Challenging the Conservative Brain (CtCB) dissects Munich’s clichéd image of traditional conservatism to explore its ‘imperfect’, often hidden side of parallel cultural scenes and networks. The project borrows techniques from the fields of neural science and artificial intelligence to observe and model the influence that these active urban players have on the city of Munich. On the base of the model developed through this, a number of initiatives have been ‘engineered’ to intervene in specific parts of the urban context of Munich. CtCB has been developed at the Kunstverein München, as a part of the School of Missing Studies.

photo: Challenging the Conservative Brain at Munich’s Kunstverein

Who are the ‘urban innovators’ and what kinds of ‘innovations’ they create in the context of a specific city? And what tactics do they employ to explore the voids and possibilities left open by that city – in this case Munich?

As neural psychologist Ernst Pöppel explains, the human brain has a great capacity to register differences, but rather seeks not to be bothered with these. Its ‘conservatism’ lays in this tendency not to be open for much of change. The positive effect of this is obviously stabilization. Negative effects are stagnation, lack of adaptability, and the limitation of opportunities. Some ‘conservative’ tendencies of the brain are ‘hard-wired’ and thus form an intrinsic part of its layout. But more importantly, other tendencies are culturally defined and can therefore be influenced.

In analogy with the conservative brain, the systems of a city would seek to stabilize the existing structures. Thus, inducing change, producing difference and creating space(s) for diversity is the central challenge for the city, and the entity producing difference can be referred to as a Machine of Difference. Considering Munich, what would that be?

Three workshop sessions encapsulated this process. Each session involved a different set of about 15 participants both from Munich and abroad. The first session [sounding] started out with ‘detective’s’ work to find the specific strategies of a number of Munich’s (cultural) initiatives in focus. What are their motives and key decisions, and what matters when it comes to their role in changing the urban environment?
During the second session [modelling] participants of the workshop ‘rated’ the strategies that the initiatives in focus use and valued their contribution to the re-invention of the local urban environment. By using a technique called Decision Tree modelling, these results have been translated to a sequence of issues (markers) important for an organization to be ‘innovator’ in the Munich context. This sequence is used to make a ‘user guide’ for a ‘prototypical’ Munich initiative that challenges, changes or questions its local context.

Finally, in the third session [engineering] this user guide is provided to the participants of the workshop. The participants have been asked to form groups and come up with a number of imaginary initiatives, by following the ‘guide’. Of course, this effort has not been without controversy – a good chance to feed discussion on urban activators with a sharp and relevant input.

The format of the interview has been used throughout the whole project – both as a way to bring input from Munich’s initiatives in focus to the other project participants, as well as a way to create the output. At the end of the third session the representatives of the four freshly born ‘initiatives’ were interviewed during a ‘press conference’.


CtCB responds to what is considered an eminent lack in Munich’s cultural context, by researching and sketching what could be called Machines of Difference. As the final result of this process, four (potential) initiatives have been laid out, addressing the need for affordable space for creative professionals, the lack of a knowledge infrastructure for urban cultural activism, the urge for networking and communication among Munich initiatives and finally the possibilities for public debate.

  • [team ] STEALTH.unlimited (Ana Džokić and Marc Neelen) in collaboration with Mario Campanella, Marco Hölzel, Anil Jain and Lars Mentrup and a large number of participants
  • [background ] CtCB has been developed in the framework of Teasing Minds, at the Kunstverein München, together with BikvanderPol. Teasing Minds is part of the network project School of Missing Studies (SMS). It has been funded by the German Federal Cultural Foundation.
  • [timeline ] June 2004 – November 2004, exhibition: 09.10. – 14.11. 2004
  • [publicity ] Activating the Space of Difference, text in Spring Fall 02 – 04, gesammelte Drucksachen, Kunstverein München (Revolver, Archiv für Aktuelle Kunst 2005)