For the first time in the history of the Institute for Applied Systems Analysis (IIASA) a dancer has been appointed as Associate Fellow. Gloria Benedikt, also a graduate of Havard University, has joined the distinguished team of scientists to represent the artistic perspective in the debate about the tremendous challenges our world is facing. IIASA General Director Pavel Kabat thus sets another bold step in his innovative approach to find answers to the most pressing global topics such as climate change, equality and dignity.
“Building bridges” reads the motto on the flag at the entrance to IIASA at the former Habsburg Castle of Laxenburg where, incidentally, the Jaques-Dalcroze school took up its residency 90 years ago under the name of Hellerau-Laxenburg. Where his method of a collaboration between music and dance represented a successful union of all utopias underlying the reforms in education, life style, society and the arts at the beginning of last century, IIASA promotes the cooperation across all disciplines and cultures for the much needed global reforms of our days.
The Institute for Applied Systems Analysis is an independent global international science institute with 22 member countries, 400 international staff and a global research network of around 2500 scholars and 300 partner institutions. Since the renowned scientist Pavel Kabat took up the post as Director General and CEO in 2012 the institute ranked among the top 3 think tanks in the world in three consecutive years.
How do the arts fit into this profile?
“We should focus on a real transition”, Kabat explains. “And this is where the arts and science come together. Looking to history, to the Greek and Roman Empire or even before, everything that moved this world further was based on scientific or artistic discovery or performance.”
Kabat attempts to reach beyond the scientific community to society at large by promoting the communication between all stake holders to arrive at solutions for the world’s problems. One of his initiatives is the Alpbach-Laxenburg Group, a partnership between the European Forum Alpbach and IIASA whose members include leading figures from politics, business, science, civil society and the arts. As their first area of investigation the group has chosen energy inequality and generational inequality.Gloria Bendikt’s contribution to the Group this year will be a dance piece called “(In)Dignity” in collaboration with the Syrian dancer Hussein Khaddour. It will premiere on front of the community of international decision makers as integrated part of the Alpbach Political Symposium 2015.
“Since I believe that the emotion in the cognitive part of us will change the world, not technology only, I also believe that the current concept of coping with inequality is only part of the story … I believe one of the important parameters in solving inequality is science, education and arts, and we are forgetting that. And this is the story that Gloria also tells when she comes with her Syrian colleague: that there is also something else people need but yet another bag of bread. They need dignity and equality and I think this is investment in the future. So again, here science and arts come together”, explains Kabat.
What is the role of an Associate for Arts and Science?
As an Associate for Arts and Science at IIASA Gloria Benedikt is not only working on concrete projects such as „InDignity“ and giving speeches at conferences. She has „to develop a 5 year strategy about including the arts as a fix point in the debate, set clear milestones, see where we want to be, who we want to involve in it. At this point we have a concrete number of steps with Gloria and her partners or with the Vienna Philharmonics. That’s nice but we need to have an idea how to scale it up to general audiences and policy makers. What is the investment of the next 5 years and how to do it? Is it a network? Is it a series of programmes? We are just at the beginning, now we want to put it into the context of the long term initiatives“, says Kabat who met the dancer at her conference "Bridging the Divide" in November last year.
Gloria Benedikt explains her role as providing another perspective and creating openness: „People sometimes think that I make political work. But really what I do is ‘choreographing papers’. It is true that I operate in very political environments, but I see it as my role to take up current affairs and stripe away the political layers to get to the bottom of issues, to find some truths that would otherwise remain hidden. That’s very different from political art. I have no slogans, no agenda, no concrete conclusions. My research is academic, I come up with a thesis, then I turn it into choreography. Through the creative process I tend to find fundamental questions or new angles that can help decision makers form an opinion, just as scientists offer the angle of scientific evidence. What makes IIASA such a unique and important place is that we have the freedom and responsibility to do ‘just’ that. Unlike most people at conferences and the like, we don’t have to represent anyone’s position or agenda; our role is to build a bridge to policy by offering our independent findings to those who have to make tough decisions in our complex world.“
So far, Gloria has participated in conferences in Prague and Vienna and the responses have been encouraging. “If I go on stage as a dancer I hope to reach the audience. To move them in some way, so they walk away differently than when they came. I see the conferences and public lectures as a different way of going on stage. I hope I can create openness, to enable people to see what they already know so much about from a new angle. To inspire them to think in new ways. After the public lecture in Vienna someone from the United Nations wrote me an e-mail saying ‚there is hope, when we see scientists, policy makers, and artists like you joining hands’. In Prague, part of my presentation was the trailer of InDignity. One of the European commissioners immediately picked up on it in his keynote and used the lens of Dignity throughout the day. So there I could see an immediate impact.“
Building bridges between the old and new
Meanwhile Pavel Kabat is already thinking much further: „The world changes extremely and fundamentally. The real power of the next thirty years is no longer in the gremia we are talking about today”, he explains. “There is this next level, this parallel level which we don’t talk about because we do not understand. But there are people near to govern this world. These are people like Mark Zuckerberg, who have facebook in their hand. The generation of bulldogs will die off very soon, professionally I mean.”
However, the solution lies in an inclusive transition: “It is not to leave the establishment of either science or art and then to bash on it and be an activist. This is the easy part of it. The difficult part is to build a bridge between old and new. Because inclusion and equality are the most important values. I think we need to be creative and step out of our shadows so to speak and to connect to those who are the future.”
PS: Gloria Benedikt is currently preparing a solo performance for “Die lange Nacht des Tanzes” organised by Choreographic Center Bleiburg/Pliberk on July 31st. She is dedicating her new work “OnDignity” to the 60 million refugees worldwide.
The Austrian-Syrian collaboration “InDignity” will premiere at the Alpbach Political Symposium on September 1st.