Founded in April 2017 by the three Austrian designers Maik Perfahl, Tobias Kestel and Michael Tatschl, Triale is a nomadic research institute that focuses on experimentation and learning-by-doing processes to propose an alternative to the mainstream design education system. The “micro-university” is temporarily based in an abandoned agricultural complex in Abtenau - an isolated region of the Austrian Alps. Oscillating between low-tech and high-tech, it proposes a series of workshops and lectures for young creatives willing to question their daily life and step out of their comfort zone. We got in touch with Michael - one of the co-founders - to learn more about the experiment.
What is Triale and how did it all start?
When we first came up with Triale, the three of us already knew each other from holding workshops for universities and festivals together. The dynamics of those events were always driven by the joy of random experimentation. It was in 2015 that we decided to open up an independent and experimental discourse-space, based on our experiences and believes. Triale embraces experimentation, serendipity and project-oriented learning and offers research residencies and operates a summer school programme. We try to facilitate co-operation by making our approach something like a plug-in for other educational institutes or companies.
What are your sources of inspiration?
The need for action: We live in exciting times and the sky is no longer the limit! Science is thriving in every field and regulations cannot keep up with the progress. Perhaps, sooner than we think, the transformation of our society might no longer be in human hands at all. The real game changers are sciences such as artificial intelligence, nanotechnology, gene technology... We, therefore, need to be adaptive and to have a feeling for the real world in order to understand it. Apart from these zeitgeist-affected motives, we are also fascinated by the legacy of eccentric educational approaches like the Black Mountain College. We wondered what such vibrant ventures might have generated if those guys already had internet. So here we are, trying to figure it out.
Can you tell us more about Triale’s first session, which took place last spring in the Austrian Alps?
The intention was to try out some formats and see how it felt to do what we had planned. We wanted to proof our concept and also develop some ideas on the go. Energy, for instance, is always an issue. So we took some batteries and solar panels to experiment with. We jerry-rigged a little WiFi antenna and we also managed to power a 3d printer with an inverter and a battery to make some experiments in the field. Something unexpected happened when we experimented with hot resin from the trees. The students came up with a concept to make vessels by dipping crocheted hemp bowls in boiling resin. This led to the project presented at Spazio Pulpo during Vienna Design Week.
Why did you choose the Austrian forest to challenge people’s comfort zone?
From a conceptual perspective, Triale is supposed to be a nomadic institute - different landscapes offer a more versatile discourse. But at some point, we got interested in the old unused infrastructure of the Alps. Many abandoned buildings and ruins had an important purpose in the past and now carry a good amount of knowledge with them in terms of craftsmanship and the understanding of nature. The Austrian Federal Forest organisation helped us to get access to one of those places, so we turned it into our base camp. It proved to be a good thing to provide this metaphorical "blank sheet of paper" situation to the workshop participants. We took them out of their every-day context - away from their desks, devices, cheap distractions and shopping malls.
How were days organised during the workshop?
In a pretty basic way. We had breakfast and a morning briefing in which we defined the composition of each group and the goals for the day. We then went off to the workshop, on a hike, or held a lecture. The workflow was quite open and based on the ongoing projects. When all was set, it was trial and error time. In the evenings we had review ceremonies - presentations, talks, dinner etc. - to sum up what we had achieved throughout the day. The routine really depended on the schedule and the daily goals.
Why do you think it is important for creatives to go off the beaten track?
It is difficult to invent something new if you stick to the same approach over and over again. At Triale we seek to surprise ourselves, to make something new, to change the perspective and to discover that every once in awhile a little detour can lead to an unexpected chance.
What does Triale allow you to do that the mainstream educational system wouldn’t?
Before we enter school, we are natural-born creatives. Only then the system strips creativity down in order to make us fit specific requirements easier. The problem is that we live in fast-changing times. The jobs of the next generation of graduates might not be even existing yet. We are behind schedule when it comes to education. The result is something that we are already facing. Think of when we read about the common fear that machines and algorithms may start to take over our jobs. Sure we might be on the verge of a new era, but we must be flexible and adaptive and see it as a chance rather than as the job apocalypse that many call it. We have to become confident problem solvers. Visionaries who can find cross-disciplinary solutions by building and managing teams. Among all types of education, we see design studies as quite outstanding in the fact that they can help us accomplish a transition towards a more flexible society. In design, people get trained to apply creativity to projects, to discover and regain confidence in their natural human ability to solve problems with improvised solutions. Most people studying in other fields don't ever experience this. Creative confidence is surely beneficial to society. We would like to open this discourse to as many people as possible. Also to those who don't believe in their artistic abilities, or struggle with the “stigma” of acting like an artist or designer. It is hard to change an established system. That is why we thought to start little, working our own way around.
Are you planning a second edition in 2018?
We have several obligations and goals for the coming year. While 2017 was mostly spent to define the strategy, we plan to run a regular program starting next year. Appointments for public workshops will be announced during the coming winter.
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