Artway of Thinking: creating new listening practices for European youth

Artway of Thinking is an international political artivism organization based in Italy, working both with individual and organizational members. PublicSpaces sat down with Federica Thiene, one of the three founders, and Filippo Mantovani, an active member since 2015 and currently responsible for one of its main running projects.

Illustration made for the Artway of Thinking article.

Artway of Thinking is an international political artivism organisation based in Italy, working both with individual and organisational members. PublicSpaces sat down with Federica Thiene, one of the three founders, and Filippo Mantovani, an active member since 2015 and currently responsible for one of its main running projects.

Artway of Thinking was founded at the beginning of the 90s with a clear intention to focus on the role of artists in society and co-creation. Its founders perceived art as a means to respond to people’s need for community and to improve societal wellbeing, in a rather political sense. “Art has always had a political influence. However, at the time we were founding Artway of Thinking at the end of the 80s, our vision of the role of artists in society and the arts sector was quite contradictory to the dominant perceptions and believes about art back then. Many galleries and museums were pushing for a commercialisation and depolitisation of art.” Federica explains. “Meanwhile, our idea was to really root ourselves in our communities as artists and to truly commit to taking on a political role.”

During the past decades, Artway of Thinking has developed several big projects in many communities and cities across the world, both in the global South and in the global North, for which it has been commonly cooperating with art universities and other knowledge institutions.  

A digital space for collective sound narration

One of Artway of Thinking’s main current programs is a digital project called TeenTribe. TeenTribe is a collective web platform based around sound narration. It provides a space where young people can share, listen, dream, and give shape to their thoughts about the present and the future, using sound as a form of creative expression. Its aim is to create a safe and free digital space dedicated to young people and to make them feel part of a community.  As Filippo puts it: “TeenTribe is an invitation for genuine listening. To listen more to yourself, to your community and to your environment. The emphasis is put on the sound: the relation between oneself and the outside.”

The project started during the covid pandemic with a deliberative research process involving young people across Europe. In the words of Federica: “We started a conversation with teenagers, and found there was a lack of communication and a need for a platform to facilitate this. During the pandemic, it became even more apparent that adults don’t listen while younger generations don’t have enough space to talk and be represented.” Out of these conversations five topics emerged: sense of community, fears (one of the first and most urgent topics that came up), future, life energy and life philosophy.

As Federica puts it: “Sound goes deeper than vision. It needs more care, time and reflection. This new generation is not trained to listen anymore, there is too much noise. Meanwhile, teens have become accustomed to create visual content all the time in a snapshot, almost unconsciously.”  She explains that the project helps young people in the EU relate to each other in a new way.  “As human beings, we have a fundamental need to relate to others. When this level of human connection happens in a physical way, it brings emotions with it.  That is what this project is all about. With TeenTribe, we wanted to get as close as possible to this essence of being human: connecting as physically and emotionally as possible in a digital space.”

Re-evaluating our relationship with the digital realm

Artway of Thinking is critical of and aware of the digital tools they use and the digital spaces they facilitate and create. “It is important to understand that digital is not a separate environment for us – we talk about digital projects but in reality, we consider the boundaries between the physical and the digital as much more blurred.” Filippo explains. “The enormous digital developments during the past decades have been of tremendous importance for us an organisation, for us to be able to have access to knowledge and to be able to communicate and share with others around the world. Those activities that have become facilitated by digital technologies– having access to knowledge and communicating with others – and are really fundamental to our work, as we are an organisation based on relationships. So the internet also provided an explosion of possibilities for us. But we have to be critical of how we employ it”.

Today, Artway of Thinking continues to only use creative commons licensing for co-creation methodologies, so they remain transparent and accessible to other participants. They don’t have strict copyrights. It constantly tries to make its participants aware about their relationship with the tools they are using online, and to really expand their consciousness about the different roles digital technologies can play.  In the case of Teen Tribe, this means showing participants that a digital platform can be a powerful way to listen more carefully to each other. To be allowed to share place-based sensitivities in a playful, secured and non-commercial way, with your data and privacy safeguarded.

“This is what we, and especially European youth needs: a safe place online to come together and relate to each other again.” Filippo concludes.

In 2024, Artway of Thinking will organise TeenTribe 2024, where it will showcase a year of collecting sounds and voices from teenagers across Europe through soundmixing. They are still looking for partners and invite anyone interested to contact them.

Many thanks to our talented illustrator Julia Veldman C. for creating the image above.