Interactivos?'15: Material Cultures in the Digital Age
What defines an object is what it does in the world, the world it makes and that which makes it a world; what secures it and how it is secured as well as what it opposes and how it does so; what it concludes or overcomes, what it facilitates and what it prevents. "Los objetos distinguidos. La arqueología como excusa". Vicente Lull
Our cities are once again recapturing the joy of making things. A growing number of people are deciding to manufacture, reuse, tinker with and invent objects that can be adapted to our daily lives. By building, imagining and designing pieces of our material lives – in contrast to a calculable, recognisable logic of object consumption – we take ownership of our social time, of the relationship between the value of things and of the various contexts of their possibilities. Manufacturing these objects recoups the figure of the artisan: making something with our hands in a way that also draws on digital practices, connecting us to the knowhow of other communities, other places and other bodies. A practice that “only works as long as it enables us to (...) continue to learn, continue to breathe, continue to stray from our immediate surroundings, continue to weave an unpredictable map of alliances,” making “producing” a pretext for being, for sharing in common, and underscoring the importance of what we share, of how we do so and the angle from which we view it..
The Interactive?’15 open call, which is part of the Objets in Common project, aims to take a look at all of the questions, disciplines and perspectives associated with the manufacturing of objects through a collaborative, interdisciplinary production workshop and a seminar devoted to theoretical reflection.
We invite you to propose and share your prototypes for the manufacturing of daily objects, i.e. objects we view as necessary, which allow us to operate, which we can hold on to, which sustain us and make us part of our present era. Led by Wendy Van Wynsberghe, Josian Llorente and Cesar García, with the help of all interested collaborators, we will link these objects together, gaining insight into how we can make them accessible and adaptable to other situations, or how we could move them past the prototype stage, actually producing them and multiplying their possibilities.
The projects developed will be displayed in an exhibition alongside other "Objects in Common" projects.
You can take part in the workshop by sending a project proposal before 18 October or by signing up as a collaborator from 23 October onwards. If your project is selected and you live outside Madrid, MLP will pay for your travel expenses. For participants who so request, MLP will also provide accommodation in a youth hostel.
"The sharing economy, distributed working and digital manufacturing are three trends that promise us new modes of producing and consuming. These days it seems that having access to something is favoured over possessing it, that it’s nothing to work together on a project even while separated by great geographic distances and that we can create nearly anything just by pressing the “Play” button on our 3D printer. As José Pérez de Lama said, however: “This whole digital manufacturing thing is pushing a button...and then a lot of sanding!”
We are still learning with these new technologies, and we are increasingly aware of both their potential and their limitations. There are groups, like Clone Wars (stemming from the Reprap project) which research how to make machines that manufacture machines. Their work has created an entire genus of printers that improve continually via a distributed process, with hundreds of collaborators. How could this sort of process be replicated to create other objects? How could we facilitate the participation of non-technical individuals when it seems that code has become the new law?
Over five hundred Fablabs share common tools and processes at the global level. When replicated, this infrastructure should facilitate the creation and duplication of useful projects, the generation of designs which improve and evolve continually. Additional costs associated with coordinating distributed working and communication between creators prevent many of these projects from being realised; they remain eternal prototypes, with open-source licences. The same thing often seen with free software processes also occurs on the physical plane: reinvention from scratch, time and time again. We are stuck in a creative loop, beset by “This Wasn’t Invented Here” Syndrome, needing to stamp our own name followed by a never-ending code. How can we promote the reuse of existing projects with open-source licences? What will it take for us to move past this prototype culture where we are beguiled by badly damaged symbolic objects? How can we stop justifying the fact that our mock-up still doesn’t work because it is in permanent beta phase? How can we detect the useful and the practical amongst these prototypes and ensure that they move past this initial phase? When will we accept that must make an effort to see them reach a wider audience?
In this Interactive workshop I would like us to explore these issues in a practical manner, focusing on the creation of these objects in common, objects which aspire to be something more than conceptual gallery objects. With joint projects that are opened up to new people, which grow and broaden with the inclusion of other players. With people who explore how to document their processes clearly, but know that documenting the process is not the final aim. With the awareness that we are a small dot in a constellation of spaces encompassing the entire world, which we can draw support from in order to build and grow together.”
What is a common object? (towards a definition of commonism?) // thinking of publishing it on my tumblr
“I am writing this text from a laptop computer. More specifically, from a laptop sitting on a little stand that stops it from overheating and makes it more ergonomic to type. I bought the laptop in a large department store and soon realised that to cut costs the Asian engineers who produced it had opted for low-quality materials and components which, after a few hours’ use, make the machine seem like a toaster oven. A friend recommended that I buy a stand, and as this DIY thing is all the rage, instead of going back to the department store and buying another consumer object I decided to make it myself.
Convinced that I couldn’t be the first to have this issue, I went on the internet and found a Lithuanian designer who had solved the problem with an elegant design for a stand made of wood cut with a laser. Fortunately, she had uploaded her design to an online digital object repository, a site where designers, enthusiasts and makers share their designs. I then downloaded it. In order to use it I had to convert the thickness of the pieces from inches to millimetres. I also modified the design, adapting it to the measurements of my computer and adding a cable clip. I went down to the neighbourhood timber shops and, after seeing the prices, decided to substitute Nordic wood for something a bit more modest, as it was the end of the month and it really wasn’t the right time to push the boat out. To be honest, with the money I saved I bought dinner and some beers. Then I went to a place with a laser cutter before heading home with my pieces. After an hour of assembling, gluing and staining, I had a stand for my laptop. Honestly, it looked fantastic. When my flatmate saw it, she asked me:
– That’s really beautiful. Where did it come from? Where did you buy it?
– I didn’t buy it. I made it – at least partly. Although it’s not really mine. I bought the wood here in our neighbourhood, but it’s from the internet.
– So you didn’t design it yourself?
– No. Well yes, a bit. I adapted and modified it a bit, but the design is by someone in Lithuania.
– So you’re making it with other people?
– It’s just me who made it. Well, actually no... I had help. And as for truly “making” it? That was someone else.
– I don’t understand … but it works, right?
– I hope so. I bought dinner, do you want a beer?
Not knowing how to answer these simple questions made me think a bit, but I didn’t reach any profound conclusions, especially after the second beer. My modified design ended up in the Lithuanian designer’s digital repository. She took the changes I had made and incorporated them into her original design. It has been downloaded quite a lot. From time to time I get emails from people very far away who want to build one, asking me questions: what if the wood was substituted for another material that’s easier to get in their area, wouldn’t it be better to screw it together instead of gluing it... I usually reply that I don’t have the answers, that they should improvise and try out their ideas, and if it turns out well, they should upload a photo to the repository. I can’t really be shouldering the responsibility of replying to all of the questions about stands all over the world. But deep down, I love the fact that this stand I’m writing about has some cousins out there and that I am united with a group of people I don’t know by an object in common. It’s not a design that’s going to revolutionise the world of contemporary aesthetics, but it lives with me and has survived my various moves. It’s an important part of the things that make me feel at “home.”
This anecdote is from several years ago. As time passes, terms like maker, fablabs and hackerspacesas well as technologies such as 3D printing and additive manufacturing are gaining popularity and could even be called trendy. The so-called revolution of things has ended up occupying some shelf space in shopping centres. The other day I saw a 3D printer in a Cash Converters. And it was in the IT section, not the hardware section. When I’m at my most cynical I think that distributed manufacturing isn’t very transforming, but does involve adding to my precarious living conditions those of my grandfather, resulting in a sort of 2.0 labourer who designs things on his computer then goes running to the assembly line in the front room of his mini-flat in the city centre, where he lives alone. This pessimism usually passes, and I start to view things more optimistically as I see more and more objects in my daily life and in various social contexts that weren’t there before and have begun to change. And these are difficult to put a name to: tools, utensils, furnishings, even clothes. When I received the invitation to participate as xxx in Interactive’15, entitled “Objects in Common”, it seemed to me an apt term to define the beginning of a dialogue in which to define and address the problems of such objects and the practices which shape them.
These “objects in common” unite manual skill with the tacit knowledge of the artisan and materialculture, and the characteristics inherent to digital culture establish new forms of “social capital” wherein interactions take place not only on the day-to-day plane but also on the network plane.
We are not speaking, here, of mass-produced objects that link different geographic areas or social contexts together in their various stages: design (designed by Apple in California), production (made in China) and consumption (bought in Media Markt), but rather of objects which, through networks, surpass the communities where they were created, materialising in other territories where similar creative practices are shared, defending the values of autonomy, uniqueness and access by various bodies in various contexts; which try to imagine other possible modes of design, operation and use for the objects around us, which form the basis of our daily lives. These are, of course, subject to limitations, contradictions and bothersome questions that must be posed:
Is it only technical aspects that enable these objects to be labelled “objects in common”? What about relationship aspects? What are the characteristics of projects in which I truly think, design and build alongside other people? And what does it mean to produce in a distributed fashion?
How can these design practices be adapted to other contexts? Can objects which build a community be designed from a personal viewpoint without losing a common horizon and the desire for universal impact? Can we go from making the same Star Wars figures printed in 3D to collectively designing a material culture that transforms daily life?
Do my practices have more in common with those of an engineer, those of an artisan or those of a DJ? Or maybe with those of a commercial ambassador of proprietary software, 3D printers and laser cutters? Is there such a thing as a community manager of things?
Is distributed manufacturing sustainable in terms of natural resources, when compared to industrial manufacturing? Is this DIY, maker culture really something cool, or do I make these things because my precarious life doesn’t allow me access to consumer objects?
Is this digital manufacturing movement simply the umpteenth hype in neoliberal thinking, an attempt to patch up an economic model in crisis?
And one last question, on a more positive note, on which I will end:
Can these objects connect different environments of daily life, building an alternative to the term “the internet of things”, which hints at possession, in exchange for another term, “the internet IN things”, which hints at connected identities and objects in common?
I imagine that the workshop will be an interesting time to hold discussions on these questions, as well as other points, while designing, constructing and making things together”.
Wendy Van Wynsberghe, artist tinkerer, member of Constant vzw sees this Interactivos as a moment to tackle some questions and have conversations on the following topics...
At 27, I opened up my first – proprietary – electronics device and someone showed me how to solder: we made a microphone cable. Since then, I have been making interactive installations with textile, free libre open source software and, as much as possible with open hardware. My work evolves about the imperceptible, from protocols to social conventions and situations, mixing potentially gendered techniques such as embroidery with electronics. Over the years, my work changed on a technical level. Simultaneously, I started organizing workshops with Constant vzw, where I could share this learning process.
Without the web, tutorials, forums, instructions, a lot would not have been possible for me to absorb and redistribute. From video’s on crochet to code moocs, from cooking during the great depression of the 30’s to 3D files for stethoscopes... Yet I see a fragility in sharing.
/Where do you find information? What are the conditions of these largely commercial sharing platforms? What is the quality or status of documentation? /
All this influences the afterlife of the shared physical project.
/What exactly is shared? How “sourcy” are your source files?/
/ Is the digital/physical object reproducible, copyable, can you modify it and share again? Why (not)?/
/What is the power of vectors?/
You can see svg’s as geocoordinates for making objects – Cnc, 3D print, laser cut, vinyl cut, plot all incorporate a transversality in their XYZ positions. Yet for machines to understand them, they need to be transformed into for example hpgl, G-code, proprietary or not./How do you deal with that? What happens with your file?/
Hackerspaces, fablabs, makerspaces etc create communal workshop conditions. In general there is a collective knowledge to tap into and a curiosity about what people work on.
/Do projects stay with the maker or do they spread? How (not)/ why (not)? How (non)diverse are these places and the humans that frequent them?/
/Can a verb such as “make” be appropriated? What to do with the friction with the businessification of this tinkering culture?/
Quite a few of the machines are proprietary in these spaces. From more common tools such as drills and sewing machines to lasercutters and turning lathes.
/What is the status of complex prototyping tools? Have we gone beyond the 3D printer? /
The focus on the daily, the common all (Medialab Prado, Constant vzw, Susana Moliner, Josian XXX Cesar YYY) of us wrote into this Interactivos call. The daily is often not spectacular nor glamorous. However, one does not exclude the other. But it can have spectacular consequences if you can easily appropriate it, modify it and mold it to your body and geopolitical context.
I look forward to reading the project proposals!
A maximum of 8 proposals shall be developed during the workshop (2-16 December). These shall be selected from the replies to this open call.
All proposals submitted must be open to the participation of interested parties (collaborators) who can contribute towards their development during the workshop.
Proposals may be submitted individually or collectively, with no limitation on the number of proposals that each participant or team may submit.
Once the selection process is complete, registration shall be opened to any persons wishing to participate as collaborators for each individual proposal. Collaborator registration shall begin on 28 October, on the Medialab-Prado website.
> Workshop Schedule
- On 28 October the selected projects shall be published and registration will be opened to all those wishing to participate as collaborators.
- On 2 and 3 December the theoretical discussion seminar will be held.
- From 2 to 16 December projects will be developed in groups with the support of the evaluators; the resulting prototypes will be presented on the final day.
During the workshop, ideas will be tested out and prototypes will be developed in interdisciplinarygroups composed of all interested participants, coordinated by the project developer. Groups will be supported and evaluated by Wendy, Josian and Cesar, as guest professors, and will have the space, equipment and materials necessary to develop each project. These must be requested in the initial proposal.
In the workshop, we assume that free and open-source software will be used, that projects will be based on open standards and that the results will be available under licences conducive to re-appropriation, reuse and distribution.
The workshop will be held in English and in Spanish, with no formal translation services offered.
The workshop is aimed particularly at projects and collaborators from Madrid. For projects or collaborators from outside of Madrid, each participant shall bear the cost of their travel and accommodation expenses.
After the workshop has ended, the final prototypes shall be included in the Objects in Common exhibition to be held at Medialab Prado over the course of the project.
> Obligations of Selected Parties
- Furthermore, selected parties undertake to finish and appropriately document the projects proposed.
- Selected individuals or groups undertake to attend all days of the workshop.
- Projects submitted must be open to and promote the participation of interested persons.
- Basic information on the projects, in regard to the process as well as the outcome, shall be recorded in the Medialab-Prado collaborative work platform at http://comunidad.medialab-prado.es/
- Similarly, participants shall include their code in a repository accessible to the public and publish it under an open-source license enabling reuse thereof. During the workshop, support with documentation shall be provided.
- Project credits shall list the participation of each member of the team and their role within the workshop.
- The organisation encourages and supports the use of open-source programs for the purpose of developing the projects.
- Once the exhibition has ended, participants undertake to remove their material within a maximum period of 15 days. After said period has lapsed, Medialab-Prado reserves the right to take any actions in regard thereto that it deems appropriate.
> Project Evaluation Criteria
- Relevance to the general objectives of the event.
- Innovative and experimental in nature.
- Clarity of the proposal and suitability of the methodology and workshop development time (the aim is to produce a prototype by the end of the workshop. The proposal must therefore detail all parts of the project for which a prototype could be produced within the allotted period, and the parts for which this would be impossible.)
- Diversity in terms of approach and origin will be viewed positively, with consideration given to how the project fits in with the proposals to be selected as a whole.
> Accommodation and Travel ExpensesUpon request by participants who reside outside of Madrid, Medialab-Prado will provide accommodation in a youth hostel for the duration of the workshop. It will also cover travel expenses for one person per selected proposal.
Anyone interested in participating in the workshop must complete and send the form provided below before 18 October at 11:59pm GMT+1.
> Authorship and Intellectual Property
Participants in the open call whose projects (texts, photographs and videos) are selected shall license their work in a manner permitting Medialab-Prado to publish it in any physical or digital format for the maximum time period and territorial scope provided for by law, allowing said work to be transformed in order to improve its dissemination and distribution. After projects have been selected, while the activity is underway the author shall be obligated to permit any other participant(s) in the activity that has been convened to use their work as the basis for other derivative work.
Participation in this open call constitutes acceptance of all of its terms and conditions.