True to my reputation of "slowest reporter on this planet", i'm still catching up with my last visit at MediaLab Prado in Madrid. As you might remember, MLP was celebrating the opening of its decidedly bigger and brighter space with open days, the 2013 edition of the Libre Graphics Meeting and a new Interactivos? workshop (number 13 already) titled Tools for a Read-Write World.

0CONCEPT-280x259.jpgA whole morning of the Libre Graphics Meeting was dedicated to the presentations of the projects that had been selected to be developed during the Interactivos? workshop. One of them is the KLE - Kit de Libertad de Expresión (or Freedom of Speech Kit), a portable digital device that allows people from all over the world to participate to remote protests by sending and displaying text messages in public space. The interactive banner is (unsurprisingly) inspired by the record number of social protests that took place in Spain in 2011. It is estimated that over 23.000 demonstrations have been organised that year around the country.

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How the system might look. Image courtesy Chema Blanco & María Solé Bravo

Developed using open free hardware and software, the KLE device is made of textile LED screen, is energetically autonomous, light and easy to build/replicate. Although KLE is a personal device, its use is shared by the community promoting participation and expression

Two of the project leaders, Chema Blanco & María Solé Bravo, were kind enough to answer my questions:

Hi María and Chema! How did you come up with the idea for Free Freedom of Speech Kit (KLE)? Why was it important to you?

The idea came when participating in one of many social demonstrations during last years in Spain. I never brought a billboard, but there are so many things to say! People bring their written banner to a demonstration but, once there, one might get inspired and have new ideas for messages to display. We also observe a lot of creativity in the banners messages, some of them are visual poetry. So the question arose: what would happen if banners were an interactive display?

Then this simple idea started growing and we saw the real implications that a connected autonomous device like this could have in the realm of the freedom of speech, such accessibility and communication between cultures in collective manners.

As we deepened in the subject, we also noticed that the main social movements had been sprouting through social networks, where one connects as individual to, later on, collectively gather on the public space. That revealed us that we could develop tools for providing a smoother transition between the individual use of social networks and the collective expression that public space represents. Fortunately, the project team comprises a great combination of technology and public space experienced professionals, gathering the required knowledge to develop such idea .

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Prototype developed at MediaLab Prado. Image courtesy Chema Blanco & María Solé Bravo

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Prototype developed at MediaLab Prado. Image courtesy Chema Blanco & María Solé Bravo

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Prototype developed at MediaLab Prado. Image courtesy Chema Blanco & María Solé Bravo

The project is fairly ambitious and when i saw its presentation at the Free Tools meeting the other day i was wondering how much you'd manage to achieve in just the two weeks that the Interactivos? workshop lasted. So how far are you in the hardware and software?

These two weeks have been a great opportunity for accelerating the development of the project. Currently we have a prototype built in fabric (flexible and light) which is connected by Bluetooth to a mobile phone running an Android application for sending messages. So in just two weeks and with a great team of collaborators (Quique, Rafael, Dani, Carlos, Sonia, Gonzalo, Andrea, Echedey, Soraya, Eva and many others) we have built our first functional prototype: a crafted LED flexible display with internet connectivity through a cell phone. So we are now just one step far from having a real KLE (Kit de libertad de Expresión/Freedom of Speech Kit) working in the streets.

Is KLE mostly an art project with just the one prototype and a couple of performances to demonstrate its potential power or do you hope that its use will spread and that people will build their own and use it the way they want?

We come from the engineering and architecture world, both with a strong creative component but, even though we are very close to the artistic world (we are collaborating with photographers, theater companies...), we try to think as well about the actual functionality of our work (we are active members of a community garden and other self managed civic projects in Madrid and Barcelona).

We give as much importance to the conceptual framework of our projects as in contributing to society, providing solutions and tools that satisfy citizens needs rather than creating new ones.

Therefore, in KLE we are making an effort to unite technology, human and accessibility, with making it visually appealing and helpful to citizens. In fact, we aim at that joint where a piece of art is used and replicated on the streets giving it a much more powerful meaning, making it evolve in unexpected ways: born with us but living through other people.

How do you see people using it exactly? In advertisement context? Activist, protest ones?

Being a visual platform it makes it suitable for advertising purposes. However, our scope is focused on the social / citizenship field, where freedom of speech comes true sense. We are seduced by the idea of people expressing themselves by a platform that someone else or a community have built for others (note that the Freedom of Speech Kit is envisaged as a Do it Yourself Kit). It is also intriguing the concept of the "carrier" of other people messages, probably a new scope of legal issues may arise.

Besides other possible uses, our main interest is on bringing our kit to the streets serving citizens and their creativity and solidarity with others. We want to explore collective processes on the construction of messages and the interactions that these might generate in a context such a demonstration.

In this direction, our most ambitious goal, that we comment with great caution (due its dependance on the local restrictions of each country in terms of Human Rights, which we are now starting to look into), would be the creation of a worldwide KLE network where messages from different countries could cross over the globe and be displayed from square to square, connecting collectives from different public spaces globally.

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Image courtesy Chema Blanco & María Solé Bravo

Why do you think people will need it? Aren't Facebook and twitter enough to spread text messages?

The word "need" might be too disruptive. There was a time when human beings didn't need fire, electricity or internet, but once they were invented they became extremely useful technologies.

The importance of our input is very far from those examples, but we are convinced that if in a demonstration there is a KLE, there will be many people willing to use it. We would like it to be a platform that provides accessibility to those who for any reason can not be on the street (physical challenge, illness, job restrictions, fear, etc) but want to join the community by sending a message through it.

So far, Facebook or Twitter do not solve that. It is a paradox, because even though they are social networks, their users produce and consume content on them individually. They are collective channels, but their access devices are individual. Our platform is producing and displaying content in a collective environment, that could as well be supported by these communication channels. We would like to explore two features that social networks still have not solved: the actual collectivity (in a shared place and time) and its interaction with the public space.

Can you briefly explain how the system will work?

The kit consist of an electronic portable banner where a user can display messages either using a local physical interface, such a keyboard, or a virtual one using social networks through internet. Likewise, there is a sort of online platform that allows writing messages and sending and displaying on the banner.

In a more technical level; we provide different entry interfaces: a physical one, so anyone close to the banner can send messages to it, and another one via internet, thus anyone in the world, using their cell phone, computer or other device connected to the internet can send messages to the banner as well.

On the other hand, we want to develop an appropriate web service where all banners built in the world can be registered and be geolocalized by a GPS. In that way, messages could be sent directly to a specific place of the world (from square to square, as we were saying previously).

The device is built with a series of textiles (both conductors and insulators of electricity) and LEDs, together with a microprocessor and communication modules. All software and hardware design is being documented in an instructions manual, so anyone will be able to build their own kit: DIY. Actually, it will be delivered under copyleft license, so users will be able to improve the design, adapt it to their local circumstances and their knowledge will be delivered in the same way back to the rest of the world.

Any other upcoming steps/further developments for the project?

Right now, we think is quite important to reach the international communication layer via internet. There are situations we need to take in consideration, such how to solve communication when there are frequency inhibitors or when mobile phone cells are saturated during a demonstration. Step by step we will be analyzing and trying to come up with solutions to the wide range of circumstances, for maximizing KLE interaction possibilities.

The next phase of the project, to improve the implementation of the platform and make it more accessible, is to start a crowdfunding campaign. We want to complete the first version of the kit and distribute the first units in places where freedom of speech is under threat.

Thanks Chema and María!

Follow the development of the project on its website and on twitter.

Full cast of people involved in the development of the prototype:
Promoters: ETC Inventions (Chema Blanco, Anna Carreras) and María Solé Bravo.
Collaborators: Gonzalo Iglesias, Rafael Fernandes, Carlos Fernández, Daniel Alonso, Sonya Ricketts, Andrea Rosales, Soraya Nasser, Echedey Lorenzo, Miguel Fernández, Eva Rueda & Christian Rojo (ETC Inventions).

The prototypes of Interactivos?'13 Tools for a Read-Write World are exhibited at MediaLab Prado until May 31, 2013.

Sponsored by:





For some reason, i always forget to check the programme of lectures and exhibitions taking place at the Architectural Association School of Architecture in London. And when i do, it's bliss and joy on every floor. Right now the institution is showing Cultural Hijack, an exhibition which presents a series of provocative interventions which have inserted themselves into the world, demanding attention, interrupting everyday life, hijacking, trespassing, agitating and teasing. Often unannounced and usually anonymous, these artworks have appropriated media channels, hacked into live TV and radio broadcasts, attacked billboards, re-appropriated street furniture, subverted signs, monuments and civic architectures, organised political actions as protest, exposed corporations and tax loopholes and revealed the absurdities of government bureaucracies.

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Ben Parry and Peter McCaughey, Balaclava Road (in collaboration with Lauren O'Farrell), 2013


Tatzu Nishi, Ascending Descendingi as part of Cultural Hijack at the Architectural Association London. 24th / 25th April 2013

Some works are openly political, others are more playful. Some have been designed to be used by people whose needs are otherwise overlooked, others are clever pranks. Cultural Hijack brings art out of the galleries and into the street. Which imho is always a good thing if you want to reach people who are not already convinced and content with your artistic, cultural or political ideas.

Cultural Hijack unfolds over three chapters: a slightly messy and crammed exhibition documenting the artworks in videos, photos, installations and artists' talks; a series of live-interventions around London; and CONTRAvention, a weekend of lectures, symposia, screenings, participatory actions, interventions, dinners and debate that will close the programme later this month. I'm spectacularly annoyed to miss that one as i won't be in town that week.

So let's wipe off a tear and make a quick selection of the works included in the exhibition.

Chicha Muffler Black Cab: yes, that one does exactly what it says on the tin. Instead of rejecting smoke, the modified exhaust of the cab provides a service of mobile hooka.

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BGL, Chicha Muffler Black Cab, London, 2013. Image Ben Parry

My jaw almost dropped to the floor when i saw the description text and the video for Visual Kidnapping. Street artist Zevs cut out a 40ft woman from a Lavazza billboard in Alexanderplatz, Berlin and 'demanded' a 500,000 Euro donation to the Palais de Tokyo art center in Paris for her return. Which he apparently obtained.

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Zevs, Visual Kidnapping, 2002

With the same haircut, twelve members of Ztohoven took a portrait pictures and using the Morphing software they merged every two faces into one. They applied for new Ids with these photos, but each of them used the name of his alter-ego. They lived for 6 months under someone's else identity, voted in the elections, travelled outside of the country, obtained a gun license or one of them even got married. After this period, they revealed theirs secret identities and documented the whole operation in an exhibition in Prague. The police confiscated their ID's and arrested co-founder of Ztohoven Roman Tyc for failing to show his ID card which was at the time part of the exhibition.

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Ztohoven, Obcan K (from Citizen K), 2012

Paolo Cirio is showing the irresistible Loophole for All, a service to democratize offshore business for people who don't want to pay for their riches. It empowers everyone to evade taxes, hide money and debt, and get away with anything by stealing the identities of real offshore companies.

You can buy the identities of offshore companies on the website of the project Loophole4All.com at fairly low costs.

Cirio also interviewed major experts and produced a video documentary investigating offshore centers to expose their costs and to envision solutions to global economic injustice.

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Paolo Cirio, Loophole for All

For his series of Minaret performances, Michael Rakowitz stands on a rooftop at the five designated times of prayer with a megaphone and an alarm clock that plays the entire adhan (the call summoning Muslims to prayer) from an embedded digital chip.

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Michael Rakowitz, Minaret, 2001 - Ongoing (Enver Hoxa Monument (Pyramide), Tirana, Albania 2005)

Electronic Disturbance Theater's Transborder Immigrant Tool hacks cheap GPS mobile-phones to install a device for helping Mexican immigrants cross the U.S.-Mexico border, providing them navigation, poetry, the location of highways, border patrols and water left by Border Angels in the Southern California desert.

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Electronic Disturbance Theater 2.0/b.a.n.g. lab, Transborder Immigrant Tool (2007; photo courtesy 319 Scholes)

EPOS 257 crafts oversized bullets that he fills with paints then shoots at commercial billboards and architectures using an extra-long shooting instrument. Each piece is both a unique abstract painting and a gesture of reverse takeover.

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Urban Shoot Painting, Prague and suburbs, winter and spring of 2009

An 'old' one i was ignorant about: The Clandestine Insurgent Rebel Clown Army [or CIRCA], an army of professional clowns who protest against corporate globalisation, war and other issues.

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The Clandestine Insurgent Rebel Clown Army. Photo Karen Eliot

I'm sure you know this one already. I still find it as charming as ever: Matthias Wermke & Mischa Leinkauf's In Between („Zwischenzeit") used homemade handcars that can be folded into backpacks to sneak into Berlin's U-bahn and navigate it at night.

Matthias Wermke & Mischa Leinkauf, Zwischenzeit Trailer

Cultural Hijack was curated by artists Ben Parry and Peter McCaughey. It runs daily at the Architectural Association School of Architecture, London, until 26th May 2013. The final weekend will be dedicated to CONTRAvention, a series of lectures, symposia, screenings, participatory actions, interventions, dinners and debate.

Today is the last day to witness All Rise, the week-long performance from Liberate Tate at the Tate Modern gallery. Filming devices strapped on to their chest, performers are reading aloud sections of the transcripts of the trial which started in February in New Orleans and sees BP stand accused of gross negligence over the Deepwater Horizon disaster, the largest accidental marine oil spill in the history of the petroleum industry.

The performance marks the third anniversary of the disaster but it also questions the sponsorship of Tate by the oil multinational. Each day, three different performers are whispering courtroom transcripts from the BP trial. The videos are streamed live for anyone who can't make it to the Turbine Hall and other exhibition rooms of the institution.

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Liberate Tate, All Rise, 2013. Photo credit: Amy Scaife

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Liberate Tate action at Tate Britain, 2011. Photo credit: Amy Scaife

Two years ago Liberate Tate performed Human Cost in the Duveen Gallery in Tate Britain, where a naked man curled up on the floor had oil poured all over him. And last year the group delivered a 16.5 metre wind turbine blade to the gallery, along with documents officially gifting it to the nation as piece of art. '

Strangely enough, Tate itself triggered the artistic protest. Liberate Tate was indeed founded during a workshop in January 2010 on art and activism, commissioned by Tate. When Tate curators tried to censor the workshop from making interventions against Tate sponsors, even though none had been planned, the incensed participants decided to continue their work together beyond the workshop and set up Liberate Tate.

Now the performance interested me for two reasons: the trial against BP isn't receiving the major international coverage i would have expected (even though the damages to human health and the environment are still very much felt, even though the clean-up is far from being finished and even though the local communities are still struggling to recover from the economic devastation.) The second reason is that, like many people working in art, i find it difficult to make up my mind: is it really so bad to take some dirty money to support the art community? Do we really have a choice in these harsh times of cuts in the art funding?

Mel Evans of Liberate Tate has kindly accepted to answer my questions about the performance.

Liberate Tate has been protesting since 2010 but has been achieved so far?

Well, over 300 artists and cultural workers have signed their name to letters calling on Tate to drop BP sponsorship in the press. Over 8000 Tate members and visitors have petitioned Nicholas Serota to end the sponsorship deal with the oil company. And, at the 2012 Tate Members' AGM, a full hour of the session was filled with diverse voices calling for Tate to disclose more information on the sponsorship deal and heed members' perspective on it. For Liberate Tate, their performance interventions are now held in Tate's archive: a mixed response, but a recognition of significance nonetheless. More and more artists have gotten on board with the call for change, including Conrad Atkinson who has numerous works at Tate, and Raoul Martinez, who has been exhibited as part of the National Portrait Award. Beyond this, we regularly hear tell of Tate staff at all levels sharing our concerns with BP sponsorship at Tate.

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Liberate Tate, All Rise, 2013. Photo credit: Amy Scaife

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Liberate Tate, All Rise, 2013. Photo credit: Amy Scaife

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Liberate Tate, All Rise, 2013. Photo credit: Amy Scaife

Because of Liberate Tate, I (and i'm sure many members of the public) am now acutely aware of the sponsorship and entering the exhibition space with a sense of guilt...

Liberate Tate doesn't intend to make anyone or any visitors feel guilty: our slogan is Love Tate Hate Oil.

We want to raise the question, what does a future look like beyond oil? What role does culture have in shaping oil? And what democratic processes are available in a public body such as Tate to question the social legitimacy given to an oil company whose global impacts are devastating lives and livelihoods? We welcome anyone's participation in this questioning, and this gathering of momentum to push for a shift in this cultural sphere. The arts have moved away from tobacco and arms sponsorship; likewise they will shift from oil, we simply insist it is sooner rather than later.

But it is not a sense a guilt we wish to generate, but rather one of possibility - often this is the question the arts often ask, how do we understand the world, how might we understand it differently, and what might we make possible. Just because oil is a feature of our every day lives does not mean we cannot question it - in fact it is when something is so pervasive that we must consider it more.

In these times of cuts in public funding, corporate sponsorship seems to be a reasonable option. What right do we have to judge Tate and decide where they can and cannot take the money to produce and exhibit contemporary art?

Pressure on arts institutions to make deals with corporations is certainly premised by the Tory-Lib Dem government as justification for the cuts. The opportunity for sponsorship and the impact of the cuts is felt very differently according to organisations sizes however: smaller arts organisations have lost everything through the ACE cuts, and have little opportunity for corporate sponsorship, because business is only interested in the notoriety of allegiances with big name institutions. With Tate as the key example, all of their corporate income from events and sponsorship amounts to a minimal percentage of their overall income. Tate has refused to dispose figures on the BP deal, but we estimate it to be £500,000 - a minuscule slice of Tate's budget. From Tate's own figures we know they still receive about 35% state funding, and raise almost half via Tate Enterprises in their shops, cafes and restaurants. The picture of the corporate knight in shining armour saving the flailing arts institutions is a total misnomer. It is in fact the CEO of Tate Enterprises Laura Wright who has led the way in securing Tate's financial stability.

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The tip of a turbine blade is carried over the Thames from St Paul's Cathedral by Liberate Tate for the artwork The Gift in Tate Modern's Turbine Hall 7 July 2012 Credit: Martin LeSanto-Smith

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The Gift performance by Liberate Tate Tate Modern 7 July 2012. Credit: Ian Buswell

Last year, Tate wasn't too pleased about the wind turbine blade that you offered them as a gift. How is Tate reacting to this year's performance?

The Gift was probably our most confrontational performance to date. It was certainly the largest! Over a hundred people and a 16.5 metre wind turbine blade...It feels good to go in absolutely the other direction with All Rise, and make a work that is quiet, small, unobtrusive. All Rise is really about the ripples a performance can make. Over this week we've drawn in audiences from around the world who can watch the three performers move around Tate Modern via live stream every day 3-4pm GMT+1. On the first day Tate staff questioned what we were doing, but now we have been told no-one will interfere. Visitors notice us and ask questions as performers pass them in the gallery, or stop and listen to the legalistic text of the trial whispered by the performers, but we're not obstructing anyone in any way, so I think there's little grounds to ask us to leave. Tate might also be aware that should they eject us, we have news media on speed dial. Overall, allowing this piece to grow into the space has been great, and unlike The Gift, we're able to bring our questions back to the terrible harm still being felt since the BP Gulf of Mexico disaster, at the same time as inviting Tate visitors, members and staff into a conversation with us.

What do you say when people claim that BP has no influence about what is exhibited in the galleries anyway?

It's very hard for us or them to make an absolute measure on BP's curatorial influence. The presence of a sponsor can censor silently even if not directly - any cases of which would be surely fiercely hidden from view. Several artists note numerous cases in which they have seen BP related censorship take place. Liberate Tate was itself founded during a workshop at Tate in which BP sponsorship was raised when staff sent an email to the organiser stating "to be aware that we cannot host any activism directed against Tate and its sponsors". Beyond that. I see the question also being about, what impact does BP have on Tate by its presence and association? What does Tate become, despite presenting itself as a politically savvy, progressive institution, by association with BP?

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And what can we, general public, do to help 'liberate Tate'?

Go to Tate and raise the questions. Write to Tate. Make art about BP at Tate. Speak to Tate staff you know and ask them what they think. This is an art movement for change that affects us all as artists on some level - we have a stake in the values that influential contemporary art institutions uphold, and it is for us to shape those values in our work. See you in the gallery, challenging the presence of BP in whatever creative way you see fit, be it on feedback forms or something more adventurous! And get in touch at liberatetate [at] gmail.com or @LiberateTate on Twitter if you want to connect with us and what we're trying to do.

Thanks Mel!

If you've missed All Rise, i'd recommend that you check out Tate à Tate, Lib­er­ate Tate's altern­at­ive audio tour of the Lon­don Tate gal­ler­ies.
Also check out Platform London's book The Oil Road - Journeys from the Caspian Sea to the City of London, it's available on Amazon.com and amazon.co.uk.

Unpleasant Design by Gordan Savicic and Selena Savic. Publisher: G.L.O.R.I.A (Belgrade.)

Available on Amazon USA. Sorry, I couldn't find it on amazon UK.

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Book Description: The "Unpleasant Design" book is a collection of different research approaches to a phenomenon experienced by all of us. Unpleasant design is a global fashion with many examples to be found across cities worldwide, manifested in the form of "silent agents" that take care of behaviour in public space, without the explicit presence of authorities. Photographs, essays and case studies of unpleasant urban spaces, urban furniture and communication strategies reveal this pervasive phenomenon. With contributions by Adam Rothstein, Francesco Morace and Heather Stewart Feldman, Vladan Jeremic, Dan Lockton, Yasmine Abbas, Gilles Paté, Adam Harvey and many others, the book is in an attempt to recognise this nascent discipline within contemporary design taxonomies.

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Re-enactment of Fakir's Rest in Rotterdam on a so-called Leaning Bench, Rotterdam 2011

Unpleasant Design landed on my doorsteps a few days ago. I opened the envelope, grabbed the book and uttered a loud "Who's the idiot who designed this?!?" because the sleeve around the cover was made of sandpaper. Sandpaper!

I then read the title of the book and had to admit that it was a very clever idea.

Each of us has met examples of unpleasant design as we go through the city. The bench that is uncomfortable to sit on for more than 10 minutes, the trash can specially designed so that you can't sit on it nor stuff big bag of garbage inside, the anti-sticker coating on lamp posts, etc. I guess most of us don't really pay attention but they do coerce us to use the city in a prescribed, restricted way. And then there's unpleasant design for the unhappy few: benches with armrests in the middle so that the homeless can't lay down and sleep on it, blue lights in bathrooms and tunnels preventing drug users to spot their veins, an aluminium bar with spikes on it found in corners of buildings and alleys that is angled so that pee would end on your feet (a popular design in The Netherlands apparently), structures to remind pigeons that they are not welcome in town, or CCTV cameras that target specific race and age groups. And of course, there's that notorious mosquito device.

Unpleasant Design dresses the portraits of bullying urban furniture, looks at the specific strategies behind its design, comments on the use and control of public and semi-public spaces. After having had the book in your sandpapered hands, you won't look at your city with the same eyes, i'm sure.

The book documents and casts a critical eye on design motivated by policies of exclusion but, and that's what makes the book such an inspiring lecture, it also looks at how individuals, artists, activists are responding to urban unpleasantness.

Authors Gordan Savicic and Selena Savic have spent over a year researching forms of social unpleasantness, taking photos wherever they went, writing down ideas and talking with people who are also denouncing and resisting unpleasant design. The resulting essays and interviews are enclosed in the book. Among my favourite are: Survival Group's photos and comments about Anti-Sites (the spaces designed to prevent homeless people or simply weary passersby to sit down and have a rest), Vladan Jeremic's look at the hidden politics of garbage removal in Belgrade, an interview with the insightful and witty urban hacktivist Florian Rivière, a discussion with 'neo-nomad' Yasmine Abbas, another one with Dan Lockton of Design with Intent, the interview with Gilles Paté, the 'fakir' of urban spaces, etc. Add to that, plenty of case studies, examples of artistic devices and ideas that create and fight unpleasant design but also the outcome of a competition about unpleasant design.

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Blue lights in a public toilet at Bonn central station. Photo: Jurjen van Enter

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Florian Rivière, Don't pay, play!, 2011

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Florian Rivière, Juicer, 2012

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Sarah Ross, Archisuits, 2008

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Sarah Ross, Archisuits, 2008

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Fabian Brunsing, Pay & Sit - the Private Bench, 2008

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Survival Group, Anti-Sites, a collection of anti-homeless urban designs

Two of the winning projects of the Unpleasant Design competition:

A maze lock for public toilets, bars and restaurants to avoid drunkards entering the toilet and passing out or damaging the property.

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Ankita Thaker, Maze door lock

SI8DO is a social-integration urban furniture designed to improve the working conditions of immigrants who work at the traffic lights selling tissues.

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(bau)m_arquitectura, SI 8 DO - Social integration furniture Sevilla

New year, new episode of #A.I.L - artists in laboratories, the weekly radio programme about art and science i present on ResonanceFM.

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Julian Oliver, Six Composite Acts (Digital, sculptural interventions / Performance), 2010

The guest of this episode is artist and critical engineer Julian Oliver whose award-winning software and hardware works include a wall plug that manipulates the news appearing on other people's screens, a pair of augmented-reality binoculars that replace advertisements in public spaces with artworks in real-time, but also a Transparency Grenade able to capture network traffic and audio at the site of secret corporate or governmental meetings and to anonymously stream the data to a dedicated server where it is mined for information. Julian Oliver's projects might be provocative and entertaining but their ultimate aim is to make us question the technologies we use every day: who really owns them? Who made them and to what purpose? How much do they shape our behavior? Do these technologies service us as much as we service them?

During the show, however, we're not going to talk about Julian's exciting projects. Instead, i wanted to focus on the Critical Engineering Manifesto that Julian wrote a year ago together with Gordan Savičić and Danja Vasiliev. Expect explanations about why Engineering is the most transformative language of our time, questions about how to adopt the critical engineering ethos if you have next to zero technical skills, and details about Julian Oliver's upcoming projects.

The show will be aired today Thursday 17th December at 19:30. The repeat is next Tuesday at the ungodly 6.30 am. If you don't live in London, you can catch the online stream or wait till we upload the episodes on soundcloud.

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I wouldn't normally review a zine that's ridiculously hard to get your hands on but the purpose, production and spirit of Critical Making are so meaningful and pertinent to today's culture that i had to make an exception. Critical Making is series of small booklets that look at the political, social, activist and even historical dimensions of the DIY culture:

A handmade book project by Garnet Hertz in the field of critical technical practice and critically-engaged maker culture. Critical making is defined by Ratto as exploring how hands-on productive work - making - can supplement and extend critical reflection on the relations between digital technologies and society. It also can be thought of as an appeal to makers to be critically engaged with culture, history and society.

Releasing Critical Making must have been an exhausting experience. It's a hand-made zine and Garnet Hertz played the role of the chief editor of course but he also had to print the texts and images, fold the pages, trim them, get blisters while relentlessly stapling the booklets together, craft a parcel, add the address and ship the zines. That's hundreds of stacks of booklets that had to be sent to hundreds of people across the world. I know i'm going to treasure my copy as if it were an artwork (which it probably is.) He's not even selling the zines, nor is he earning money from ads because the pages are rigorously ad free.

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Critical Making might look all punky and crafty but the content is solid. Contributions started pouring in after Hertz asked people on social networks to respond to the concept of critical making. And because he knows some of the most interesting people in the art & tech world, the line-up is pretty spectacular: from an essay by Carl DiSalvo on adversarial design to cuttings of vintage magazines that explain you how to build a poultry feeder that doubles as a rat trap, from Rafael Lozano-Hemmer revealing How to Make Very Large Projects to interviews with Alex Galloway or Natalie Jeremijenko. I'll stop the list here because the table of content is on the webpage of the project.

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Garnet Hertz, Made: Technology on Affluent Leisure Time, 2012 (Parody and critique of Make Magazine by O'Reilly Media. Distributed as sticker for free and included in Critical Making first edition)

But Critical Making is also a courageous project. While acknowledging the role and importance of O'Reilly and Make Magazine in popularizing the DIY culture, the publication asks us to look at aspects of the DIY culture that go beyond buying an Arduino, getting a MakerBot and reducing DIY to a weekend hobby. Critical Making embraces thus social issues, the history of technology, activism and politics. The project stems also from a disappointment. A year ago, Make received a grant from DARPA to create "makerspaces" for teenagers. Everyone who, so far, had assumed that a culture built on openness was antithetic to the murkiness that surrounds the military world was bitterly disheartened. CM is not the anti-Make Magazine, it is simply an alternative, a forum for electronic DIY practice to discuss hacking, making, kludging, DIYing in a less sanitized, mass-market way. One of the CM booklets (aptly titled MAKE) brings side by side Dale Dougherty's defense of the grant (Makerspaces in Education and DARPA) and an essay by Mitch Altman who asks Do Funding Sources Matter? Further discussion about the controversy in the video DARPA Funding for Hackers, Hackerspaces, and Education: A Good Thing? with Mitch Altman, Psytek, Willow Brugh, Fiacre O'Duinn, Matt Joyce)

Ultimately, what Garnet Hertz is now wondering is what he should do with Critical Making: Should he turn the zine into a book people would be able to buy? Release it for free online? Should he hand-make more copies?

I love the format, the physical effort, the limited-edition aspect of Critical Making. On the other hand, i believe that a critical discussion in art and tech deserves a more popular platform (a book, a blog, a PDF, etc.) especially when it is presented in such a pleasant and intelligent way. If you have any suggestion, you know where to reach him (plus, he might have a few extra copy to send out.)

Until CM can be mass-marketed, we'll have to make do with two videos in which Garnet Hertz explains the context and motivations behind the creation of the Critical Making zines: Critical Making: Moving Beyond Arduinos and MakerBots (lovely shirt, Garnet! very Isabel Marant) and Crunch Lunch with Garnet Hertz:

Previously: Interview with Garnet Hertz.

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