Tension is rising in the maker community. La Casemate, a fablab in Grenoble, France, was destroyed by arson on November 21. A political act against the “nuisance” of fablabs, claimed anonymously. Reactions and solidarity follow.
“Incomprehensible”, “stupid”, “pathetic”. The devasting arson of La Casemate fablab in Grenoble, a city at the foot of the French Alps, during the night of November 20-21, has provoked general indignation. Anonymously claimed on November 24 by a text on Indymedia, the purpose of the act was to complete destroy La Casemate, France’s oldest Center for Scientific, Technical and Industrial Culture (CCSTI), described in the text as an “institution that is notoriously toxic for spreading digital culture”.
The French fablab network (RFFLabs) reacted on November 21 to this “sad story”: “Today, messages of support for French fablabs and makers are accumulating… Good luck to the whole team at La Casemate.”
— RFFLabs (@fablab_fr) November 21, 2017
Contacted by Makery, Neil Gershenfeld, professor at MIT (directly blamed by the arsonists) and founding father of the fablab network, reacted immediately: “While I don’t know enough yet about what happened to be able to comment authoratively, I am of course shocked and saddened. And surprised—fablabs are pulled by local communities in support of their sustainability, not pushed by anyone.”
“The fablab community will be reaching out to help those affected, and drawing on the years of experience of labs working in areas of conflict.”
Getting organized fast
Makers quickly offered support on an individual level. According to Jeany Jean-Baptiste, director of La Casemate, the fablab has received a flood of offers to relocate, in addition to messages of support. A call for donations launched on November 23 has already raised more than €23,000 (of its €50,000 goal) from some 450 contributors.
As for fellow fablabs, after posting messages of support (like this one by La Quincaillerie, a fablab in central France, wishing “Good luck to our friends at La Casemate in this terrible event”), they are quickly getting organized to lend more helping hands.
— La Quincaillerie Num (@LaQuincailleNum) November 22, 2017
The 8 fablab in Crest, located in the Drôme department not far from Grenoble, will host La Casemate’s interns and “pick up” suspended projects.
Bonjour à tous, nous devions accueillir deux stagiaires de 3e durant le mois de décembre et un stagiaire de 2nde au mois de janvier aux services médiation et communication. Suite à l'incendie de nos locaux nous ne pouvons pas leur fournir un accueil optimum.
— La Casemate (@LaCasemate) November 27, 2017
Le 8 accueille son premier réfugié du Fablab de Grenoble, (récemment incendié par un groupe anarchiste !), Benoit Capponi qui réalise des appareils photo en bois, à fabriquer soi même… Et sinon vous pouvez soutenir la Casemate en suivant ce lien : https://t.co/GVrPIXpmVf pic.twitter.com/fBI4NgjqqF
— 8 fablab Drôme (@8Drome) November 27, 2017
What to do?
Is the fablab community unanimous? Contacted by Makery for their reactions, genuine pillars of the maker movement in France declined to give an official response. A sign of difficulty in facing a new situation? Fablabs are not used to being questioned…
On the other hand, La Machinerie fablab in Amiens (a city north of Paris affected by deindustrialization) responded collectively and unambiguously: “We were horrified and very saddened by the news. Nothing can justify this kind of act. Especially when fablabs are precisely spaces that provide general access, a platform for discussion and appropriation by anyone of digital concepts and technologies. Every day, we make the effort to explain that digital technology is not an end in itself, but always a tool for exchange, social connection, sharing… This event should be an opportunity for all of us to show our solidarity.”
At Labomedia in Orléans, Benjamin Cadon reminded us that the hackerspace “this year addressed the political aspect of computer code and techniques” by producing “an Applied Manual for Mistreating Computers in the wake of luddite movements in France” and said he was “arrested” by the destruction of La Casemate fablab. “Without knowing exactly the original project of La Casemate, it seems that they produce appropriate technologies that go against cybernetics and ambient technofetichism,” he adds.
(Update 11/29) Similar caution was expressed by LOG (Laboratoire Ouvert Grenoblois), the local hackerspace: “Of course, we condemn this deplorable act,” they wrote to Makery, noting that they offered to help La Casemate and some of its makers finish their projects. “But we don’t want to comment on the acts of the arsonists,” they added.
Condemnation of the act was most unanimous among politicians and institutions. Mounir Mahjoubi, Minister of State for the digital sector, tweeted “all my support”, concluding: “Opposing the inclusiveness of digital technology is opposing the freedom of the mind.” Henri Verdier, a government official in charge of digital mediation, denounced an act commited by “imbecile activists”.
Tout mon soutien à la communauté de @LaCasemate à Grenoble! FabLab et lieu d’éducation populaire aux sciences et au numérique. Un lieu dévasté par un incendie vraisemblablement criminel. S’opposer au numérique inclusif, c’est s’opposer à la liberté des esprits. https://t.co/d4KFXSEn9B
— Mounir Mahjoubi (@mounir) November 25, 2017
Pour soutenir la Casemate, le FabLab de Grenoble détruit par des activistes imbéciles : https://t.co/K4EqXBky8H
— Henri Verdier (@HenriVerdier) November 27, 2017
“There is a toxic atmosphere in Grenoble”
“Nothing could be saved,” says Jeany Jean-Baptiste, director of La Casemate, who received an alert in the middle of the night from the telesurveillance company that monitors the site. “Three fires were started around the machines inside the fablab,” she recalls. “I arrived around 2:30AM, but there was already so much smoke that even the firefighters couldn’t enter.”
While the 1000m2 of the upper floor containing the fablab and the medialab were entirely destroyed, the ground floor of this former military bunker resisted the flames. “We were able to move back in on Friday,” Jeany Jean-Baptiste continues. “La Casemate is not just the fablab. We’re rolling up our sleeves to get on with our other activities.” She says the site will be open again from December 1st.
She condems the current “toxic” environment of the city, with a wave of arsons that hit a police station, a social center and the electric company, all claimed anonymously on Indymedia. “We are actors in the cultural sector, above all,” says La Casemate director. “In Grenoble, everyone feels concerned and is wondering who’s next.”
“A line has been crossed”
Same group, same mode of operation. But why target a fablab? Titled “Grenoble: pacified technopolis?”, the anonymous text (in French) claiming the attack announces: “In the night of November 21, we entered La Casemate in Grenoble (even easier than expected, as the door was open (duh!) and we trashed it (anyone who has tossed computers across a room knows what we’re talking about), then we happily set it on fire. While the telegenic fablab manager is acting up pathetically in the media, we are publishing our statement as an inseparable echo of our fiery act against this institution that is notoriously toxic for spreading digital culture.”
The authors specifically target the fablab: “City managers cater to start-ups greedy for money and the fashionably geek masses by opening fablabs in trendy neighborhoods. These extremely diverse measures on the surface all aim to accelerate the general social acceptance and usage of the technologies of our sinister era. (…) And we couldn’t care less whether these fablabs came out of the stale imagination of a revered hacker, which isn’t the case, or whether they’re participating in fruitful scientific collaborations with one of the temples of technocracy, MIT (Massachusetts Institute of Technology), which is the case—because they are a nuisance, we destroyed one.”
“Disagreeing with political issues is one thing, but burning down a fablab that advocates open source and open access is distressing,” says Laurent Chicoineau, who was the director of La Casemate from 2002 until very recently. “A line has been crossed.” He says he was often targeted by activist groups around Grenoble. “In 2007-2008, with the emergence of nanotechnologies, their protests were more political and debate-oriented. Even if constructive dialogue was difficult and often expressed through uncivil behavior, it was far from criminal acts (I remember the time when anarchist sympathizers spit into the champagne glasses during an inauguration)…”
“Criticizing techniques and sciences is a truly democratic issue. It’s easy to denounce, it’s harder to suggest alternatives.”
Laurent Chicoineau, former director of La Casemate
At La Casemate, Jeany Jean-Baptiste wants to quickly set up a temporary fablab: “We’re at it again, this time even stronger. During the past week, we’ve received so many messages of support and comfort that we can’t give up now.”