From September 13 to 23, the Schmiede festival took place in Hallein, Austria, bringing together artists, hackers, coders, videographers and more. Makery was there and draws their portraits.
Schmiede is a place with huge and powerful energy. If this energy were to be misused, or it went out of control, it would end up in havoc. Schmiede needs to be a very safe place. And that’s exactly how it feels: safe. Safe for artists of all kinds, origins, and interests to develop their artwork and ideas without worrying about anything else than the task they have at hand. They don’t even have to focus on a result, it’s all about the process. It’s a very comfortable place to develop ideas, to try things out, to fail. Although Werkschau (the show exposing the artists’ work on the last day of the festival) is actually to present work, and is somewhat implied that it has to be finished work, it’s OK for artists not to participate. Or to show works in progress. This takes off all the pressure on creative souls and allows them to get out without fear, letting them interact with each other, feeding back and forth creative energy and generating a contagious flow I have rarely seen elsewhere.
It’s no easy task to keep this energy both flowing and contained at the same time. Just as Smiths are masters at their art, Schmiede organisers are no less good at theirs. Rüdiger Wassibauer (he prefers to be called just Ruediger), is the Schmied, the groundskeeper. Eva Perner is the head organiser, accompanied by team members Eleonor Nobili, Alex Grüner and Dominik Schönauer. Volunteers also assist in specific tasks, when needed. Everyone attending Schmiede seems to know how things should be. There are few rules, but no one, none of the dozens of people gathered there, seem to be willing to break any of them. The Schmiede machinery is very well oiled. Organisers are there but one can hardly notice they are the keepers of order, yet order prevails, and everything works. They are the hands that hold the creative explosion within bounds, without extinguishing it. Artists themselves seem to be very aware of this unstable equilibrium and are willing to keep it that way. This year’s Schmiede theme was: Blood.
The Gallery of Objects Left Behind
Bruno Peláez (@brurioso) is a Mexican video artist based in Barcelona. This was his 12th Schmiede. He always comes without a project, and lets the flow decide what he’ll do. His art is usually made with elements that appear or are present during Schmiede, making it more personal for other Smiths. This year, he teamed up with Berlin based producer and editor Katha Schaar to create the Gallery of Objects Left Behind, a collection of items that appeared around Schmiede and sat there forgotten for a few days, to later become works of art. They produced an audio-guide triggered with QR codes.
Jakob Steininger (@jaqobue) is an Austrian student attending the Master on Timebased Media. He self-imposed a digital detox program for the duration of the festival, during which he didn’t allow himself to use any device connected to the internet, although he was allowed to look at other people’s screens. He stayed connected to the oustide world through an old cell phone, one of those with a numbered keypad. In his normal life he continually asks Google about everything. To overcome his answerless anxiety, he posted an Analog Google stand, where he’d write down questions on pieces of paper, asking other Smiths to write the answers. Common knowledge at it’s core. To treat scrolling withdrawal syndrome, he designed and built an analog machine out of laser-cut wood, paper and cellophane, to be able to scroll something with his thumb.
Language of Kinship and the Power of Art
Jatun Risba (@jatunrisba_sensoryecology) was one of this year’s AkademieAIR residents, a book co-writing program. They are a Slovenian transmedia artist currently on the move from arts residency to arts residency. Their contribution to the book will focus on «microbiological and artistic exploration of the molecular similarities between human blood and plant chlorophyll». At Schmiede they first worked on the «Language of Kinship», a trans-species language that «extends the notion of selfhood to all human, nonhuman and more-than-human beings or entities alike». Later, they joined forces with María Contreras to create an installation with menstrual blood that Jatun had been collecting during the last few months. Their personal history is tightly and intensely related to blood, which they often use in their artwork. They self-healed from Multiple Sclerosis through unleashed dancing in public spaces and other radical artistic practices. Menstrual blood has been frequently used in Jatun’s artwork as a ritual offering substance connected to healing and transmutation.
Menstrual Video Art
María Contreras (@mariamiel14) is another of the AkademieAIR co-writing residents. She’s an audiovisual artist and anthropologist from Colombia, currently based in Lisbon. Her project for the book is about the Secrecy of Blood, where she intends to «reflect on the ambivalence of the symbolism of menstrual blood -between the sacred and the disgusting- in industrialized cultures». Always strongly connected to her own bleeding, she offers a critical vision of menstruation from both biological and socio-cultural points of view. At Schmiede, she teamed up with Jatun to create a powerful installation with menstrual blood and vegetables that she filmed while Jatun performed actions on them. They injected Jatun’s own menstrual blood into pickles, peppers and chunks of pear to make them bleed. They also connected electrodes to bleeding pickles, making them glow and blow by passing electric power through them. Finally, at the Werkschau, they exposed the videos of these actions on the back wall of a pedestal holding more menstrual blood on plastic film.
Data Nutrition Project
Kasia Chmielinski is a technologist and enthusiastic bird-watcher from the US of Cantonese (Hong Kong) and Polish descent. They are the Co-Founder of the Data Nutrition Project, an initiative that builds tools to mitigate bias in artificial intelligence. They addressed, in a talk offered at Schmiede to other Smiths, the issue of Zombie Datasets, datasets that have been used to train and test AI algorithms only because they are «clean» (technically) and «free» (no-cost). Many of these datasets lack information about how and why they were created. Some use «stolen» data, used without the consent of the people whose data is in the dataset. They have been so widely used for such a long time, that it’s impossible to prevent them from appearing now and then; there’s always someone else using them. To mitigate this effect, Kasia and their colleagues offer a labelling system similar to that of food, hence the «Nutrition» in the name. Food is labelled informing about the use of chemicals in their growth and also to its origin. Data Nutrition Labels warn users about the datasets used to «feed» (train and test) the AI algorithms they are using, so -at least- they would have the opportunity to make an informed decision of using them or not. Users can create and add their own labels.
Kristina Gorke (@la_gorke) and Bernd Gutmannsbauer are Accomplices, an art association that do all kinds of activities, ranging from philosophical readings, to concerts, art talks, zoological investigations, animal imitations, musical theatre, … Kristina (a.k.a. Deaf Bat) is a performer and opera singer. Bernd (a.k.a. Anachromatic Chameleon) is doctor in Philosophy and currently a librarian at a library for visually impaired and blind people in Vienna. He’s also an influencer thanks to Kristina’s social media accounts, which has made him famous. At Schmiede they worked on two projects and a funding application (due during the Schmiede week). One project was Analog Sound: a concert of contemporary and baroque music and DJ set with vinyl records along the Evil Art Musicians (fellow Smiths). The other project was Accomplices Lab, conducting a series of their usual mix of activities (readings, animal imitations, …). They also got involved in the KaRaPoetry project.
Blockchains and Question Jams
Leonhard Marlo is a theoretical physicist and blockchain programmer from Hamburg, Germany. At Schmiede he offered a workshop on blockchain programming, which he live coded following the attendees’ will, to build a simple voting system to determine if Schmiede was cool or not. The actual voting never happened due to lack of time. Later on he prepared an installation for the Werkschau around his Question Jam, with which he wanted to investigate the asymmetry between questioner and questionee. In these jams, that he recorded, he posed uncomfortable questions to other Smiths who, in turn, would get to be the ones asking the uncomfortable questions to him. He edited a video with this material, using Jatun’s voice off for some of its parts, and exposed it as a video installation on the last day’s show.
KaRaPoetry et al.
Maxie Jost (@bla.punk) is a German poet, an urbanist converted to humanism. She brought her mechanical typewriter to Schmiede, wanting to use it as a drum-machine to rap poems as she wrote them while listening to music. Things evolved and she set up the machine on a stand for other Smiths to type in their poetic thoughts, «a social project self-producing the Bloody Protocolls». Teaming up with Thomas Kolar, Bernd and Christoph, they organised a KaRaPoetry for the Werkschau. Participants would jump on stage and rap the projected poems that had been previously scanned, cheered by a passionate crowd, until the red buzz would go off and stop the music at their first sign of inaccuracy.
Thomas Kolar is a Viennese artist attending Schmiede for the 8th time. They are a software developer and former pro-Minesweeper world champion (yes, the computer game). They are also a beatboxing queen, passing their knowledge on to fellow Smiths who attended the beatboxing workshop they organised at Schmiede. “If you can speak, you can beatbox”, Thomas said to attendees. During the KaRaPoetry show they organised with Maxie, Chritoph and Bernd, Thomas would sometimes beatbox along the karapoets providing the musical background for their rap.
Text and drawings by Roger Pibernat.
Schmiede is part of the Feral Labs network and the cooperation project Rewilding Cultures co-funded by the Europe Creative programme of the European Union.