The Human Is Present

Writing a wild brief for COP28, then suddenly, somehow seeing it through.

Published on Neol Blog

2023 was a weird summer at Neol. The place had barely just formed, hardly anybody knew each other, time zones were (are) a disaster, and every interaction was on Slack, Figjam, and Zoom—then the chance to put on a bespoke session at COP28 fell into our laps, courtesy of Neol’s affiliation with the kyu Collective and the sibling creative agencies under that umbrella, like IDEO, SYPartners, Gehl, Lexington, Atölye, BEworks, and others.

Over at Neol HQ (wherever that may be spiritually for you—it’s interpretive), we knew we were sitting on a big opportunity. We had to say yes, and we had to come up with something good. But what?

‍Somehow our minds went to Marina Abramović. She stands out as a symbol of boundary-pushing creativity. Her 2010 performance piece, The Artist Is Present, wasn't just an exhibition; it was an invitation—a doorway to a profound exploration of human connection, vulnerability, and introspection.

The piece is of course remarkable, but why inspiring? Well, because we wanted to be like her. We wanted to challenge norms, genuinely surprise, and generate breaks in consciousness. For us, Abramović's work was a reminder that innovation is a dare—to break free from paradigms. We thought: “We’d like some of that.”

At its core, The Artist Is Present is an introspective journey—an immersive experience that invites participants into a space of raw cognitive exposure and self-reflection. The simplicity of her performance—sitting silently across from museum visitors, perhaps even a past lover, for hours on end—was an act that upended ideas about the nature of empathy, emotional landscapes, and listening in silence.


Within creative industries, reversion to the mean can often dim or mute actual creativity. Abramović's performance was powerful because it urged us to embrace human feeling in all its alarming complexity. Abramović's work inspired us to venture beyond the familiar—to seek wild, strange, almost nonsequitur-seeming approaches that engage our fellow humans on a personal, visceral level.

We wanted people to feel something. So we watched Marina—closely.

In her silence, we could almost hear her calling on us to drop all pretense, to dare to craft a transformative encounter that had a chance at resonating, deeply vibrating in the inner landscapes of the cynical, weary, hopeless, or simply exhausted. She didn’t blink, but she might’ve winked—and that imagined wink seemed to say, “Go on you fools—the essence of innovation is on the table. Why not change it? Nothing is ever complete.”

So we grabbed it—and ran. And we’ve been running ever since. We wrote a brief in early August (check it out below), and we delivered the outcome of that creative response on the 4th of December, at 9:00 a.m. GST local time at in Dubai.

The session was called ‘Inner Development: Catalyzing Change from the Inside Out.’ If you'd like, you can read more details here.

Whether you were with us in Dubai or not, we dare you to take a journey to inner space. Transform yourself to transform the world.