But, what is that grey???

It’s comprised of people and relationships between people, nature, objects, rules, systems and constraints.    People who love  and experience joy, anger,  pain; who reflect on things of nature and things super/supra-natural.  All of us together interact to make the grey stable, predictable and livable.

What does this mean for design and innovation?  How do we innovate in the grey? How do we impact the grey and create moments in which people are elevated out of the grey – preferably into moments of delight as opposed to the depths of frustration and anger?

In some ways this seems like it should be simple – after all, we are all a part of this.  However, being a part of this makes it that much more difficult because the temptation is to contribute to the system in non-obtrusive ways, to not make waves, to not make our own lives difficult but yet do our jobs, to play our parts.

However, if  we dare to descend into the depths of who we are, to understand our nature, our fears, our  frustrations, our desires and dreams; if in this uncomfortable place we are able to embrace the messiness of our lives, it is then that  we are able to embrace others, embrace the world, embrace all.

It is in this embrace that understanding shines, innovation blooms in the light, and dare I say, love empowers us to design for the good, to design beauty, to give people experiences of  joy and happiness amidst the grey.

And it is in this milieu that design and innovations sustainably transform the grey to light, all the while elevating the awareness of what is possible – of what we are called to be, on this planet called Earth. 

Once we taste this sweetness, we will not, nor should we, ever settle for  less…

Posted in Authenticity, culture of innovation, Design, innovation, love, meditation, nature, Philosophy, prayer, Social Responsibility, Society, Spirituality, The Human Person, The Senses | Tagged: , , , , , , | Leave a Comment »

13 Rules for Being a More Innovative, Creative, You

Posted by Plish on July 31, 2010

On this, my 47th birthday, as others lavish gifts upon me in their kindness, I’m writing this column as my gift to you.   Want to be more innovative?  Want to be more creative? Want to be a better you?  I pondered these questions; I’ve thought about what’s worked in my life, and what hasn’t.  So far, here’s a list of what works:

  1. Be passionate about what you do.  Ultimately it’s you that motivates you.
  2. Be authentic.  Kind of like #1 but it’s about acknowledging who you are in all your various facets and embracing you.  You are your brand. Rock the world with it.
  3. Don’t let others bring you down.  I don’t care if it’s your boss or the president or a family member.  Rise above – you’re the best you.  You made a mistake? So what.  (See Rules #7, #8, #11, #12)
  4. Get plenty of sleep.  Seriously. It will help in synthesizing ideas.  Also,  when you sleep you…
  5. Dream.  Do it while you’re awake.
  6. Take time off from your work.  Hike, pray, meditate, play.  Get some of the benefits of sleep but you’re conscious.
  7. Be curious. It might drive people nuts, but then you’re living according to Rule #3, right?
  8. Don’t be afraid to look like an ass.  This might seem like #3 but it’s not.  This is about doing things that you think others are looking at you funny about.  It’s got nothing to do about what others have said or done.
  9. Have empathy for others.  Tolerance is the easy way out.   Empathy.
  10. Revel in your successes!  Don’t look ahead to the next challenge without appreciating what you’re doing, and have done, to get to the now.
  11. Don’t be afraid to try things and make mistakes.   It’ s important because we not only learn from successes we…
  12. Learn from mistakes. 
  13. Love=Service

Are there any that you would add?

Posted in Authenticity, creativity, Design, imagination, innovation, love, meditation, Nature of Creativity, problem solving, Renaissance Souls, Spirituality, The Human Person | Tagged: , , , , , | 2 Comments »

 
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