nunc
society

Assembly II: I Am Again

February 21, 2020
written by
Nicholas Burman
Open Content
This content is available only to NUNC Society insiders. You need to ENTER to see it.
February 21, 2020

/ written by Nicholas Burman, one of the attendees of NUNC Assembly II

To be able to say “I am again,” we each had to first take a step towards recognising our own inherent instability. The second NUNC Assembly was a way for us to grasp hold of impermanence before it grasped too tightly to us. A discursive environment, the two day event was about people discussing their personal experiences of impermanence, and for thinkers and artists in various fields to talk about how they collaborate or compete against the fact that we are not permanent. 

Day one began with guests receiving a handmade, blank NUNC notebook, taking an Instax self-portrait and mingling with the other arrivals. Many came by themselves, although there were some pairs and groups of three, both returnees and people not knowing what to expect were curious about what lay ahead. The assembly took place in Amsterdam Noord’s A Lab, a home for creativity located in an ex-Shell laboratory. 

DAY 1
Opening Ceremony (BIRTH)

We all began by descending to the Lab’s basement. The “Opening Ceremony” was a meditative session. Guests remained silent while meditation bowls were played, and our performer softly encouraged us to heighten our self awareness, of our thoughts and feelings at the time but also of our bodies. This was a great way for us all to relieve the pressures of the previous days and be open and ready for the upcoming discussions about the art of uncertainty. 

We wondered... “What are you feeling?”, and...

“How did you sleep?” 

Our own sleep had been “Short but intense.” Possibly due to the combination of hope and fear which we were feeling at the time. We wondered about impermanence while preparing for an assembly on impermanence - if we are so unsure of the future, what is the purpose of organising things for it? 

We spoke words that summarised our thoughts or impulses at that moment. 

“Presence.” “Curiosity.” “Uncertain”.

Speakers 

Garet from Extinction Rebellion NL was our first speaker. She’s had five last names throughout her life, so feels an impermanence to her name/identity. As part of ER she is part of The Red Rebels, who take slow walks through urban environments, and perform a solemn, though very colourful, procession commemorating the destruction of Earth’s biodiversity. She said that the climate crisis has made us all aware of the impermanence of our existence as human beings.

Experience Designer Nandi Nobell was next. He opened by asking:

“Where do you see yourself in a million years?”

For Nobell, impermanence is about destruction and creation. Drawing on simulation theory, he sees that people measure their experiences through objects. His virtual worlds are designed to get people to find new measurements through experiences of new objects. The ultimate question left from his presentation was: what will immersive culture contribute? 

Dutch renowned veteran Artist & Photographer Erik Kessels (Founder of Agency KesselsKramer) provided a humorous talk about his history of dealing with “uncertain moments” captured by film. Kessels primarily works with found objects, and creates narratives out of these preexisting objects. The pictures he works with, from discarded family albums or strange documentary series reveal a process of thought that would otherwise be totally lost to time. One project involved him printing all the photos uploaded to Flickr on one day, nearly one million, to show the vast amount of seemingly impermanent images that surround our digital lives. 

Chris Keulemans is an established writer in the Netherlands. In his presentation he talked about his research into the various ways that “home” has become an impermanent concept for many people. From gentrified neighbourhoods in Amsterdam to decaying social housing in Naples, Keulemans concluded by describing various methods of exploratory transnationalisms as a way to combat a loss of a sense of home. Can a sense of home be found in impersonal and multicultural settings through sharing personal stories? 

Afternoon (GROWTH)
Audience Talk 


A NUNC Assembly is not just about the speakers - the audience plays a key role in it. After each speaker we allowed the audience a couple of minutes for reflection, and then we encouraged neighbours to talk to each other about the themes and the topics of the presentation and then as groups provide one main item of feedback or question. 

For Garet’s talk attendees were mostly concerned about impact. The scale of the climate crisis seems hard to visualise, and people asked what visual aids can be used to help people recognise and believe the problem? One group asked about unexpected events that cause change, and that natural catastrophes remind us of our impermanence.

Nandi’s presentation left the audience feeling a bit disoriented, though this was maybe one of its intentions. Some said that virtual reality experiences are too detached from material reality, but also that there is a connection between the virtual and the material, and that the virtual world can also be exploitative. Nandi repeated that he is not so much a person with certain answers but someone who wants to be an explorer through possibilities. 

In response to one question, Erik provided a liberating point: you have to learn to have talent and ideas. 

Chris’ conversation around home sparked much debate amongst the international attendees, many of whom live outside of the country they were born in. Events such as this one seemed to be a good example of some people forming communities which feel like home. But what about the fact that transnationalism is rooted in forms of globalisation which has undermined communities around the world? This is a nearly impossible question, of course. Home would return as another key theme during Day 2. 

Open Panels and Workshops 

After the lunch break we hosted a participatory workshop which got people, in groups, to discuss between each other recent personal developments and transitions. This workshop was designed as a way to encourage people to think about impermanence in their own lives. Many people mentioned that they felt that they had recently had to come to terms with the idea that things don’t remain the same for very long, but that that is ok. 

Our open panel session concept brought each of the speakers together, but we left room on stage for one empty chair, which members of the audience could occupy. Over the hour or so that we all talked about the overlaps and differences between peoples’ presentations, many of the speakers became audience members and vice versa. This was an exciting experiment to see if we could destabilize the traditional barrier between audience and speaker at traditional conferences, and which we find restrictive. 

Some ideas that popped up during this panel session were:

  • creation shouldn’t involve only ego, but ego helps one be an advocate for an idea
  • one can find playfulness in something serious, and intelligence in something playful
  • you can find relief a lot of relief learning about other industries and points of view
  • beginning a conversation is an important aspect of creative work
  • you can distance yourself from a topic with humor. Things don’t need to be fun - but fun can draw attention to a topic 

The day ended with two workshops, one by Nodell and the other by Shay Benish. Both were about imagining different types of futures through recognising the impermanence of today. 

DAY 2
The Morning (DECAY)


Around 40% of attendees were fresh faces for day two, and we were excited to have fresh perspectives and new ideas amongst us. Once again we outlined that the NUNC Academy is composed of three parts:

  • Insights from speakers and audience, not always intended for immediate applicability
  • Emotional embraces, as we are excited about reactions from actual people who listen
  • Connections between different insights and personalities
“We are not here to be excellent, but to be relevant.” 

Speakers

Experience Designer Shay Benish told us about his struggles of finding authenticity through letting go of others’ conceptions. He proses a mindfulness, a focus on the present, which promotes what he dubs as “radical acceptance,” “transformation” and “permanent impermanence.” Following an audience question, Benish said that growing up in Israel, a society that is very conflict-oriented, made him want to be less angry and scared when in combative debate scenarios. 

Digital artist Carlotta Aoun, excited about “Simulation, Speculation and Digital Mutation,” drew on her experiences growing up in Venezuela to talk about impermanence. She said that her home country is full of impermanence, from intermittent internet connections to water and electricity supplies. Aoun drew a strong line between impermanence and precarity and political instability. To feel comfortable with impermanence can be a privileged position, because it is forced upon many people around the world against their will. 

Yoav Goldwein is an independent researcher who has spent the past few years finding out about what the concept of home means to people in different places and situations around the world. After a brief introduction to his work, he arranged attendees into small workgroups and got them to reflect on their own experiences and conceptions of home. 

Lucas Hendricks talked about the impermanence of the spaces for creativity in contemporary Amsterdam such as A Lab. He talked about his transition from the financial industry to preferring to work supporting the arts and creative industries.

Anna Riedl is a Cognitive Scientist with a keen interest in behavioural economics. She talked about ways in which we can cope and improve a seemingly unstable and impermanent world. Much of her talk drew attention to organisations which help people to determine how to make the most positive impact with whatever resources they have. Deviating a little from the call to not be in “fix” mode, Riedl was certainly excited to get us to think about practical approaches to sometimes overwhelming problems.

Closing Ceremony - (DEATH, & REBIRTH)
NUNC Journey & Considerations on Impermanence

The I Am Again Assembly wanted to encourage attendees to consider that they live in an era in a particular state; a situation which will never repeat. Coming true on our promise to take visitors on a journey into the art of uncertainty, we brought our guests into a performative rebirth.

In our first group session of the Day 2 everyone noted five important phases of their life and got them to arrange these on a communal timeline from birth to death, and death to rebirth. This was the first part of a larger journey which ended the day.

Attendees became part of an impromptu group performance wherein they were given instructions to imagine that they only had one minute left to live. In this situation, what would be the last thing they’d write to their loved ones? They wrote this message on the back of the self portrait they took at the beginning of Day 1. NUNC Academy’s Casper verbally led members of the group, getting them to think about their impermanence and their journey through their lives so far.

Everyone was asked to picture themselves in an afterlife, and no longer having a presence in the world. This imagined “death” was a way to get attendees to think about previous identities, and to get people to leave old and unnecessary behaviours and personality traits behind. We all imagined the rising and passing of everything that has made us and what we have become. As a collective we became aware in an attempt to combat oblivion.

A memorial to our past selves was made out of the self portraits and our “last” notes. One by one, attendees paid respects to their past selves. Recognising impermanence was celebrated as a way to make ourselves anew, to imagine ourselves capable of becoming new people. 

Our presence was complicated, but our curiosities were more than satisfied.

/ written by Nicholas Burman nicholascburman.com

Artists/Speakers:

Crew:

  • Pebbles Lin as Program Director
  • Casper Grey as Production Director and Facilitator
  • Marcus Tirkel as Facilitator
  • Jieun Lee, Ljuba Grishkina, Monse Higareda on Production Assistance
  • Sam Tobiana as Photographer
  • Nicholas Burman as Contributing Writer

Venue Host:

  • Lucas Hendricks & A-Lab
February 21, 2020

/ written by Nicholas Burman, one of the attendees of NUNC Assembly II

To be able to say “I am again,” we each had to first take a step towards recognising our own inherent instability. The second NUNC Assembly was a way for us to grasp hold of impermanence before it grasped too tightly to us. A discursive environment, the two day event was about people discussing their personal experiences of impermanence, and for thinkers and artists in various fields to talk about how they collaborate or compete against the fact that we are not permanent. 

Day one began with guests receiving a handmade, blank NUNC notebook, taking an Instax self-portrait and mingling with the other arrivals. Many came by themselves, although there were some pairs and groups of three, both returnees and people not knowing what to expect were curious about what lay ahead. The assembly took place in Amsterdam Noord’s A Lab, a home for creativity located in an ex-Shell laboratory. 

DAY 1
Opening Ceremony (BIRTH)

We all began by descending to the Lab’s basement. The “Opening Ceremony” was a meditative session. Guests remained silent while meditation bowls were played, and our performer softly encouraged us to heighten our self awareness, of our thoughts and feelings at the time but also of our bodies. This was a great way for us all to relieve the pressures of the previous days and be open and ready for the upcoming discussions about the art of uncertainty. 

We wondered... “What are you feeling?”, and...

“How did you sleep?” 

Our own sleep had been “Short but intense.” Possibly due to the combination of hope and fear which we were feeling at the time. We wondered about impermanence while preparing for an assembly on impermanence - if we are so unsure of the future, what is the purpose of organising things for it? 

We spoke words that summarised our thoughts or impulses at that moment. 

“Presence.” “Curiosity.” “Uncertain”.

Speakers 

Garet from Extinction Rebellion NL was our first speaker. She’s had five last names throughout her life, so feels an impermanence to her name/identity. As part of ER she is part of The Red Rebels, who take slow walks through urban environments, and perform a solemn, though very colourful, procession commemorating the destruction of Earth’s biodiversity. She said that the climate crisis has made us all aware of the impermanence of our existence as human beings.

Experience Designer Nandi Nobell was next. He opened by asking:

“Where do you see yourself in a million years?”

For Nobell, impermanence is about destruction and creation. Drawing on simulation theory, he sees that people measure their experiences through objects. His virtual worlds are designed to get people to find new measurements through experiences of new objects. The ultimate question left from his presentation was: what will immersive culture contribute? 

Dutch renowned veteran Artist & Photographer Erik Kessels (Founder of Agency KesselsKramer) provided a humorous talk about his history of dealing with “uncertain moments” captured by film. Kessels primarily works with found objects, and creates narratives out of these preexisting objects. The pictures he works with, from discarded family albums or strange documentary series reveal a process of thought that would otherwise be totally lost to time. One project involved him printing all the photos uploaded to Flickr on one day, nearly one million, to show the vast amount of seemingly impermanent images that surround our digital lives. 

Chris Keulemans is an established writer in the Netherlands. In his presentation he talked about his research into the various ways that “home” has become an impermanent concept for many people. From gentrified neighbourhoods in Amsterdam to decaying social housing in Naples, Keulemans concluded by describing various methods of exploratory transnationalisms as a way to combat a loss of a sense of home. Can a sense of home be found in impersonal and multicultural settings through sharing personal stories? 

Afternoon (GROWTH)
Audience Talk 


A NUNC Assembly is not just about the speakers - the audience plays a key role in it. After each speaker we allowed the audience a couple of minutes for reflection, and then we encouraged neighbours to talk to each other about the themes and the topics of the presentation and then as groups provide one main item of feedback or question. 

For Garet’s talk attendees were mostly concerned about impact. The scale of the climate crisis seems hard to visualise, and people asked what visual aids can be used to help people recognise and believe the problem? One group asked about unexpected events that cause change, and that natural catastrophes remind us of our impermanence.

Nandi’s presentation left the audience feeling a bit disoriented, though this was maybe one of its intentions. Some said that virtual reality experiences are too detached from material reality, but also that there is a connection between the virtual and the material, and that the virtual world can also be exploitative. Nandi repeated that he is not so much a person with certain answers but someone who wants to be an explorer through possibilities. 

In response to one question, Erik provided a liberating point: you have to learn to have talent and ideas. 

Chris’ conversation around home sparked much debate amongst the international attendees, many of whom live outside of the country they were born in. Events such as this one seemed to be a good example of some people forming communities which feel like home. But what about the fact that transnationalism is rooted in forms of globalisation which has undermined communities around the world? This is a nearly impossible question, of course. Home would return as another key theme during Day 2. 

Open Panels and Workshops 

After the lunch break we hosted a participatory workshop which got people, in groups, to discuss between each other recent personal developments and transitions. This workshop was designed as a way to encourage people to think about impermanence in their own lives. Many people mentioned that they felt that they had recently had to come to terms with the idea that things don’t remain the same for very long, but that that is ok. 

Our open panel session concept brought each of the speakers together, but we left room on stage for one empty chair, which members of the audience could occupy. Over the hour or so that we all talked about the overlaps and differences between peoples’ presentations, many of the speakers became audience members and vice versa. This was an exciting experiment to see if we could destabilize the traditional barrier between audience and speaker at traditional conferences, and which we find restrictive. 

Some ideas that popped up during this panel session were:

  • creation shouldn’t involve only ego, but ego helps one be an advocate for an idea
  • one can find playfulness in something serious, and intelligence in something playful
  • you can find relief a lot of relief learning about other industries and points of view
  • beginning a conversation is an important aspect of creative work
  • you can distance yourself from a topic with humor. Things don’t need to be fun - but fun can draw attention to a topic 

The day ended with two workshops, one by Nodell and the other by Shay Benish. Both were about imagining different types of futures through recognising the impermanence of today. 

DAY 2
The Morning (DECAY)


Around 40% of attendees were fresh faces for day two, and we were excited to have fresh perspectives and new ideas amongst us. Once again we outlined that the NUNC Academy is composed of three parts:

  • Insights from speakers and audience, not always intended for immediate applicability
  • Emotional embraces, as we are excited about reactions from actual people who listen
  • Connections between different insights and personalities
“We are not here to be excellent, but to be relevant.” 

Speakers

Experience Designer Shay Benish told us about his struggles of finding authenticity through letting go of others’ conceptions. He proses a mindfulness, a focus on the present, which promotes what he dubs as “radical acceptance,” “transformation” and “permanent impermanence.” Following an audience question, Benish said that growing up in Israel, a society that is very conflict-oriented, made him want to be less angry and scared when in combative debate scenarios. 

Digital artist Carlotta Aoun, excited about “Simulation, Speculation and Digital Mutation,” drew on her experiences growing up in Venezuela to talk about impermanence. She said that her home country is full of impermanence, from intermittent internet connections to water and electricity supplies. Aoun drew a strong line between impermanence and precarity and political instability. To feel comfortable with impermanence can be a privileged position, because it is forced upon many people around the world against their will. 

Yoav Goldwein is an independent researcher who has spent the past few years finding out about what the concept of home means to people in different places and situations around the world. After a brief introduction to his work, he arranged attendees into small workgroups and got them to reflect on their own experiences and conceptions of home. 

Lucas Hendricks talked about the impermanence of the spaces for creativity in contemporary Amsterdam such as A Lab. He talked about his transition from the financial industry to preferring to work supporting the arts and creative industries.

Anna Riedl is a Cognitive Scientist with a keen interest in behavioural economics. She talked about ways in which we can cope and improve a seemingly unstable and impermanent world. Much of her talk drew attention to organisations which help people to determine how to make the most positive impact with whatever resources they have. Deviating a little from the call to not be in “fix” mode, Riedl was certainly excited to get us to think about practical approaches to sometimes overwhelming problems.

Closing Ceremony - (DEATH, & REBIRTH)
NUNC Journey & Considerations on Impermanence

The I Am Again Assembly wanted to encourage attendees to consider that they live in an era in a particular state; a situation which will never repeat. Coming true on our promise to take visitors on a journey into the art of uncertainty, we brought our guests into a performative rebirth.

In our first group session of the Day 2 everyone noted five important phases of their life and got them to arrange these on a communal timeline from birth to death, and death to rebirth. This was the first part of a larger journey which ended the day.

Attendees became part of an impromptu group performance wherein they were given instructions to imagine that they only had one minute left to live. In this situation, what would be the last thing they’d write to their loved ones? They wrote this message on the back of the self portrait they took at the beginning of Day 1. NUNC Academy’s Casper verbally led members of the group, getting them to think about their impermanence and their journey through their lives so far.

Everyone was asked to picture themselves in an afterlife, and no longer having a presence in the world. This imagined “death” was a way to get attendees to think about previous identities, and to get people to leave old and unnecessary behaviours and personality traits behind. We all imagined the rising and passing of everything that has made us and what we have become. As a collective we became aware in an attempt to combat oblivion.

A memorial to our past selves was made out of the self portraits and our “last” notes. One by one, attendees paid respects to their past selves. Recognising impermanence was celebrated as a way to make ourselves anew, to imagine ourselves capable of becoming new people. 

Our presence was complicated, but our curiosities were more than satisfied.

/ written by Nicholas Burman nicholascburman.com

Artists/Speakers:

Crew:

  • Pebbles Lin as Program Director
  • Casper Grey as Production Director and Facilitator
  • Marcus Tirkel as Facilitator
  • Jieun Lee, Ljuba Grishkina, Monse Higareda on Production Assistance
  • Sam Tobiana as Photographer
  • Nicholas Burman as Contributing Writer

Venue Host:

  • Lucas Hendricks & A-Lab