Dr Nick Owen MBE PLUS

Working in and on the Business of Cultural Education


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Boss Bike Rides: uncovering the darker side of creativity and collaboration

Our July Boss Bike Ride pedalled out from Market Bosworth in Leicestershire on this year’s Independence Day, namely Sunday 4th July. Whilst this marked my 5th birthday as CEO at The Mighty Creatives, my co-rider Dan Lamoon from Colab Creation and I soon came across a site where independence, sovereignty and the right to set our own laws was marked as an impressive site of historical significance.  No, not the squalid cupboards where the Brexit deals were done and dusted, but Bosworth Field where the last major battle of the Wars of the Roses was fought. 

Duly named the Battle of Bosworth, the field allegedly was the site where the civil war between the Houses of Lancaster and York reached a grim conclusion.  Over 1,000 poeple were killed over one day on the fields that swept before us (the same number of deaths caused by Covid-19 on 8 April 2020 incidentally).

I say allegedly because the exact site of the battle is disputed.  Whilst the Bosworth Battlefield Heritage Centre was built in 1974 on this site, it that has subsequently been challenged and another research team suggested in 2003 another location 2 miles away at Ambion Hill.

Be that as it may, what wasn’t in dispute was that Dan and I cycled to the top of Bosworth Hill and then duly cycled back down again in the best Grand Old Duke of York tradition.

There may well have only been two of us (100,000 Boss Bike Riders is still some way off) but the ever-present reminder of warfare, and the recognition that a collaboration was needed between the Lancastrians and some disgruntled Yorkists to win that battle prompted a lot of Boss Bike Ride discussions along the rest of the route on the nature of power, warfare, collaboration and the disconcerting presence of creativity in that mix

Back in the 2nd World War, collaborators were shot we reminded ourselves over a cappuccino whilst taking stock of the stocks, invitingly placed so as to encourage us to stick our heads and hands through them. Whilst we declined that invitation, we did engage with the challenge that presents itself when thinking about the role of creativity in politics and power.

How would you design the perfect hand grenade?  This was a question students at Furness College were posed whilst exploring the airfield and gun ranges of Fort Walney in Barrow in Furness as part of the Fort Walney Uncovered project I managed for Art Gene in Cumbria a few years ago.

Clearly, you have to be able to hold it comfortably, get a firm grip and be able to pull the pin and not have it explode in your hand which would be completely counterproductive. It should also, to be a truly effective hand grenade, cause the maximum amount of damage to whomever you throw it at: again, it would be a pretty pointless hand grenade should it just fizzle out. That’s why the surface has all those groove marks in it: when it explodes, the grooves provide natural fault lines for the explosive to detonate meaning that it fragments into thousands of pieces of shrapnel which will guarantee the maximum amount of damage possible for a weapon of its size and weight.

Apparently, the guys who designed the original hand grenade also designed a grenade to fit into rifle barrels. They would be shot out of your rifle and travel a great deal further than the ordinary hand grenade would be able to. Also, distinguished by deep grooves in their surfaces, these rifle grenades were the progenitors to latter day mortar weapons, the kind you see being used in Syria, Afghanistan and all those other theatres of modern-day warfare we are accustomed to seeing.

So, our art and design students learnt that the weapons of choice of the early 20th century were designed in much the same way as the sewing machine or horse drawn cart: paying full attention to form, function and effectiveness. There may even have been aesthetic considerations at play when it came to designing the hand grenade although it’s hard to see what they were.

It’s also hard to imagine a thought process in which earnest young men and women would sit down at a table and engage in some blue sky thinking about what it would take to design the most effective hand grenade. Did they talk about body parts? Mortality rates? Bang for your buck? Or did they do it with one hand over their eyes, pretending not to know what they were doing and perhaps imagining a use for the hand grenade which didn’t involve blowing people to bits? Is there somewhere, in the Ministry of Defence, a portfolio of uses of hand grenades which weren’t deemed appropriate and so have been confined to the dustbins of history?

We shall probably never know that but one thing we do know is that the religious-military -industrial complex that was evident in Bosworth Field over 500 years ago, is still alive and very much kicking today. 

Our worship at the altar of creativity and collaboration is all very well and can generate many great things in our lives: but it has its darker, annihilistic capabilities too and we’d be well minded to take that into account as we go about extolling the value of creativity in our work places.

More on creativity and forces of destruction here.

More about the Boss Bike Rides here.