Wenzel Mehnert

Research Assistant for “Building better Worlds”

ElleryStudio-Solar-Punk-Festival-SPF18-8607_edited_2

 

picture credits: Eugen Litwinow (Ellery Studio)

 

After studying social and business communication, Wenzel Mehnert has been working as a research assistant at the Berlin University of the Arts since 2016. He works in the department for time-based media at the professorship of Prof. Ingen-Housz and researches, writes and teaches experimental methods of future studies at the intersection of science and art. His PhD is on “The practice of speculation in literature, design and foresight”.

In his research and teaching, Wenzel Mehnert focuses on the intersection between Speculative Fictions (e.g. Science-Fiction Literature, Speculative Design, Design Fictions, Speculative Performances) and the assessment of New and Emerging Science and Technologies (e.g. A.I., SynBio, Internet of Things, etc.).

In a eclectic movement he combines disciplines like Science and Technology Studies (STS), Critical Future Studies (CFS) or Technological-Vision Assessment with creative practices of Worlbuilding, the deliberate process of creating a coherent Storyworld, and philosophical approaches to Speculative Thinking and Possible World Theory to reflect upon current future images. Therefore, his interest towards Futures is not a predictive one. Instead of looking into the future  he is interested in looking at the present futures, meaning the current assumptions of the future – where they come from and how they can be reshaped through narrative means.

During his studies, Wenzel Mehnert ethnograpically explored the world of record lovers in his B.A. and analysed current assumptions about the future within the framework of his master’s thesis. In addition, he dealt with the structures of the new music market, developed participatory strategies for sustainable urban development, and critically examined heterodox conspiracy theories in an exhibition at the UdK.

Current Classes

 

[Playing God - For better or worse]
(Winter 2019/2020 @ UdK Berlin)
in cooperation with Dr. Bernhard Kegel

 

New and emerging technologies always come with ambiguous interpretations. On the one hand, in the form of wishes, potentials and dreams, on the other they are viewed sceptically or portrayed as threats. No matter how dystopian or utopian these interpretations may be, the overarching promise is always a story of change, as it will change the world as we know it.

The emerging field of Synthetic Biology is no exception. The designing of brand-new biological systems comes with manifold promises for mankind such as the eradication of deadly diseases, manufacturing more sustainable materials or even the creation of extinct animals. The opposing argumentation however is that humankind is on the edge of the abyss by tinkering with the evolution. Long-term changes for the environment or the genetic code as well as processes of social appropriation of this technology lie in the unknown. Meaning, that possible implications of gen edits or the creation of new lifeforms can not be foreseen by scientists – but they can be speculated about by artists.

In the seminar we will enter the realm beyond the hopes and fears by creating speculative fictions of the future. We will research on the sociotechnical imaginaries surrounding the field of synthetic biology, read into scientific and philosophical papers, watch science fiction movies dealing with the topic and invite experts and ethicist to reflect on issues. Based on our research we will create a possible world that will serve us as the foundation for the creation of Sci-Fi prototypes of one possible future. The results will take form of a book which will be designed and developed by the class together.

 

[Forgotten Futures]
(Winter 2019/2020 @ UdK Berlin)

 

The debate about the future has a long tradition in film. The moving image allows the visionary worlds to be seen. However, many of these past visions of the future are now difficult to access and thus considered to be forgotten futures.

The reasons for this are obvious: our viewing habits adapt through the further development of the medium. The fast cuts and highly polished images of contemporary directors such as Abrams or Kurtzman seem strangely alien to the slow shots of Tarkowski or Fleischer.

Nevertheless, these lost futures are time-diagnostic artefacts: Science fiction as a contemporary medium does not describe the future but rather than contemporary assumptions about the future. The author’s ‘zero world’ is reflected in his works – which means today’s recipient has to empathize with two new worlds at once: The future depicted and the implicit present.

In this seminar we will watch and analysis science fiction films from the last century (specifically 1960 – 1980) and analyse the diegese of the films. In the discussion that follows, we will reflect on production methods, content, aesthetics, relevance and much more.

 

Previous Classes

 

[Visions and Values in Design & Technology]
(Summer 2019 @ UdK Berlin & TU Berlin)
in cooperation with Prof. Sabine Ammon (TU Berlin)

 

Visions, values, and imaginaries play a fundamental role in technology development. Visions of technological futures can be a driving force in design processes. At the same time, values embedded in technological products turn into co-shapers of societal development. With new and emerging technologies on the threshold to markets, it is not only important to reflect the underlying sociotechnical imaginaries in technology. It is also essential to investigate critically the complex interrelations of visions and values in design processes. In this way, it becomes possible to uncover hopes and fears related to technology’s future as well as to develop alternative ideas of preferable futures.

Our Journal Club „Visions and Values in Design and Technology“ brings together perspectives from technology of philosophy, technology assessment as well as artistic and design practices. We will analyse in close reading recent research positions, which deal with the assessment of technological visions and values, such as Vision Assessment, Value Sensitive Design, Speculative Design or Design Fictions. We will dive into the literature to better understand how visions and values interact with the development of new technologies, how art and design can steer the process of „visioneering“ and stimulate discourse about new and emerging technologies.

 

[Doing Design Fiction]
(Winter 2017 – Summer 2019 @ UdK Berlin)

 

„The practice of design fiction, broadly speaking, seeks to manifest possible worlds tangibly (…) most often through physical objects and installations, or media artifacts such as short films.“ – Candy & Dunagan, 2017, S. 7

Emergent technologies are everywhere. Charged with a hyperdisruptive narrative, they promise us to turn our everyday lives upside down. But one can only speculate about the impacts on our everyday life. This is exactly what we will do. In the seminar [Doing Design Fiction] we speculate on the effects of new technologies on society with the aim of creating tangible futures in the form of short movies.

Throughout the course, we will watch examples of Design Fiction films, speculate about the impacts of new and emerging science and technologies, create imaginary storyworlds and explore this world through the eyes of fictive characters. The students will learn the basics of worldbuilding and storytelling to create a seven minutes long movie about their vision of the future.

 

[Dreamscapes Of Modernity]
(Winter 2018/2019 @ UdK Berlin)
in cooperation with Tom Kolombe

 

In our dreams, we foresee our futures. In our collective dreamscapes, we store our future imaginaries.

Inspired by Jasanoff & Kims book “Dreamscapes of Modernity: Sociotechnical Imaginaries and the Fabrication of Power” (2015) this seminar will deal with the concept of sociotechnical imaginaries, the „collectively held and performed visions of desirable future (or of resistance against the undesriable)“, strongly formed through anticipations of emerging technologies.

In this course we will talk about the concept of sociotechnical imaginaries, read papers from the field of Social and Technology Studies (STS) and learn about the interception of art and emerging technologies, which encourages us to question our own anticipations of our collective future.

Besides theory we will research on collectively hold sociotechnical imaginaries and transform the results into speculative fictions. We will create a story world out of which we will produce our own imaginaries in form of short stories about possible futures.

 

[Otherworldlessness]
(Winter 2019 @UdK Berlin)
in cooperation with Prof. Stephan Porombka

 

From Uchronies to Alternative Realities to Science Fiction. We design other worlds that seem different, but always bring us back into our own world. We spin around, we reinvent, we think differently and above all in consequences and implications.

In our collision course we produce new short films every day. We answer the question “What if…” with new experiments everyday and create a small encyclopedia of speculation which we will present and make available online at the same time.

 

[Things to come]
(Summer 2018 @ UdK Berlin)

 

The idea of what the future will bring is already part of our cultural memory. Through novels, films, series and other forms of Science Fiction, we get a glance into the everyday life of tomorrow and get an opportunity to reflect on it. Therefore contemporary Science Fiction is to be seen as a refelction of the hopes and fears we are confronted with today rather than a window into the future.

From this perspective, the idea of the future becomes a participatory discourse, that actors strategically create while others tacitally challenge it. It becomes a contested ground and the idea of the future as „These are the things to come“ slowly shifts to an „Do we want those things to come“? Future becomes democratized.

In the seminar we will challenge our shared future visions and ask for possible implications on our everyday life. Drawing from methods of design fiction, ethnography and future-research, we speculate about the implication of foreseeable innovations and technologies on our society. Through that, we will create our own „thick futures“ and anticipate changes and alternatives to create artefacts and stories out of a possible future world.

 

[Future Bodies]
(Winter 2018 @ UdK Berlin)
in cooperation with Gudrun Herrbold & Işıl Eğrikavuk

 

Imaginations of the future have something paradoxical within. They are aiming towards a time to come but are produced in the past. Saved in our memories of visionary images communicated through novels, films, documentaries and other forms of speculations of what the present times could become. Science Fiction allows us a glance into the everyday life of tomorrow and gives us an opportunity to reflect on it. In this mode, Science Fiction tells us more about our present then it does about our future. When looking at contemporary visions in movies and TV series but also in contemporary art we see a refelction of the hopes and fears we are confronted with today.

These vision become guidelines for our actions and performances that will somehow be inscribed in our bodys in a mysterious and undefinable way. During the five days we want to narrow down the role of the body in the future. How will we use it? How will we change it? How will we be changed by our body? How how we are looking back to our bodyimaginations in different times of our biography and how that will reflect on the way we live our everyday life?

Drawing from methods of storytelling, biographical theatre and movement, this workshop will focus on the body, performance and how to re-imagine the world. Combining contemporary art, theatre and performance practices, students will work on visualising and reconfiguring possible futures.

 

[Speculative Futures Club]
(Winter 2017/2018 @ UdK Berlin)

 

Future visions are the result of discourses led by various actors. Companies present their thin descriptions of self-driving cars, life (or dying) on Mars and at the same time politicians polarize and spread fear with vague horror scenarios. What exactly do these ideas mean for us? The toppos of “This will become” is slowly replaced by a “Do we want that”? The future becomes democratized and in the Speculative Future Club we create our own visions of the future.

With input from design approaches such as design fiction and literature from Future Studies, we think about the future, develop our own ‘thick futures’ and compare them with existing assumptions. Based on ethnographic miniatures, we will design sci-fi prototypes, which will help us to speculate about the socio-cultural implications of (un)foreseeable developments and to think about changes and alternatives.

 

[Visual Research]
(Winter 2016/2017 – Summer 2018 @ UdK Berlin)

 

Our society is made up of a wide variety of social groups. Each of these groups has its own rituals & stories, its own visual codes & signs and produces its own visible artefacts – in public and in private. Berlin, as a multi-cultural melting pot, serves as the best example and therefore as the best field of research.

Following the tradition of Visual Anthropology, the seminar lies at the intersection between qualitative social research and audiovisual practice (documentary film). With a mixture of theoretical input and practical experimentation, participants will create cinematic portraits of self-chosen subcultures.

 

[Media research yesterday and tomorrow]
(2017 – 2019 @ HMKW Berlin)

 

The usage of media is an ordinary process and as intuitiv as breathing, eating or sleeping. Media surrounds us and accompany us through every situation in life. However, the reflection on the usage of this technology takes rarely place.

The scientific research on the usage of media is a relatively young discipline. Shocked by the war propaganda of the early 20th century, sociologists and psychologist started to discussing the subject from different perspectives. Despite or because of the fast pace of the ever-changing media landscape, it is more important than ever to discuss the results of the research pioneers.

The seminar Media Research yesterday and tomorrow addresses the classic works of the empirical media research and allows a closer look on the impact of media on our everyday life. The leading questions of the seminar are „What do people do with the media?“ and „What does the media do with the people?“.

 

[Media Format Workshop]
(Annually)
in cooperation with tov Spiekermann

 

An open space for practical media work at the University of the Arts in Berlin. Within one week, we work on different formats such as short movies, music videos or audio podcasts.

 

[Software classes]
(Annually)

 

Teaching introduction classes to several software programs like Adobe Indesign, Adobe Premiere or Unity 3D.

 

Institute: Institute for time-based media //
AV-Communication with Prof. Ingen-Housz
Email: wenzel.mehnert@udk-berlin.de
Office: Grunedwaldstr. 2-5, 10823 Berlin, Room 2a
Appointments: Mondays, please contact via mail