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Emptiness and form. To structure or not to structure.

When it comes to designing experiments, workshops and other social interventions, structure isn’t inherently bad.   Nor is it inherently good.  And although I tend towards the mantra of “less-is-more” in my own work I still think it of importance to give even a minimal structure a lot of thought.

Too much structure or script can inhibit novelty as the structure itself fills the very emptiness it is intending to create.  Often its main purpose is to reduce our anxiety and sense of not-knowing at the expense of spontaneity and novelty.  And no structure what-so-ever can be equally unhelpful as it is unable to hold, nurture and grow whatever it is we are interested in.  A total absence of structure can cause fear, anxiety and generally make us less open to taking risks and experiencing difference.  Neither are inherently good nor bad, the question is whether the structure supports our intention.   Whether structure creates a fruitful emptiness.  A fertile void.

And of course, when it comes to nurturing creativity, the majority of structure is an illusion anyway.  Other than the buildings we may work in, or the layout of the furniture, or the materials we might be working with, structure is simply an intention towards what we will say or do at a certain time.   It is not real.  It is not a structure we can dismantle and transport elsewhere in a wheelbarrow.  Other than what is written on a plan or an agenda it doesn’t exist.  Yet I know from my own experience, much of the preparatory structure I instinctively want to put into the design of a workshop is primarily to reduce my own anxiety and not really for the benefit of anyone else.  I have had to learn to let this superfluous structure go, or as film makers say, to “lose the first reel.”   To aim to be passionately non-attached to the thing I am trying to create.  To have a bold intention and a loosely held structure at the same time.  To pay as much attention to the design of form as to the design emptiness.

The ancient Chinese philosohper Lao Tzu came up with the best advice for designing human interventions way back in the 6th Century BC:

“We shape clay into a pot, but it is the emptiness inside that holds whatever we want.”

 

 

 

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