Summer 2016, I attended a residency at Gullkistan Center for Creativity in Laugarvatn, Iceland with my Canadian friend and colleague, the curator Melanie O’Brian. Our “Aim of Stay”, as they phrase it at Gullkistan, was to engage the tradition of walking thinkers by conducting a series of conversations about art and its many tangents while walking the Icelandic landscape.
We each arrived with our own set of preoccupations, but given our shared investment in the arts, that self-interest often proved mutually beneficial. In many cases, one of us was able to offer clarity on a subject, topic, or issue that was at best cloudy to the other.
For instance, while sitting in a hot pot after a day’s walking, Melanie told me about a friend of hers who was researching the last living speaker of a particular language. I had always understood the tragedy of a lost language as the death of an audible experience, but Melanie phrased it as the loss of “a perspective, of a way of seeing the world. “ She said, “A word is a way of seeing.”
Later, we talked about my current endeavor to establish an "arts incubator" at my university. We talked about arts entrepreneurship. We talked about entrepreneurship as a discipline heavily imprinted by the language of business, and I was talking about the parallels between art and entrepreneurship, using a lot of the language of entrepreneurship, and she said to me in passing almost – although clearly with intention – that I shouldn’t surrender the language of art to entrepreneurship.
Back in the States, speaking into a recorder while driving from Kentucky to Alabama, I thought of surrendering the language of art to entrepreneurship, of losing the word, the way of seeing that the arts carry that is reflected in the language that the arts deploy.
There was no internet in the summer house where Melanie and I had stayed and so, in bed at night with the midnight sun as my lamp, I would compile a daily list of words that captured the day’s key insights. One word was “generativeness”, which the note app on my phone autocorrected to “generative mess”. Hhmmmm.
In the spirit of not surrendering the language, I started calling the "arts incubator" a “generator”. In addition to “incubator” I had also previously called it a “lab”. This was fitting given that it resided in the basement of a derelict biology building. It made sense to call the space a “creative" lab as a lexical means of differentiating it from the scientific, but the designation did not avoid the pitfall of borrowing language. “Lab” borrows from science, just as “incubator” borrows from entrepreneurship.
Actually, “incubator” is agricultural. Entrepreneurship in fact surrenders to the language of farming.