4:29pm Van Nuys, 2012

Compulsion, an exhibition of new work by Alex Prager, i saw a few days ago at Michael Hoppen gallery is so impressive I'm breaking out of my habit of writing about exhibitions mere hours before they close.

In Prager's part film noir, part fashion shoot work, heroines wear impeccable make-up and synthetic wigs, pose as if they were in a Hitchcock movie, breathe through an atmosphere worthy of David Lynch, and are submitted to ordeals inspired by the images of crime photographers Weegee and Enrique Metinides. The stories might take place in Hollywood-like settings but they promise to never end on a happy note.

The Compulsion in the title might refer to our compulsion to gape at other people's tragedy. Underlining the voyeur theory are the dramatic close-ups of eyes that accompany some of the stills.

3:56 am, Milwood Avenue, 2012

1:18pm Silverlake Drive, 2012

4:01pm Sun Valley, 2012

Eye #3, 2012


Eye #7, 2012

11:45pm Griffith Park, 2012

3:14pm Pacific Ocean, 2012

2pm, Interstate 110, 2012

7:12pm Redcliff Ave, 2012

Compulsion #1, 2012

Along with the colour photographs, the artist is showing La Petite Mort, a short film starring French actress, Judith Godrèche.

La petite mort, literally "the small death," is a French idiom for orgasm. In Prager's film, we hear the voice of Gary Oldman saying that "the act of dying, and the act of transcendent love, are two experiences cut from the same cloth."

The main protagonist of the short film navigates the mystery of death through a series of experiences that involves being ran over by a steam train, being stared at by a gathering of stern-looking people, meeting a man and drowning in a river. The action unfolds very slowly but somehow all of the above takes place in a couple of minutes.

Film Still #1, 2012

Film Still #4, 2012

Film Still #5, 2012

If you're in London, New York or (lucky you!) Los Angeles, go and see that show.

La Petite Mort (Trailer.) Written and Directed by Alex Prager

Alex Prager's Compulsion is showing at the Michael Hoppen Gallery, London until May 26. The work is also shown at Yancey Richardson Gallery in New york until May 19, and at M+B Gallery, LA until May 12.

Sponsored by:

Joshua Ben Longo for the Renegade Craft Fair

In the Winter of 2007 i found myself in a small cinema in Mitte, Berlin, to watch my first Pictoplasma screening. It was a lazy weekend, i didn't feel like staying at home working. I loved the animations so much that i came back for the other screenings and for the conferences. When the festival was over, i bought the books and DVDs. Then i went to Pictoplasma US premiere in New York city. After that, i always planned to attend other editions of Pictoplasma but new media art and interaction design kept me busy elsewhere.

Pictoplasma focuses on contemporary character design and art. Not little humans, not animals. Characters! Whether illustration, animation, graphic design, fashion, street or fine art - the emphasis is not on the limits of style or format, but on the shared dedication to explore character-driven aesthetics.

It looks like i'll miss the festival again went it opens in New York city in early November. One thing is sure though, when the festival stops at La Gaite Lyrique in Paris in December, I'll be there with note book, popcorn and camera to document the character party. In the meantime, i thought i'll cure my nostalgia for Pictoplasma with a series of interviews with several character designers/artists. As you will see in the coming weeks, they are quite different from each other.

Big Monster, 2008

Belly, 2011. 22in x 36in Acrylic, Ink

I'll kick off the series with Joshua Ben Longo.

Joshua trained as a Industrial Designer at Pratt Institute. He quickly moved away from the world of commercial design and started working on independent projects which includes sculpture, furniture, elaborate exhibits, and illustration. He has shown his design and art pieces in the US and in Europe. In 2010, he was asked to design monsters for the re-branding of o2 Germany. He currently teaches 3-D design and drawing at Pratt Institute and is a design consultant to the fashion and home industries. If that were not enough, Joshua also writes music and makes movies.

I can't remember having smiled so much while reading an interview i was about to post on the blog.

Sketch for The Sha

Hi Joshua! The world you design is never gloomy but it has its dark sides. It's populated with monsters, decapitated animals and disquieting creatures. How is the everyday co-habitation with this menagerie like? Is it pleasant to live with them? Don't they give you nightmare sometimes?

My house is currently filled with my work, but I don't see them anymore. They peacefully coexist in my space. My mind is so preoccupied with what I have to do that day, that I rarely stop and talk with my work. I should more. I never considered my work dark, I don't even see them as monsters anymore. They are more like children or pets. I love them. buttttttttttt......I have nightmares on at least once a week. I often wake up and not know where I am. I sit up and bed and see people and things moving around my room. Sometimes these visions scare me and sometimes they don't. I don't know that the two are related, but that's why we have psychologists and art critics.

Monster Skin, 2006-07

I'm crazy about your Monster Skin Rug. Then i saw the price. You sell other more affordable pieces but it's still the rug that i keep looking at. Have you ever thought of using cheaper materials so that you could sell more of your rugs to the masses and me? Or would that completely devalorize your work in a metaphorical as well as a financial way?

The monster skin rug has been received very well and continues to get me attention and press. The original rug was made with cashmere, was hand cut and was hand sewn. It took about a month to finish. I now get the scales die cut and use a high quality dense wool felt, but it still takes at least a week to sew. Just the materials alone cost a few hundred (US) dollars. I'm sure I could make in china for cheaper using cheaper material, but that was never the plan. I am interested in mass producing the rug, which will bring down the cost, but I want to make a high quality product that is respected for not only the idea, but the craftsmanship and materials used. I don't want to make cheap shit that will degrade over time and end up in a landfill. I would rather make a quality product that will last and stand the test of time.

I will likely mass produce the rug or license it to someone at some point, but I have been busy with other projects. My attention has been on gallery shows and special projects these past few years. With all that said, I try to make pieces that are more affordable, but everything is still handmade by me.

Longoland x VCCP x o2, 2010. Monster commercial

The German ads for O2 are hilarious. I'm curious about the way the project developed. At which point did you intervene? Did the company have very clear idea of where they wanted to go or were you asked to come up with most of the scenario?

I was approached by VCCP to design monsters for a new phone ad campaign. The details are fuzzy, but the story goes like this......one of the head creatives had purchased a small piece of my work while traveling in Brooklyn at the only store/gallery that I was showing at the time. The piece has been a unofficial mascot of the office for a few years and when the idea came up to use monsters for a commercial I was called.

It is my understanding that they pitched my work to the client as the overall feel for the commercial..........I was given the treatment and asked how much it would take to do what I do........ but for their client....... and that was it. It took about a two weeks to design the monsters and get them approved. It was quick and they looked 98% the way I wanted them too. (I'm never completely satisfied)... I did not storyboard the work , but I did make suggestions on movements, noises, and the overall fatness of each creature. This was also the first time the creatures were not made by my hands. That was hard trusting someone else especially since my name was going to be attached to it, but unknown to me they used the production studio that built the monsters for the Hellboy movies. They were in good hands.

The hardest part was dealing with all the legal aspects that are involved in licensing your art's likeness to a commercial client. I also learned people in advertising make a lot of money.......

There best part about this story ......I had recently got myself in a difficult situation and was living in a 8ft x 8ft room at my parents. All of my belongs were stacked up to the ceiling around my inflatable mattress and my cpu. I was on a conference call with the account manager in London and the creatives in Germany negotiating the creative terms of the project. My mother knocks on the door loudly and screams "DO YOU WANT A SANDWICH? I'M MAKING PEANUT BUTTER AND JELLY?" (I was 29 at the time).... I respond.... "I'm on a very important phone call, could you please give me a minute."........ My mother responds...."NO YOU'RE NOT, DO YOU WANT A SANDWICH OR NOT?"... I don't know that I captured the absurdity of the moment, but it was precious.


Longoland x VCCP x o2, 2010. Concept sketches

Longoland x VCCP x o2, 2010. Concept sketch

Character from the commercial Longoland x VCCP x o2, 2010

I read in your bio page that you also work as a design consultant to the fashion and home industries. What are you working on exactly with them? Monster furniture and body-eating dresses?

I lead a triple life.... I also used to tour in a post rock band, but I had slow down a bit. I create art under the name Longoland, I teach Industrial Design classes at Pratt Institute, and I consult for a list of companies generating income to cover my bills. I am a trained and seasoned industrial designer with work all over the world, but my name is not attached to it. I am usually brought in to generate ideas for whatever style or aesthetic they are going for. Or just to make crap with peace signs on it. For instance these past few years I created art that was printed on beach towels... They have recently ended up in a series of pornography. I attached an edited photo safe for all viewers. I'm a design chameleon or mercenary of sorts. In the past few years I have spent more time on Longoland and hope to do more commercial projects through Longoland, but until then I will continue designing chandeliers, forks, tabletop, beach towels, tshirt graphics, and anything else people ask me to do.


Decapitated Deer Head w/Fuzzy Parasite

How would you feel if you were told that you are not allowed to create monsters anymore? Never ever again? Would you still want to work as an artist and designer?

I don't think I would ever stop making art or drawing. I have been painting and drawing more recently and have filled countless sketchbooks with subway drawings......but if none of that was possible I would write music for movies and become a stand up comedian. I love making and hearing people laugh. I want to stand up on stage and entertain.

So Hush You Little Ones, 2010. Solo Show @ RA Antwerp

Do you have any advice for 'character artists' who would like to get as much recognition as you have?

I think it is important to have a unique voice with your art. My influences are obvious to me in my work, but I unintentionally created an aesthetic that runs consistent with all my work. Overtime this helps distinguish yourself from others. You also have to do whatever you are doing better than anyone else. Lots of people do monsters, but no one is a better Longoland than me. The less you worry about recognition, the better. I love press, interviews, and exposure, but it is all very fleeting. It helps your cause by exposing your work to others and potentially making a living on what you love. The reason you get real press is by doing work you love, not because everyone else loves it... that comes as a bonus. I never thought the rug would be become what it became for me. You don't want to get in a cycle of trying to anticipate people loving what you do. The work gets safe and you never evolve. That's why I stay away from the rug. I made it in 2006.

My head is in a totally different place now.... I'm ranting. I obviously think about this a lot. I love attention. I want it all the time. I want my inbox to be filled with praise and orders and requests for shows. You just have to do what you love and all of the other shit will fall into place. It helps if you have that mother tells you "You are special and handsome" all the time.

The Sha, 2010

What are you going to show at Pictoplasma?

I am not sure yet. I have some ideas, but I want people to laugh and walk away saying, "That Josh, He sure is special and handsome, I am going to give him a million dollars to make that dream movie no one knows about".

From Joshua Ben Longo's sketchbook, 2008

From Joshua Ben Longo's sketchbook, 2011

Any upcoming project you would like to share with us?

I am finishing up a few furniture commissions, made some masks for a music video soon to be released, and potentially working on a great project with this snowboard fashion company.... I started a website to show my painting, illustration, animation not directly related to Lonogland. Otherwise I am writing more and want to start making more movie shorts and animations. I will also be speaking at this years NYC Pictoplasma conference. I will be speaking about Longoland, process, buttholes, and trying to make people laugh. Please do come out.

Thanks Joshua!

The Little White Three, 2008

Pictoplasma NYC conference takes place on 4 + 5 November 2011 at Parsons The New School for Design. The exhibition will be open on 3 - 6 November 2011.

Photo credit: Elisa Giardina Papa

In October 2005, a mysterious, maple syrup-like smell was floating over the streets of New York. The odour vanished as inexplicably as it had appeared and came back a few years later. In 2009, an inquiry revealed that the smell probably came from a New Jersey fragrance processing factory.

Almost every product in US supermarkets have some kind of flavor or fragrance added. Many of those come from New Jersey fragrance and flavor plants. In fact, the Meadowlands of Northern New Jersey have one of the highest concentrations of artificial flavoring factories in the world.

screen 44shot of coming home.jpg
Photo credit: Elisa Giardina Papa

Artist Jon Cohrs, wilderness guide Ryan Van Luit and camera-woman Elisa Giardina Papa traveled by canoe down the Hackensack River, visiting various artificial flavoring factories of New Jersey, planting their tents along the way and cooking with Doritos, Tofurkey and other products that contain artificial flavors "in an attempt to bridge our understanding of the natural and artificial."

The second part of The Spice Trade Expedition will be a vérité film that explores the shifting definition of what is "natural".

Footage The Spice Trade Expedition

Curious blogger that i am, I contacted Jon Cohrs to ask him about The Spice Trade Expedition and some of his other projects. When he's not camping and canoeing in New Jersey, Jon is working on creating high-end salt containing antidepressants from local water, writing a book on urban wilderness, teaching at at Parson, The New School for Design and researching sonic weapons with Audint. Finally, there's one work most of you are probably familiar with: his Urban Prospector, a DIY, cheapo oil-sniffing tool.

Jon + Tent33.jpg
Photo credit: Elisa Giardina Papa

Hi Jon! The ultimate goal of Spice Trade is to produce a documentary. How far are you in the filming/editing process?

The ultimate goal of the trip is to experience the landscape from the perspective of an exploration; to travel by canoe, camp out on the landscape, live in it for a many days, and experience what it really is like. The documentary explores questions the trip raised, and how the landscape mirrors our experience with food. In addition, we are interviewing people we met along the way, local experts, and others related to artificial flavoring. We will be working on a short edit this spring and then applying to grants to raise additional money to do a full edit in the fall.

jon+ryan33 in pumping station.jpg
Photo credit: Elisa Giardina Papa

In the trailer of the documentary you explain that all along the expedition you will be eating food that has been locally and artificially flavoured. How did the experiment go? Did you suffer from any side-effect? Did you expect to get dreadful results similar to the ones experienced by Morgan Spurlock, the Director of Supersize Me?

Eating artificial foods wasn't a big part of the trip. The emphasis of the project is really on the environment and how it relates to the surrounding industry, particularly through food and the aspect of flavor. What I find particularly fascinating is that the landscape parallels the food that is generated there; both confuse our senses about whats real and what is artificial.

As follow up to our initial trip, we took 10 more people out for a 2 day trip just after Thanksgiving. Everyone camped out and we cooked a mixture of local foods, including Goya and other New Jersey processed products, and we ate a combination of processed foods and natural foods. It was set up like a Thanksgiving feast out on top of an abandoned dump overlooking the Hackensack River, with a great view of the Manhattan skyline behind us. We all huddled around a warm fire and cooked our various dishes from which all sorts of discussions grew out of the bizarre environment we were camped out in, and foods we were eating.


Based on your discoveries about artificial flavours, do you have any piece(s) of advice for us? Flavours to avoid at all cost for some reason? Or flavours that we might want to try? Did your findings change the way you look at food and labels?

There is no real advice I can give except that the environments we tend to avoid can be some of the more exciting ones to explore, but that's old news. With regards to flavors, it's a really complex issue, but one thing is clear: no one has a clue what those ingredients and flavors mean. We've talked to several flavoring companies but we haven't gotten any clear answers or explanations. More to come on that soon.

Interview with Dr. Sandra Sherman, Spice Historian, Fordham IP Institute

By the way, did you start this research with the objective of denouncing the evil of artificial flavouring? Or did you have a more neutral approach?

The approach to the subject matter is a decidedly neutral. There is no way of understanding what is in the flavorings or in most processed foods by simply looking at the labels, so it seemed appropriate to begin exploring and researching this by canoe, since many of the companies are concentrated in a post-industrial area that feels both very natural yet clearly artificial.

canoe000- arthur kill.jpg
Photo credit: Elisa Giardina Papa

Did you discover why there is such a concentration of artificial flavour factories in the meadowlands of New Jersey?

We asked several people about this but there is no clear answer. One theory may be simply the relative proximity to NYC, a historic trading haven for spices and foods. Another theory is that it grew out of the large chemical industry in northern New Jersey that has existed for years.

Photo credit: Elisa Giardina Papa

How open where the companies you interviewed to answer your questions?

They were not at all interested. They are notoriously tight-lipped about their recipes and concoctions for various flavors. But in our case we were more interested in talking with their PR representatives about what it means to confuse the senses the disconnect it represents. But surprisingly few flavor companies have PR representatives because they only deal with wholesalers or custom orders from food manufactures so there's no need nor interest in talking with the public. This has been our biggest hurtle; not only are they very secretive, they simply don't know what to do when some one approaches them with questions. We've spoken with several researchers who are well informed on the industry but the golden egg has eluded us so far. But we have a few more tricks up our sleeve, and will no doubt have the conversions we're interested in, it just may take time.


You participated to Zero1 with Alviso's Medicinal All-Salt, a hand-harvest salt enriched with pharmaceuticals found in natural water systems. Did you try and have people actually buy/consume the salt? How did the public react to it?

Alviso's Medicinal All-Salt was a collaboration with Morgan Levy from UC Berkeley. Most of the U.S. water supply has various pharmaceuticals in them, from both from humans and livestock. We wanted to harvest them and create a perfect aggregate of what America is taking to heal itself and then turn around and sell it in cure-all salty solution. We sold the salt at the festival, online, and at an organic foods street fair. The public reaction in San Jose was good but obviously it's a very open and left-leaning audience. The more interesting responses happened online where we were able to reach a larger non-traditional audience through various blogs. Its important to reach this online audience because that's were one can challenge peoples assumptions and break through the noise.

I'd like to come back to an 'older' project of yours, the Urban Prospector. The project has been shown at several high profile art festivals but i also read that you were hoping to reach out to other audiences. Can you explain us how you imagine that the UP could be used in neigbourhoods and communities?

The urban prospector is tool designed to explore various types of the toxic compounds in ones neighborhood. It was released as a kit, and instruction set with simple steps so anyone could buy an old metal detector and build their own oil prospecting tool. It has real practical use in creating a tangible understanding of the chemicals, particularly hydrocarbons, found in our neighborhoods. It was designed to address the fifty year old oil spill in Greenpoint, NY. Traditionally our only exposure to this information is through abstract maps that don't convey the physicality or immediacy of the exposure and damage. I think this abstraction through data-visualization can quickly confuse viewers and locals because the data cannot be viewed beyond a conceptual realm. To wander through your backyard and neighborhood with a tool creates a connection with the environment and its current state not possible through news and data.

Another important aspect is to engage people to explore their neighborhoods through a playful narrative around the idea of prospecting and getting rich, while simultaneously suggesting greed as a powerful motivator for corporate involvement in cleanup. For me, its important to address serious issues with a degree of humor, so that the issue doesn't become overwhelming leaving the people feeling powerless.

Photo by Gaby Steiner

And more importantly did the Urban Prospector make you rich?

Yeah, I no longer drink drip coffee. I've moved up to espresso.

Photo credit: Elisa Giardina Papa

Any upcoming project you'd want to share with us?

The Spice Trade film project will be in production for at-least another 9 months or more. In the meantime I will be launching another version of my analog TV stations in Montreal for the Canadian digital transition. We're updating the code, and have revised the web-scraper, and releasing it on git.hub. The website is OMGimon.tv and will begin broadcasting live again the first week of May.

At the end of May I have a show with a collaboration called Audint, together with Toby Hayes, Steve Goodman - author of "Sonic Warfare" (MIT Press), and myself, at Art in General that will explore the impact of sonic weapons and their use. In addition, we hope to reverse engineer a infrasonic speaker and explore its impact. In June, we will also be organize a conference with scientists, industry representatives, artists + musicians, and military representatives to discuss the use of sound as a weapon, which will (tentatively) held at Eyebeam.

Thanks Jon!

This is not going to be my favourite project by Wafaa Bilal (and you know how much i like his work) but if tattoo is what it take to get people's attention on the issue then he has my full support.

Whether he becomes the target of a paintball machine that could be triggered by any keyboard across the world or whether he hacks his way into an al-Qaida game to play the role of a suicide bomber, Bilal knows better than many artists or activists how to drag people out of what he calls "their comfort zone" and make them face issues they might otherwise not be willing to engage with.

His latest project addresses the issue of the invisibility of Iraqi civilian deaths during the war.

Wafaa Bilal's brother Haji was killed by a missile at a checkpoint in their hometown of Kufa, Iraq in 2004. Bilal feels the pain of both American and Iraqi families who've lost loved ones in the war, but the deaths of Iraqis like his brother are largely invisible to the American public.

...and Counting addresses this double standard as Bilal submits his body to a 24-hour live performance. His back will be tattooed with a borderless map of Iraq covered with one dot for each Iraqi and American casualty near the cities where they fell. The 5,000 dead American soldiers are represented by red dots (permanent visible ink), and the 100,000 Iraqi casualties are represented by dots of green UV ink. During the performance people from all walks of life read off the names of the dead.


The performance will take place at the Elizabeth Foundation for the Arts in New York on March 8th at 8pm. Bilal is asking visitors to donate $1 which will go to the group Rally for Iraq, to fund scholarships for Americans and Iraqis who lost parents in the war.

Previously: Positions in Flux - Panel 1: Art goes politics - Wafaa Bilal, Book Review - Shoot An Iraqi, Art, Life and Resistance Under the Gun and A few words with Wafaa Bilal.
Related entry: Baghdad Calling: Reports from Turkey, Syria, Jordan and Iraq.

Untitled Installation (2017)

New York-based Lebanese artist Walid Raad AKA The Atlas Group has been one of my favorite artists ever since I saw his work at Documenta 11 back in 2002. His technique of taking a grain of history and constructing elaborate narratives around it works extremely well, especially when talking about the often painful history of Lebanon and its civil war. Raad's work moves effortlessly between the factual and the poetic while maintaining one of the sharpest political edges in contemporary art.

His recent show at Paula Cooper Gallery in Chelsea, NY was titled Things I Could Disavow: A History of Art in the Arab World. It reflected on the the recent emergence of a new infrastructure for the visual arts in the Arab world, something that Raad himself has been affected by. Accordingly, in one of the pieces, his own body of work becomes the subject of a narrative in which an exhibition of The Atlas Group shrunk.

Interestingly, many texts about the show refer to it as a stage for a play to be acted out and Raad has given performative lectures in this setting at various occasions. In those lectures, he quotes from Jalal Toufic's The Withdrawal of Tradition Past a Surpassing Disaster, an essay about the famous opening sequence of Alain Resnais' Hiroshima Mon Amour. Toufic writes that after an event like Hiroshima or the Lebanese civil war, a whole tradition could possibly vanish and Raad suggests that it might be the task of art to "acknowledge and reveal this withdrawal, reflecting the absence of a living being, as mirrors do in vampire movies".

These are some of the pieces from the show, accompanied by excerpts of the labels which appear to be as much part of the work as everything else:

Appendix XXVI: Artists (2009)

This work is based on the names of artists who worked in Lebanon in the past century. In 2002, artists from the future sent me these names by way of telepathy and/or thought insertion and/or using a future technology. That same year, I displayed the names in Beirut in white vinyl letters on a white wall.

Due to a telepathic and/or thought-insertion and/or technical glitch, one name (at least) seems to have reached me in distorted form and was misspelled. Johnny Tahan. It was corrected in red pencil by an unsympathetic critic, a self appointed guardian of Lebanese art and artists.

I spent the last seven years researching the misspelled artist's life and works, after which I concluded that future artists intentionally distorted Tahan's name. They were not hailing past "artists" and their works but the color red in the critic's hand-written corrections.

On Walid Sadek's Love Is Blind (2008)

Walid must have sensed that what drew me to his installation was not his work and even less Farroukh's paintings. He must have sensed that I was literally after the shadows that shaped his walls and captions.

And that in this regard, I didn't need his permission because these shadows move independently of Sadek's will, and are prone to irrupting here and there, in forms other than shadows.

The Atlas Group (2009)

Between 1989 and 2004, I worked on a project titled The Atlas Group. It consisted of photographs, videotapes and sculptures made possible by the Lebanese wars of the past few decades.

In 2005 I was asked to exhibit this project for the first time at the Sfeir-Semler Gallery, the first of its kind white cube space in Beirut. [...]

When I went to the gallery to inspect my exhibition, I was surprised to find that all my artworks had shrunk. I decided to display them in a space befitting their new dimensions.

Appendix XVIII: Plates 88-107 (2009)

It is also clear that these wars affected colors, lines, shapes and forms. [...]

I expected such colors, lines, shapes and forms to hide in paintings, sculptures, films, photographs and drawings. I thought that artworks would be their most hospitable hosts. I was wrong. Instead, they took refuge in Roman and Arabic letters and numbers; in circles, rectangles and squares; in yellow, blue and green.

They dissimulated as fonts, covers, titles, indices; as the graphic lines and footnotes of books; as letters, dissertations and catalogues; as diagrams and spreadsheets; as budgets and price lists. They planted themselves inside frames that circulated not front and center but on the periphery of Lebanon's cultural landscape.

Bigger images.

Ayah Bdeir is a media artist, engineer and interaction designer whose work I've been following her work for a few years from the time she was graduating from MIT Media Lab. She is now an artist fellow at Eyebeam in New York.

Her most recent project aims to contribute to the democratization of technology and the explosion of creativity by challenging black-boxed technology but also our absent-minded consumption of all things new, pre-packaged and electronic.

littleBits is a growing library of preassembled circuit boards, made easy by tiny magnets. All logic and circuitry is pre-engineered, so you can play with electronics without knowing electronics. Tiny magnets act as connectors and enforce polarity, so you can't put things in the wrong way. And all the schematics will be shared under an opensource license so you can download, upload, suggest new bits and hopefully see them come to life.

I went to see the littleBits exhibition while i was in New York, the bits and pieces looked like precious candies in a square glass frame, the way littleBits works seems indeed to be very accessible even for clichés like me who need assistance when the light bulb is burnt out. But that doesn't mean i don't have questions for Ayah:


littleBits' library is growing. do you see an end to the list of littelBits modules you'll have to develop?

Part of the reason why the version1 of littleBits took time to come out is that we wanted to really focus on making a solid platform that's extendable. the littleBits have 3 lines, a power line, a signal line and a ground line, and a huge amount of things we can think of at this time can somehow fit into the platform. The main trick is to think in terms of interaction design. For every new module, we think: what are the behaviors we would need the module to do? and we pre-program the module to do those behaviors, providing some ability to control (buttons, switches knobs, etc). However, of course, some modules will be too complex or big to be able to get away with interaction design in order to embody their experience . For example so far, i am not sure how to develop a useful multitouch screen.

Speaker littleBits

How do you imagine to spread littleBits around? Would you sell them in kits or organize workshops and invite people to design and craft their own based on your experience?

Both. Right now the starter kit is for sale, and soon more advanced and extended kits will be available, and also individual bits. But also, more importantly i would like to organize workshops where we give the littleBits to people and ask them to make something, and see how people with different interests and backgrounds interpret the idea of 'geeky fun'. Eventually we are going to set up a littleBits gallery online where people can post their creations and show off their stuff.

I'm also hoping that a community will form around littleBits. People who suggest their own modules, who design them, who make them, who buy them, hopefully they can spread the word and bring them into their work and play places. It started a little, we had over 500 people on our mailing list before the bits were even ready.


Even if littleBits makes prototyping easier, most people still need to know the basics about how electrical systems work. Is that something that the project addresses as well?

A lot of these issues, we try to address that through design. i worked with Luma Shihab-Eldin who did all graphics for littleBits to come up with a way to explain electronic circuits in an easy way. For example: the bits are divided into 4 categories, with each category represented by a color (see attachment): Power (magenta), Input (blue), Output (green) and Wire (orange). And the instructions tell you, to make a circuit you need one magenta, at least one green and then blue and orange are optional. Also, as i was saying above, we are looking at electronic modules as if they were electronic appliances. Just like a blender has 3 modes and 3 buttons to control speed of the motor, some littleBits have controls on the board, a potentiometer to adjust length of time (pulse module), a switch to determine direction of rotation (dc motor module), etc.


So like electronic appliances, most functions are pre-programmed. But eventually if people want to do more sophisticated things with electronics, they have to learn. we are hoping with littleBits will make electronics sexy, and when you see how empowering it is, then you will want to learn more, as opposed to thinking it's too hard and boring.


Why did you chose magnets? is it simply because magnets are 'fun' as your video says?

The idea for magnets came from a very unusual place. i was doing another project with electronic panties from syria (www.haniyassecrets.com). And in one of them, the panty was held up by an electro magnet, that was remote controlled. So at the time Jeff Hoefs and I were struggling to find tiny, polarized connectors but still be easy to assemble (as opposed to molex connectors etc), and then it hit me: Magnets! magnets are electrically conductive, easy to put together, and will litterally prevent you from connecting littleBits the wrong way no matter how hard you try. The fun part was just an added bonus.


What are the next steps for the project?

The immediate next step is maker faire. I will be going to maker faire in San Mateo on may 30th and 31st and selling the littleBits starter kit and trying to present them to talk to people and get feedback. then the next step is to focus on developing a strong web platform for people to share littleBits ideas and schematics through. And after that to do workshops, try to test littleBits out in high schools and design schools, and see how that goes. Of course, along the way, always to continue to develop new modules!

Thanks Ayah!

Also by Ayah Bdeir: SP4M. D0 Y OU SWA1LOW? and random search.
Images Jonathan Hokklo 2009, more on littleBits exhibition page.

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