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.
A 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.
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
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 .
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.
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!
Full cast of people involved in the development of the prototype:
The prototypes of Interactivos?'13 Tools for a Read-Write World are exhibited at MediaLab Prado until May 31, 2013.
While visiting the new spaces of Medialab Prado last month, i got to discover several projects which are developed in collaboration with the Madrid-based program. One of these projects is the Citizen Cyberscience Centre, a citizen science initiative where citizens and researchers alike are invited to participate in large scale scientific projects with either some time, power from their brain or from their computer.
Volunteers from around the world are welcome to participate to projects that will help the scientific community identify and mark deforested areas using high-resolution Earth imagery, research the elusive Higgs particle using a virtual atom smasher, understand the fundamental laws of the universe, or the secrets of magnetism at the molecular scale.
I met Daniel Lombraña González, a researcher and lead developer of the Citizen Cyberscience Centre (aka CCC, a partnership between CERN, the UN Institute for Training and Research and the University of Geneva), at the MLP and he was kind enough to answers my questions about some of the Citizen Cyber Science projects:
Hi Daniel! How did you get to collaborate with MediaLab Prado? What sort of infrastructure, network and support do they provide the project with?
The CCC contacted Medialab this year because we think that we have a lot in common. Medialab is an heterogenous space where science, engineering and art are mixed in a beautiful way and we thought that it could be really interesting to participate with them. Medialab will offer its connections with other collectives and we will try to provide our knowledge in citizen science events like the one that we are organizing the 17th and 18th of May.
One of the most impressive project of CCS is probably LHC@home, a platform that allows volunteers to help physicists develop and exploit particle accelerators like CERN's Large Hadron Collider, and to compare theory with experiment in the search for new fundamental particles. So how exactly can people contribute, do they have to be physicists too?
People contribute by creating an account in the project and downloading two pieces of software: BOINC and VirtualBox. BOINC is the software that allows to automatically configure the VirtualBox software, that will be used to create a Virtual Machine that will connect CERN and run the simulations. The CCC developed this aspect of the project contributing the integration of the virtualization VirtualBox software (created by Oracle) within the BOINC framework.
Once you have installed the software, all you have to do is to see how your computer and user account gets credits based on the simulations that your PC are contributing to the project and check if you are in the top 20 of the best volunteers or if you are part of the Billionaires club (users who have simulated more than 1 Billion of events!)
Therefore, as you can see, the project welcomes everyone to participate and you don't have to be a physicist at all :-)
How important is their contribution? Does their help have a big impact on the research of the CERN physicists?
Here I'm going to quote the main researcher of the project about this specific question :-)
The place where T4T contributes is in the validation of the theoretical models that underpin the interpretation of the data. Roughly speaking, if we only had really bad theoretical models, the analysis of the real data would suffer. Given only very crude models, we would be more uncertain about what a real Higgs state should look like in the experiment, and what is merely unrelated "background". That uncertainty would translate into having to run the LHC longer, collecting more statistics, before an announcement such as the one on July 4th could be made with any confidence. The fact that we do have quite sophisticated and thoroughly tested theoretical models for the physics taking place at the LHC "sharpens" our ability to extract conclusions from the data with confidence.
Day by day, T4T volunteers are testing our theory simulations. When new versions of the simulation codes are released, we incorporate them into the T4T queues and send them out to you for testing. When new test data is released, we incorporate that data into the T4T test suite and again send everything we got out to you for testing against this new added piece of information, each piece making up a small part of the full picture of what the "ideal" simulation should look like.
I was particularly intrigued by Forest Watchers which invites people located anywhere in the world to monitor patches of forest that need to be protected. Now a forest like the Amazonian is extended over a very large territory so how many volunteers would its monitoring typically involve?
The current project only has 164 registered users, but almost 1000 people have actually participated in the project since its creation contributing tasks :-) (you can see the stats here). We still are in the early stages of the project, and we are starting to analyze the first results, so I cannot give you that answer for the moment. We hope to have some published paper in the future, but there is no ETA yet.
And we all know about the Amazonian forrest but how about other forests that needs to be protected? Can you give other examples, in Europe in particular?
The platform was created with the idea of allowing other countries to use it in a simple way. If I'm not mistaken Europe is well covered, due to the available human power and resources that EU has for this type of natural parks. The main goal of starting in the Amazon was because INPE, one of the main partners behind the project, are the world lead experts in deforestation assessment and they contacted the Citizen Cyberscience Centre to start the project.
Usually the government. However, ForestWatchers.net has not contacted the government at all, as this is a research project from INPE and CCC analyzing the feasibility of getting non-experts, citizens, analyzing deforested areas. As I said before, ForestWatchers.net is a research project and we are trying to analyze if the volunteers will be able to produce good results in comparison with the experts.
How do you verify that information provided by volunteers? How can you check that it is correct and valuable?
For every task at least 30 different persons will contribute an answer. Then, we will analyze all the reported answers statistically to be sure that there are no outliers, and that the majority of the volunteers agree on the reported results. We are in the process of analyzing the data with INPE experts to quantify the quality of these results.
Most of the projects of Citizen Cyber Science are developed in partnership with prestigious institutions such as CERN, universities in France, Switzerland and England. How open are institutions in general to direct participation of citizens? Because i always thought that science was a domain reserved to an elite of intellectuals...
It depends :-) I think there is a no clear answer here. In general the first time that we approach a research institution with a citizen science proposal, the usual answer is to be afraid of going into the open. However, after showing some of the projects that we are currently running and supporting some of these scientists see the benefits of using these approaches and they jump in. It is important also to mention that even citizens feel like you, so even though there are several citizen science projects, we are not sending the right message to you, as you think this type of science is only for an elite :-)
Thus, in summary, let's say that in general institutions are not so open due to citizen science is "grass roots movement" but it is taking pace and getting more adepts every day.
Why do you think that people contribute? What do they gain from that?
From time to time we interview the volunteers to answer that specific questions. In general, people do it because they like to contribute to the project, because they feel that science is important and this type of projects give them an opportunity to see science closer.
What do they gain? This is a really good question! Actually, we are now in an EU project called Citizen Cyberlab where we are studying actually what do they gain. In general, what the volunteers gain is a non-formal knowledge about the project where they usually learn science "by accident" :-) For example, by participating in the LHC@Home Test4Theory project, some volunteers have become "experts" in the Virtualization technology that the project uses. This has been proven, because new contributers usually get help from this other volunteers with very detailed answers :-)
I thought i'd add a few words and many images about a couple of exhibitions i saw in Madrid a few weeks ago. Just like Anonymization, these two are photo exhibitions. If it weren't for the fact that exhibitions are planned years in advance, I'd be wondering whether the current crisis is the reason why Madrid has so many photo shows right now. They are easier/cheaper to ship, install, insure? Maybe?
Anyway, let's kick off with Robert Adams: The Place We Live, a Retrospective Selection of Photographs at the Reina Sofia because it is simply stunning.
Since the 1960s, Robert Adams has been documenting the landscape of the American West. Lonely roads, small town lights, deforested woods, the Pacific, the great plains, the suburban residential estates, the truck stops and the shopping malls. The paradises lost and the ones about to be built.
For a European like me, there's something extremely exotic about his images. It's the Colorado i see in old Hollywood movies. Yet, the urban development and the over-exploitation of natural resources are realities we are all familiar with.
Robert Adams: The Place We Live, a Retrospective Selection of Photographs is at the Museo Reina Sofia in Madrid until 20 may 2013.
The other retrospective i wanted to mention is dedicated to the Galician photographer Virxilio Vieitez.
Virxilio Vieitez (Pontevedra, 1930-2008), one of the most important photographers of Spain's photographic history, carried out commissioned works, particularly intended for Galicians who had emigrated to Argentina, Mexico and Venezuela and wished to keep a visual record of their families in Galicia.
Almost no one ever smiles in those photos. Besides, people often chose to pose with some atypical companions: a radio, a goat, a couple of potted flowers.
Everyone however is impeccably dressed.
Special mention to the Pirelli girls who deserves to feature on calendars:
For some very odd reason, this sissy lady made me think of myself...
A few views from the exhibition space:
The Virxilio Vieitez retrospective is at Espacio Fundación Telefónica in Madrid until 19 May 2013.
The new episode of #A.I.L - artists in laboratories, the weekly radio programme about art and science i present on ResonanceFM, is aired today at 4pm (London time.)
Today we will be talking with Marcos García who, together with Laura Fernandez, is responsible for the cultural program of the Medialab Prado in Madrid.
If you're a curator or an artist involved in art and technology you've probably heard about Medialab Prado. Chances are, you've even been there for one of their workshops. Medialab Prado is conceived as a citizen laboratory for the production, research and dissemination of cultural projects that explore collaborative forms of experimentation and learning that have emerged from digital networks.
So far, the lab mostly organized seminars and workshops dealing with topics as different as garage science, magic and technology, obsolete technologies of the future, data visualization, the theory of the Commons, or digital facades. The way the workshops are organized is pretty unique to MLP: they publish a call, select the projects that will be developed and invite collaborators from all backgrounds to join the artists over a 2 week period to develop a working prototype. The sessions are intense but the results are usually pretty spectacular.
Last week, however, MLP inaugurated its new headquarters. Same address but this time the space is at least 10 to 15 times bigger which means that the workshops will still be central to the activities of the lab but they will also be accompanied by permanent research projects, exhibitions, artist residencies and so on.
Unfortunately for us, Marcos Garcia is not in the studio in London with us today. Fortunately for me, he invited me over at MLP for the launch of the new space and for a series of events dedicated to Free, Open Source Tools for Graphic designers.
In this episode of #A.I.L., we will be talking interactivity, Open Source in times of precarity, the inspiration behind the Medialab Prado model and the future plans for the lab.
I'm just back from a few days in Madrid where i visited the jaw-dropping vast new headquarters of Medialab Prado. More about that soon. I did however find some time to visit a couple of exhibitions in town. Including Anonymization at La Casa Encendida.
In this photo series, Robert Harding Pittman acutely documents the exportation of the Los Angeles-style model of urban development to other countries such as Spain, France, Germany, Greece, United Arab Emirates and South Korea.
Anonymization presents under an implacable light a landscape of anonymity made of shopping malls, vast parking lots, arrays of unfinished houses that look exactly the same, green golf courses in the middle of desert areas, etc.
The photos highlight that urban sprawl has no soul, character nor regard for the cultural, social, ecological or even meteorological context. The absence of any human figure in the photos render the alienation even more striking.
In all of places that I photographed, developers almost always feel that they need to build a golf course in their development in order to attract homebuyers, the photographer told Fototazo. Even though many residents do not play golf, it provides them with a feeling of luxury, leisure and well-being, just as does the palm tree. Not only is the green golf course crucial, but so is the green lawn around one's house, even if one lives in a desert. Obviously water problems are thus also universal in sprawl built in sunny, arid climates, where much of the building has occurred in the recent future.
The other common element to sprawl all over the world is the dependency on the car and the pollution, the lack of social interaction and the alienation that this creates. Also it results in that those who cannot drive, the youth and many elderly, become immobile.
The exhibition is accompanied by a series of facts and figures related to the issue of urban sprawl and mass construction. Bear with me, the texts exhibited were in spanish. Often translated from english. I couldn't always find the original so i did a reverse translation back to english:
- Dubai is the fastest growing city in the world. Some 20% of the cranes in the world are working there.
- Dubai 2009: " At the airport, hundreds of cars have apparently been abandoned in recent weeks. Keys are left in the ignition and maxed out credit cards and apology letters in the glove box."
United Kingdom, 2006:
Fototazo has an interview with the photographer.
Anonymization is at La Casa Encendida in Madrid through May 26, 2013.
For the first time in my life, i'm happy with Iberia services. They cancelled my flight from Gijón to Madrid and i was informed at the last minute that i was booked on a plane that departed before dawn. The new schedule meant that i'd have to wait 8 hours for my connecting flight in Barajas airport (stunning architecture, crap-est over-priced food in the entire universe.) I decided i would take the opportunity generously bestowed upon me by the dreadful airline and do something more interesting than spend hours in duty free shops. I left Barajas, took the metro to the center of Madrid, got a decent meal and visited an exhibition.
The lunch wasn't memorable but the show was a joy. Post-it City. Occasional urbanities - Ciudades ocasionales at Centro Centro looks into temporary occupations of public space that appear on the fringe of urban-planning. Neither authorities nor architects have planned these informal uses of space. Whether they emerge for commercial, recreational, sexual or survival reasons, post-it practices answer needs that the city isn't able to answer adequately.
Post-it City phenomena emphasise the reality of the urban territory as the place where distinctive uses and situations legitimately overlap, in opposition to the growing pressures to homogenise public space. In contrast to the ideals of the city as a place of consensus and consumption, temporary occupations of space reaffirm use value, reveal different needs and lacks that affect given collectives, and even promote creativity and the subjective imagination.
From another standpoint, the temporary activities that contaminate public space with numerous para-architectural artefacts enable reflection on urban experience to redirect its attention towards the minuscule, thus correcting the arrogance of traditional architecture.
The exhibition has been touring for a few years and i even got my hands on the catalogue a while ago. I can't seem to be able to locate it right now but it's available on Amazon USA and UK. The show is packed with fantastic information, photographs and stories. I wish i could talk about every single one of them but that won't be necessary as all the projects have been listed on the Post-it City website. Here's a small selection:
Every Autumn, the Orthodox Jewish neighbourhoods in Brooklyn, New York, are sprinkled with temporary outdoor structures called sukkah. People live there for 7 days as a way to remember the fragile dwellings in which the Israelites dwelt during their 40 years of travel in the desert after the Exodus from slavery in Egypt.
Another of Francisca Benítez's photo series is part of Post-It City. The images show bundles nesting in Parisian trees. They are the personal belongings of Afghani immigrants. In July 2005, two months before the Paris riots, Benítez recorded every tree next to the Gare de l'Est. (Illegal) immigrants stack there their possessions while waiting for another odd job, for continuing their journey.
The photo documentation that most shocked me is Old Wreck City. Federica Verona and Cecilia Pirovano investigated what they call 'the city of abandoned cars' in Milan. Abandoned and stolen cars become a refuge where homeless Italians or foreigners sleep, eat, drink and take shelter from the rain and people's gazes. The images are accompanied by the story of some of the people who sleep in cars. Some of them have slept there for years, continuously or between jobs, some are couple waiting to be allocated social housing.
Unlike European cemeteries, Cairo's historic cemeteries are not walled, they open onto the city, even merging with it. Driven by the difficulty of finding a home in the overcrowded city, some people have established their living space inside Cairo's cemeteries. Authorities do not officially recognise these informal settlements even though they supply them with water and light.
The Cora Garrido Boxe Centre in São Paulo is a social institution as well as a gymnasium established below the motorway. The non-profit and free center seeks to attract marginalised people - the homeless, former addicts and prisoners, children and teenagers at risk - and to promote actions to bring about social reintegration through sport.
The gymnasium uses makeshift equipment. Lorry tyres are transformed into sand bags, lorry axles become barbells and shock absorbers converted into strength-training equipment.
Each year, the "Day of the Dead" and "All Saints" see thousands of people visit their forefathers in the cemeteries of La Paz and El Alto. The commemorative event is also a festive ritual in which music is played and people are invited to take fruit, bread, drinks or coca that have been laid out to receive the souls of the departed. Informal markets are set up between graves and children's games appear where prayers are swapped for food and drink.
Bas Princen's photos are always worth mentioning. The exhibition is showing a few photos from Utopian Debris, a photo series that attempts to illustrate the future of urbanism and landscape.
The first photograph below shows the section of a construction site which is excavating the ground under an existing village, and the second one, the sand-storage area for the construction of the Olympic Park in Beijing. Both demonstrate how the artificial nature of places is temporarily disguising itself as the natural.
Post-it City. Occasional urbanities - Ciudades ocasionales remains open at Centro Centro in Madrid through 19 February 2012. Entrance is free.