Lifepatch, the Indonesian lab that rejects the maker label
Published 7 March 2017 by Cherise Fong
Lifepatch is showing a modest retrospective in the prestigious ICC art and new media center in Tokyo—an opportunity to take a closer look at the discreet but passionate way of “making” of this Indonesian community.
Tokyo, from our correspondent
There is an almost ironic contrast between the serene perfection of the smooth wooden structures, objects positioned and aligned with academic precision above squarely cut tatami mats, and the joyful chaos that reunites the Indonesian members of Lifepatch around their exhibition Rumah dan Halaman (“House and Garden”) at the NTT Intercommunication Center in Tokyo (ICC).
In Indonesia, DIY is not a luxury or a hobby, but a necessity. When for the cost of a basic Arduino board you can eat 30 meals, in a country where alcohol is taxed at 40%, you learn fast how to do it yourself and collaborate with others. Neighborhood communities and families congregate in houses and run into each other often, talking about their projects, their problems and their research. It’s in this DIWO (Do It With Others) atmosphere that a number of collectives are born, die and recombine, made up of educated and engaged citizens who are curious about their environment and passionate about sharing knowledge. Among them, three former members of HONF (House Of Natural Fiber)—Andreas Siagian, Agus “Timbil” Tri Budiarto and Nur Akbar Arofatullah—co-founded in March 2012 Lifepatch, a “citizen initiative in art, science and technology”.
They insist on the fact that Lifepatch is not a hackerspace, nor a makerspace, nor an art collective. According to Andreas, in an interview for ICC: “All of the references that point to hackerspaces basically refer to something that started in computer clubs in the United States in the 1970s. And these notions miss the essential context of Indonesian collectivity that is within our roots. You can go back thousands of years in history to see this. To miss this essential, collectivist nature of our culture is to get lost in the biased questions of […] hackerspaces, makerspaces, or art collectives.”
For the trio of friends, it all started with a common passion for sharing knowledge through doing, or more simply, workshops: fermentation (of alcohol to drink, of tempeh to eat, of grass to feed cows…), analyzing E. coli bacteria content in rivers, making a microscope from a webcam, lighting up an LED with fruit, converting a circuit board into a synthesizer…
In particular, their research in perfecting a safe DIY fermentation technique to brew alcohol was the catalyst for their initial reunion and continued collaboration. Since 2010, Indonesia taxes at 40% and prohibits the local sale of alcohol.
“We started to show people how to do fermentation properly after seeing a lot of [dubious] stuff on wikis, people experimenting in very dirty conditions,” Akbar explains. “Some poor people were just mixing with mosquito repellent to get high… Of course, many of them died, lots of kids.”
Timbil and Andreas first approached Akbar, who at the time was working on the fermentation of ethanol for biofuel at the University of Gadjah Mada. “Universities are filled with clever people working on specialized research, a lot of which would be more useful if it were distributed more widely,” remarks Timbil in the ICC interview. “So maybe one of the things we’ve done is to accidentally try to build that bridge between universities, as a source of technology, and our friends, people around us, laymen like ourselves.” In 2011, HONF’s installation on DIY fermentation Intelligent Bacteria: Saccharomyces cerevisiae (IB:SC) took the top prize at Transmediale in Berlin.
Tutorial for fermenting bananas, by Lifepatch:
Since then, they have been invited around the world to give workshops: on wine fermentation in France, on making a DIY microscope in Switzerland, on building a synthesizer in Canada and Australia… and just this winter, on soya bean fermentation and 360° photography in Japan, in the context of their retrospective exhibition in Tokyo.
Meanwhile, their very local activities have continued to attract attention overseas. In 2014, Lifepatch co-organized with Marc Dusseiller and the Hackteria network the international workshop Hackteria Lab in Yogyakarta, Indonesia. That same year, their Jogja River Project 2013 won an honorable mention in the Digital Communities category at Ars Electronica in Linz…
Presentation of Hackteria Lab 2014 in Yogyakarta, on the island of Java:
Since July 2012, Lifepatch occupies a house in the Bugisan area of Yogyakarta. More than just their work studio, the house is used to host their famous workshops and film screenings, as well as being home to several of the members.
As such, Lifepatch remains true to its roots and is always proud of its modest means. It’s no coincidence that their website is only in Indonesian. According to Akbar, currently “self-exiled” in Japan, it’s a way of refocusing on their local communities in a country where a little goes a long way, where the influx of money complicates the deal.
This year, Lifepatch will continue to develop its Mingapa Bigini Mingapa Bigitu (“What is this, what is that”) project, which allows them to feed their insatiable curiosity to understand how things work, doing it with others.
Mingapa Bigini Mingapa Bigitu, explained by Lifepatch:
“Lifepatch Rumah dan Halaman” exhibition at ICC in Tokyo, through March 12