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The Neological Institute

In short

The Neological Institute is a workshop/performance focussing on the role that language can play in inspiring future realities. In other words, it is an experience created to immerse people in an experience showing the power of new words – i.e. neologisms – to inspire new worlds.

  • Year: 2016
  • creator: Nik Baerten
How can new words generate new worlds? | What role can language play in evoking the future? | How can a performative immersion help to engage people in futures thinking?

the project

Back in 2015, Pantopicon co-founder Nik Baerten created napkin future NF036, entitled “The Neological Institute”.  The fictional narrative fragment was inspired by science fiction writers using language – especially neologisms – as an evocative instrument to mould the future into being, in particular the work of Polish author Stanislaw Lem. In its turn, the napkin inspired the design of a workshop/performance which would immerse participants in an on-boarding experience of new employees of this fictional institute on their first day of work.

In June 2016 – at the occasion of the Design Research Society’s 50th anniversary conference, entitled “Future-focused thinking” in Brighton (UK) – a first edition of the performance was held in a 4hr format. Participants would walk into the room and be welcomed by the Neological Institute’s president (Nik Baerten) and vice-president (Virginia Tassinari). The layout and aesthetics of the room would reflect the atmosphere of the institute as such, i.e. a slightly bureaucratic, laboratory-like setting shaped on order and procedure.

Each would receive a labcoat, nametag and function description alongside first instructions. Welcoming the fresh neologians to the Institute on their first day, the president reminded them of the core beliefs on which the Institute was founded, by reciting the credo and remembering its patron Stanislaw Lem.

Step by step, people would be instructed in the basic methods and procedures of the Institute.

deconstruction of the today

Step one: the Institute’s morning ritual, i.e. the deconstruction of the today. This activity involves the cutting out of key terms from today’s newspapers and cutting them up into their basic components. It is a physical experience of deconstructing

lexicogenesis

In a second step, the so-called lexicogenesis, these components are combined with pre- and suffixes to form new words. At the Institute, new meanings are born from new words and not vice versa, hence first comes the word.

praxis

Then – once new words have been approved by the Institute’s vice-president – in a third step of so-called praxis, the word is combined with other words – new and existing ones, suggested by other neologians – to form a sentence. It is only after this, from the context of their use, that a meaning can be deduced.

constellography

With word and meaning in hand, the newly generated terms can now be categorised … New materials, actions, conditions, places etc. form building bricks for new worlds. Hence last but not least, in a fourth and final step – termed constellography – ‘constellations’ combining different give rise to new worlds or plausible future scenarios with an underlying new logic.

As a final act of this design fiction performance, all neologians would pick their favourite neologism and write it – together with its new meaning – on a postcard to send to someone – a friend, a politician, a business leader, … – as a solution stimulus to open a third way of thinking, beyond today’s dichotomies, a new word to inspire a new world …

Note: the Neological Institute workshop/performance is a format equally available for in-company/organisational use and can be framed thematically. Contact us for more information.

Outcomes

new vocabularies
New words are created which give rise to new meanings, new logics, new categories of thinking and acting, evoking a future world of new challenges and possibilities. Many neologisms and constellations can serve as instruments to engage in deeper discussions on what the future might bring, inspire visions or scenarios on new policies, organisations, products and services, etc.
transformative experience
To be part of a workshop/performance and play a role allows people to step out of character, leave today behind and 'wear' an alternate reality as their temporary skin.
glossary
A selection of neologisms generated during the different public editions of the performance will be collected and find their way to a publication in incremental instalments (stay tuned).

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