Oki Wonder Lab just may be the most remote un-disciplinary DIYbio research camp going on in the world right now. Hackteria’s latest large-scale event is currently taking place in the Japanese archipelago of Okinawa.
After planning the latest edition of HackteriaLab for several years across multiple continents with various collaborators—following the success of HackteriaLab 2014 in Yogyakarta—Hackteria founder Marc Dusseiller wasn’t going to let a worldwide pandemic stand in his way. If he was “the last international traveler” off a flight from Switzerland to Taiwan where preparations began, he also managed to fly out from Taipei to Okinawa just in time to launch Oki Wonder Lab, along with local host and co-organizer Toru Oyama, on March 25, 2020.
Of course, most of the expected international participants are not so lucky. Yet, this may not be such a bad thing. After all, Hackteria’s motto has always been “locally rooted, globally connected”. So while most overseas members are already stuck at home and communicating online, local artists and researchers are already busy sharing ideas and doing experiments on the ground.
The first official participant, Okinawan artist Shin Asato, arrived from Yokohama on March 26. Although the list of full-time participants is now in the single digits, Marc remains optimistic: “We’re surprised that we could even manage to get a group together—small enough to be safe, and big enough to be interesting.”
Meanwhile, Oki Wonder Lab flexes its scales as a spontaneous beast, as its schedule is adjusted and activities are adapted to take into account the constantly evolving health crisis, by this year’s main two co-organizers (who first met at the diagonally remote Kilpisjärvi Biological Station in Lapland for Field_Notes 2018). If Marc continues to convey the Hackteria vision and global network, in Okinawa, Toru is both the meta philosopher and local instigator.
Oki Wonder Lab was inaugurated at Sonda Labo, a.k.a. Toru’s house in Okinawa City, which also serves as camp headquarters, featuring a dedicated workspace and tools, an experimental kitchen, a van transformed into a mobile lab parked outside, and a spotted Dalmatian mascot named after Slovenian philosopher Slavoj Žižek.
As an artist/chemist who recently returned from a decade-long sojourn in Germany, Toru also took this opportunity to rediscover another side of Okinawa through introducing relatively unknown sites to camp participants, selecting places that he personally encountered through acquaintances, such as the tiny island of Maejima (uninhabited by humans but overrun by goats).
Coincidentally, the theme of Oki Wonder Lab 2020 is “isolation”. More than just the geographical characteristic of an archipelago, or even the scientific practice of isolating bacteria from a culture, let alone the emerging buzzword from the current lockdown, for Toru, the concept has personal and metaphysical meaning.
“The hypothesis is that all values, thoughts and ideas are unconsciously and potentially 100% shared by everyone,” he posits. “If we assume that all ‘new’ ideas and thoughts that are expressed instantly become shared products, then a different perspective emerges. Perfect isolation is impossible. What happens when we isolate ourselves from physical society, interpersonal communication, shared information—do we return to self-consciousness, subconsciousness? It’s also a mental image in my mind. How can I isolate to the point where there is nothing to do, nothing to get, nothing to give? Is there just silence? I don’t think so.”
As co-organiser Andreas Siagian of Lifepatch writes: “HackteriaLab’s main focus always has been on the process of interaction between creative people, between professionals and amateurs, providing a stimulant for collaborative processes; for developing new ideas which connect and embrace the cultural diversities of the participants; and to address societal challenges through experiments with DIWO Culture, with material, technique and nature through hands-on tinkering, curiosity-driven research and never-ending inquisitiveness.”
This year’s much-anticipated Oki Wonder Lab is, more than ever, strongly marked by site-specific locations and inevitably influenced by participating Hackterians’ capacity to adapt, willingness to engage and resourceful creativity in the new age of isolation.
It’s also a chance to explore new perspectives and processes through Toru’s Okinawa. “My initial vision of Oki Wonder Lab was purely poetic, inspired by Marc’s drawing of the Hackteria Taiwan story,” he says. “We’re looking for ways to describe invisible processes that can emerge and be shared. More important than something that I can make, or global-local exchanges, is natural spontaneity and independence. This can also be an opportunity to motivate people.”
Cherise Fong is chronicler-in-residence of the Feral Labs Network supported by the Creative Europe programme of the European Union.