Crossmodalists creating a flavour & sound painting performance at TOA 2016

Is Crossmodalism the Dadaism of the 21st century?

  • Inspired by the cultural movements of the past, Crossmodalism aims to bring previously unfamiliar people and fields together
  • “Art, science and technology have only been relatively recently separated by the force of extreme specialism”
  • Could Crossmodalism be this century’s avant-garde response to global warming and rising inequality?

Dadaism flourished in the immediate aftermath of World War I — and, through art, literature and political engagement, challenged the kinds of violence, nationalism and inequality that had begun to take hold in the early 20th century.

The link between creativity and science has changed over time. For thousands of years, studying art and calligraphy alongside science was a legitimate practice. People recognised that, more often than not, those versed broadly in the concepts of art, science and technology went on to change the world.

The 21st century has brought its benefits, but it has also made us more isolated. Timezones and language barriers have become less important, yet inequality is rising, global warming still threatens the future of our planet, and many traditionally-intertwined disciplines have ceased learning from each other.

Crossmodalism could just be the answer to these problems. But what is it? asked Chris Lloyd, Daniel Ospina and Nadjib Achaibou— the people helping this movement thrive — to tell us how it could answer some of the issues facing our generation.

If you’d like to hear more from bleeding-edge thinkers, makers, and doers like these Crossmodalists, you’ll love the Tech Open Air festival in Berlin, which is only 60 days away . Tickets are selling fast…

Chris Lloyd, Crossmodalist How do you describe Crossmodalism to someone for the first time, and what are the advantages of a Crossmodalist approach?

Crossmodalists: Crossmodalism is a tool to realise whatever desires you have — be they artistic, scientific, technology-based, or design-focused.

In the 21st century, people are more and more educated in programmes of specialty — the kinds of programmes that make people extremely knowledgeable about a certain subject, but don’t help people channel their skills outside of that specific domain.

Fifty years ago, in classical music, a musician would learn things like composition, choral singing, performance and accompaniment. Nowadays, you focus solely on just one of those things — at an extremely high standard, but without connecting elements that for hundreds of years were inseparable.

Crossmodalism started off as an idea to create a 21st century cultural movement inspired by those of the past, like Dadaism, Surrealism and Futurism. We wanted to take the concepts of art, science and technology — fields which have only been relatively recently separated by the force of extreme specialism — and bring them together to create new things.

Nadjib Achaibou, Crossmodalist Can you explain an example of a Crossmodalist project that best demonstrates the approach?

Crossmodalists: Crossmodalist projects has seen a piano performance on a lake, whilst swimmers explored scented origami lilies.

It has seen a line of cutlery designed by applying neuroscience research to eating behaviours. And it has taken a team to the Amazon to record smells and sounds for a multisensory VR production — amongst so many other projects.

Without doubt, the most incredible experience so far has been the First International Crossmodalist Symposium. In July last year, thirty Crossmodalists from around the world were invited to a 13th century monastery in Tuscany.

Over two days, every single person had to bring an element of their work or passion to the group. These included a neuroscience lecture, a morning yoga lesson, an investment banking workshop, a sensory wine experience and a classical piano concert at dawn. Technology has enabled huge advances in individual specialisms, and made collaboration much simpler – and in some cases, plausible for the first time.

Could the Crossmodalist approach have worked 25 years ago?

Crossmodalists: Crossmodalism is a contemporary framing of practices that have been ongoing for thousands of years. In the Tang Dynasty, one could study ‘The Four Arts of the Chinese Scholar’ — including art, calligraphy, strategy, and science. In Ancient Greece, the four arts of the Quadrivium (as described by Plato) included arithmetic, geometry, music, and astrology, something that inspired the university system of the Liberal Arts in the Middle Ages.

Fast forward 1,000 years to the Wagnerian and Kandinsky concepts of Gesamtkunstwerk, with artists again realising the power of multidisciplinarity in creation.

Communication and transport technologies have accelerated our day to day and have made geography less important. But they have also further encapsulated us in our own bubbles. Although Crossmodalism benefits from these advances, it is also made more relevant as a necessary response to isolation.

Daniel Ospina, Crossmodalist Cross-modalism is about a disparate group of people being greater than the sum of their parts.

How hard is it to make projects “work” when you have so many different creative outlooks and approaches?

Crossmodalists: It is a huge uphill battle, and a hugely rewarding one!

Crossmodalism began as a project driven by passion, and remains so to this day. What makes Crossmodalism different is that collaborations are not lead by a clear and short-term objective, but are driven primarily by curiosity. Furthermore, once you understand that imbibing foreign concepts into your process provides an invaluable pool of resources and ideas, it is hard not to challenge your own ego. It’s about constantly reminding ourselves of the bigger picture. How could Crossmodalism spread as an idea? Who could benefit from a cross-modalist approach and how would it affect them and their work?

Crossmodalists: Crossmodalism has grown organically over the past 18 months, through a palpable excitement of those who come across it. The main introduction for people has been a series of gatherings in London.

This quickly became a series of presentations from people within the community, with an emphasis on filling a room with the most interesting people you would never have the chance to otherwise meet. A typical conversation would include a typography specialist, a professional cook, a classical violinist, a BDSM artist, and a startup CEO.

If 2016 was about creating the community surrounding the movement, 2017 is about facilitating the work of the community. We are being approached by a hugely diverse group of festivals and fairs where we are given a space to create a Crossmodalist experience.

But Crossmodalism can be applied to any sort of organisation that is trying to create something. Unfortunately, in most workplaces, people are conditioned to be rigid, short-termist, and narrow-minded. How can any company or group create something that is differentiated and has a personality in such an environment? By reaching other institutions and organisations, we can further increase our impact. What is your hope for the future of this approach? What could Crossmodalism achieve in five years time?

Crossmodalists: Like any evolving organism, Crossmodalism would be stifled by the desires of its founders if it were not allowed to develop alongside the movement of the community. From a conversation at a cafe on Wigmore Street, to an international movement of practitioners and the opening of global chapters, Crossmodalism has always taken the road as a constant exploration.

In saying so, there are some recurring themes for exploration throughout the vast majority of the movement. One of these is to expand our knowledge and working practice into the education spheres. Already, talks and lectures on Crossmodalism have occurred at places like London’s Royal Academy of Music, Oxford’s Said Business School, and Crossmodalists are working on a Masters course at the University of Westminster.

If education is the answer to some of the issues facing our generation, like the rise of automation, global warming, increasing inequality, and political instability then we believe Crossmodalism, and its emphasis on a wholesome knowledge base, has a huge role to play.

This talk has been edited for clarity and length.

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Originally published at on May 12, 2017.

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