In response to STWST48’s “infocrash” invitation in Linz, on the fringe of the Ars Electronica festival, Makery went into fablab overdrive: 48 hours of online encounters with 13 labs in 11 countries on 4 continents.
Linz (Austria), special report
A “big hit”—such was Ars Electronica‘s self-described qualification of the 2015 edition of the world’s largest festival dedicated to new media, which was held in Linz from September 3-7. Record attendance (92,000 visitors) and an avalanche of events (“482 events, 946 artists, scientists and activists” according to the organizers). The bigger the better ?
Makery can’t quite affirm that Ars Electronica is no more than a mammoth of infobesity for two reasons : first, the Makery team was part of STWST48‘s “anti-programming”, albeit integrated into the above numbers ; second, our “lab marathon” literally prevented us from seeing the rest of the festival ourselves.
In short, don’t expect an exhaustive or objective review of Ars Electronica 2015. However, from the little we did see of the official program, we don’t think we missed much… Technofetichist from the start (in 1979), Ars Electronica loves to mix art-science and giant installations, but still knows how to bring together programmers, activists, artists and the general public in its all-round programming (this year, the Post-City).
STWST, grain of sand in the big techno parade
It’s precisely in reaction to Ars Electronica’s mega techno fascination that Franz Xaver and Shu Lea Cheang inaugurated this first edition of STWST48. Their troublemaker’s stance is expressed in the city’s very topography—pinched between the Ars Electronica Center, Linz’s museum of the future (massive building whose glass walls are colored at night), and the gently sloping FutureLab (also part of Ars Electronica), with its terrace overlooking the Danube.
The center, self-managed by punk artists and hackers and created in 1979 (at the same time as Ars Electronica), comprising a bar, two concert halls and artists-in-residence, with its sharp programming, is the de facto focal point of Linz during its techno festival.
What the Makery team was able to verify between two interview sessions with labs around the world : Saturday night, under the roofs (office space and kitchen for catering), artists and activists mingled gleefully with programmers and directors of institutions (Pixelache, FACT, Lieu unique, Waag Society…) as if at an international off-party (Ars Electronica melting pot ???). We identified individuals from Slovenia, Croatia, Finland, Germany and Austria, UK, France, Japan, USA and Canada.
All info, all the time
From September 4-6 (from 5 PM to 5 PM), STWST48, “Crashing the Information in 48 hours” hosted a program in four parts : Infolab (going beyond information society), Infodetox (fruits of art residencies on the boat Eleonore), Infocrash (including Makery’s “Around the labs in 48 hours”) and Crash the Future music program. So how was it ?
As for Makery, every two hours we had a set appointment with fabmanagers, makers and other hackers (see map). The common theme was simply the desire to share the energy of the maker movement by offering a tour of their space, presenting their projects, giving mini-demos via Skype and even theremin audio streams! Everywhere, from San Francisco to Tokyo, Amiens, Ljubljana, Glasgow and Barcelona, we found the same open mindset, a commitment to doing it yourself (DIY), doing it with others (DIWO), creative coding and new ways of working, innovating, inventing, whether among scientific communities (biohacking), gamers (gamelab) or pure hackers.
Makery’s Around the labs in 48 hours in numbers : 13 labs, 11 countries, 4 continents, 26 makers, artists, fabmanagers questioned, 7 hours of video or audio content
If the maker spirit ruled for 48 hours in Linz, it was through a dedication to openness, mixture of open source culture, shared information and knowledge exchange, reappropriation of physical and digital tools—an optimistic vision of a DIY future that crosses continents and extends DIY to urban architecture, fabrication of modular synthesizers, designing shared geographical maps, hacking games for feminist ends, Dutch-style “intelligent” citizenship, universal access to tools and even the battle against Internet giants (Facebook Liberation Army)…
As it will take us some time to put all the videos online, here are sample excerpts of two of the speakers, Gildas Guiello of Ouagalab in Burkina Faso (whose energy is confirmed, after building their fablab brick by brick), and Thiago de Rezende Kunz e Silva of the Garagem fablab in São Paulo (which has moved since our correspondent in Brazil last visited).
Gildas Guiello, live from Ouagalab for Makery (in French) :
Thiago de Rezende Kunz e Silva, live from Garagem for Makery (in English) :
Another common thread of these 48 hours of infolab : everywhere, everyone is moving out, moving in. It’s not easy to sustain digital fabrication spaces within venues that are still new and possibly temporary : Blackloop (compendium of the hackerspaces Blackboxe and Loop at Jardin d’Alice) is all packed up (but not sure where it’s going next) ; Garagem has just moved in ; Tokyo Hackerspace has occupied more than a few spaces leading up to its current, basically equipped garage in the suburbs of Tokyo ; Hackuarium will be able to remain in its current space in Renans, Switzerland, thanks to the mobilization of a whole community ; while in Slovenia, Ljudmila Art and Science Laboratory will soon have to move out…
DIY kitchen and annex
Our marathon allowed us to remotely visit these DIY hybrid spaces and confirm that the maker spirit is indeed alive, from North to South and East to West. We talked about kitchens and annexes (Noisebridge has no kitchen, as the rules state that it can only keep one “lounge room”), machines and people too (Mary, extraordinary host of Noisebridge who first stepped inside less than three months ago : “It’s the best thing that happened in my life.”). We also viewed demos (homemade robots by Machinerie in Amiens, albeit not quite functional for the next robotics tournament, games by Gamelab at UCLA in California, a sample modular synthesizer by Glasgow-based Make Some Noise) and even a performance (by the Theremidi Orchestra, DIY community of Ljudmila Art and Science Laboratory in Slovenia).
Of course, the Makery team also emerged exhausted from this marathon of labs… but doubly excited by the enthusiasm of our speakers and having planted a few seeds of the post-information society in this info-crash initiated by Franz Xaver and Shu Lea Cheang.
Others did it too—we tested the strange-tasting fermented beverages and vegetables and odorous bacteria of Agnieszka Pokrywka’s Ferment Lab (including a kind of light cider, horchata made from grains, Kombucha made from black tea, raw beetroot…).
The Finnish artist, in residency on the boat Eleonore, set up a (very DIY) fermenting cabinet to maintain a constant temperature between 20 and 30 degrees, favorable to fermentation, and explores the relationships between bacteria and human cultures.
We also experienced Martin Howse and Jonathan Kemp’s Piss(On)Logic (PoL), a sort of analogue pissoir (two urinals connected to a container by two tubes), the “first prototype on an urban scale” of logical doors, an erudite nod to the history of electronics (the eXclusive OR function, also known as XOR) is invoked, as is Alan Turing’s hidden homosexuality.
In three spots, along the Danube, the logical urinals of the two activist artists appeared trivial compared to Ars Electronica’s installations and performances with helicopters and drones. Nonetheless, their subtle irreverence invites us to rethink technology on the scale of the city, people, plants… as a way of responding to the challenges of a data-powered world.
“There is so much user data on us that the only way out is through poetry, music, dreams…” says Franz Xaver to explain the Ghostradio project, installed on the steps of FutureLab, resembling a DIY space station.
It consists of a 68-meter-long pentagrammic antenna, a Kelvin water dropper that converts raindrops into electrostatic charges, onto which Pamela Neuwirth, Markus Decker and Franz Xaver diffuse a magnetic feedback loop, which in turn extracts a random signal and thus broadcasts a random sound.
Ghostradio‘s premise is chance—randomness as a serious way out of the steamroller algorithm (those of Facebook and Google reduce our Likes and other profiles to increasingly restrictive choices and preselections).
“In an information society that is growing more and more enormous and effcient, with always more datamining, logic and computation, randomness tends to disappear,” Xaver explains, “whereas philosophy has always stressed the importance of chance, whereas from quantums to the macrocosmos, randomness is everywhere. Ghostradio attempts to switch the world.”
After these more extreme experiments, coming back to Ars Electronica’s clinically science-fictional atmosphere is a delicate affair. Even the permanently installed fablab and biolab in the Linz museum of the future have the cold appearance of a design showcase.
The same goes for the exhibition of prestigious Prix Ars Electronica, among which the most outstanding, for their DIY ingenuity, are ARTSAT (more here) and XXLab‘s Soya C(o)u(l)ture, a community of Indonesian women who transform soya into all sorts of useful residues, from eco-fuels to textiles to food.
Finally, perched on the rooftop of OK Centrum, the contemporary museum of Linz, which hosted the 2015 Cyberarts exhibition, German artist Agnes Meyer-Brandis’s pretty project Teacup Tools makes tea by collecting massive amounts of data.
“Teacup Tools”, Agnes Meyer-Brandis, Hybrid Art award, Ars Electronica 2015 :
Coming soon : all the videos from Makery’s lab marathon in Linz