The dream of self-sufficiency and sustainability has become true. Everyone is now able to produce goods, to communicate with anyone without being charged or tracked and to fulfill their basic needs without forgoing modern conveniences.
Cruiser Charisma intertwines extrapolations about the latest (and upcoming) advances in technologies with a series of research trips that designer Jonas Loh made into intentional communities, groups of people who attempt to establish their own society on a micro-scale. He visited Earthaven which is ruled by community consensus and divided in small villages, went to see what remained of the ethics and ideals of The Farm and even made a trip to Berlin, Ohio, to get to know the Amish lifestyle built around religious beliefs and resistance to modernity.
The project also professes faith into D.I.Y. and open source movement which could one day take technologies that are currently out of you and i -such as synthetic biology, genetic engineering, bio-printing and new form of production methods- out of the hands of venture capitalists and politicians and into everybody else's backyard.
The outcome of the project is utopian, yet credible: a caravan which will run on advanced biofuels, whose inhabitants will be able to produce all kinds of goods and organic materials thanks to a 3D printing production unit, eat synthetic protein rich meat that will be grown through a new generation of plants, recycle their poo to produce energy and experiment with new ways of community living.
Interestingly residents would communicate over long distance using the Earth-Moon-Earth, aka moon bounce, a radio communications technique developed after World War II. The system relies on the propagation of radio waves from an Earth-based transmitter directed via reflection from the surface of the Moon back to an Earth-based receiver. The residents of the caravan selected this form of long-distance communication because it is not yet privatized and because their personal data doesn't get tracked.
The project explores the possibility to reach a total state of self-sufficiency and with it a different social, political and economical system.
Back to Berlin where a few weeks ago i was visiting the DMY design festival. As i explained the other day, the most exciting part of the exhibition was the MakerLab where visitors could discover, discuss and handle new technologies, materials, tools, open-source ideas and concepts. In the middle of this happy creative feast, a group of smiling girls were introducing visitors to the joys of mushroom cultivation. All 'in the comfort of their own home.'
Titled fungutopia, their work is an installation, a workshop, a prototype and a community-project.
In installation mode, Fungutopia demonstrates that mushrooms can be used as open source medicine, food, fertilizer and soil-recovery-method. Fungutopia is also a series of hands-on workshops that teach participants how to easily cultivate mushrooms in cities, even indoor.
The project is also accompanied by the DIY MUSHroom grow kit that combines Open Source Electronics with Biology to grow even more rare medicinal species year round indoor.
Finally, fungutopia is a community-project that attempts to bring together people for urban fungiculture and share knowledge and experience.
Laura Popplow, the creator of Fungutopia, was kind enough to answer my questions:
How did you get interested in fungi and rare medicinal species of fungi?
Fungutopia is my master thesis at the Academy of Media Arts in Cologne (in the department of hybrid space) but already started more than a year ago and will hopefully go on. I started being interested in mushrooms in general and some medical mushrooms especially because i was searching for some natural method to remediate soil of old industrial areas and because my father, who is working with cancer-patients told me about some special fungi that were very promising in cancer therapy some years ago. This came first together in the work FUNGIFICTION with Tine Tillmann.
I collaborate on the topics of medical fungis with Tine Tillmann since 2010 when we worked together on an installation about fungi as remediators of contaminated soil in the ruhr area for the ISEA2010 in Dortmund. Our collaboration there was named FUNGIFICTION and consisted of a video and a kind of science/shop/showroom installation that told the story of the RUHR REISHI, a fungus, that was left on the grounds of an old coal plant in Dortmund that was deconstructed for two years by Chinese workers. These workers left spores of the reishi, one of the most powerful medical mushrooms known especially in the Chinese traditional medicine. These reishi mushrooms not only remediated the contaminated coke plant soil, but also developed some extra-powers on this special soils. That's why a new mushroom research center was founded on the grounds of the old coke plant area by our collaborators from the Mushroom Research Center Austria to research and find out about this surprising phenomena, that was the start of a mushroom revolution in the Ruhr area, that changed not only the quality of the soils in the old heavy industry area but also was the starting point of a social change, bringing new medical, ecological and economical wealth to the people. The biggest part of this story is actually true, it's just some facts that we enhanced and dreamed a little further.
The collaboration with Tine Tillmann grew further when we exhibited a new work-in-progress of the idea of FUNGIFICTION at the Pixelache Festival in Helsinki this March. There, we developed the idea of creating mushroom cultivation methods on old military grounds like Soumenlinna island, where the exhibition took place. in Pixelache I also exhibited a first type of modell of a MUSHroom, a growing habitat for medical mushrooms. from the starting point of a mixture of fiction and reality i took more the direction of realising the utopia (at least in small parts) whereas Tine is working even more in the direction of (science-)fiction and utopia. Both approaches are working together on the idea how mushrooms can possibly save the world.
The fungutopia station is my practical approach to get people involved in mushroom cultivation and their abilities to recycle, clean, heal and even grow material. The installation for DMY was developed together with Kyra Porada, an exhibition designer and good friend of mine. Fungutopia is part of her master thesis at the FH Düsseldorf in exhibition design.
When i saw the fungutopia station at DMY Berlin, i was particularly surprised by the type of mushrooms you were cultivating. They are most unusual to me. Could you explain me which kind of mushrooms you cultivate and why?
The mushroom you mention is most likely known as reishi, lingh zhi or in latin ganoderma lucidum. It's the holy mushroom in Asia, where its medical powers are known already for thousands of years. it is used in the traditional Chinese medicine against a wide range of health problems and serious diseases: its powers especially in cancer therapy have been proofed also by Western medical studies. Apart from being the most potent medical fungus, it can develop an extraordinary shape, material and colour. That was what attracted me in the first place. When i first saw some rheishi mushrooms grown in shapes you would never expect to be a mushroom I thought this is what you can really call a kind of "natural art". Visitors tend to think it's an artificially made sculpture.
Plus: you can influence the fungus in its shape with the amount of CO2 during its growth. The more people around the room where it grows, the more coral-like it gets.
The text describing Fungutopia presents "mushroom culivation as a way to make the world a better place." That's ambitious. How can home mushroom cultivation achieve that?
There are several ways mushrooms are already helping to keep the world balanced. Mushrooms are basically the recycling system of nature. As they are an own species, they are able to "digest" which means that they transform and split up molecules. That's how they remediate soil or can also help to filter water. The mycelium, the essential part of the mushroom, mostly hidden in the ground is a rhizomatic network that mostly lives in symbiosis with plants. Some mushrooms such as the mycorrhizia mushrooms don't even form fruiting bodies but are working as natural fertilizers that enlarge with their rhizomatic structure the roots of the plants to get water and nutrients for them from the ground. 80-90% of all plants are living from this symbiosis. Paul Stamets, a famous mushroom cultivator describes different methods how mushrooms can save the world: as medicine, water filters, soil-remediators and even natural pesticides.
In my opinion mushrooms should be cultivated more widely in cities, because they have two characteristics that make them an ideal partner of urban agriculture: they don't need much space and ground and they don't need much light. Plus, they could help to clean city-soil and work as natural fertilizers for plants grown in urban agriculture.
Last but nor least: the mycelium can even produce material that could be used as isolating material in buildings. That's what ecovative design is already doing on an industrial scale. You can grow your own forms from mushrooms- amazing isn't it?
i believe that mushrooms could be able to help us in much more problems, we just don't know enough about them - and we are too afraid of them. To some people they are like aliens.
Could you describe me the prototype MUSHroom? What is it made of? How big is it? Are you supposed to leave it on a balcony or inside the house?
The prototype of MUSHroom is a small greenhouse with the possibility to control temperature and humidity through an arduino controller, which makes it possible to grow different mushrooms indoor. It is about 50cm X 50cm X 50cm made out of triangles and squares that form an cuboctahedron, one of the archimedean forms that were considered by Buckminster Fuller as a form of vector equilibrum. I hope to build it in the near future from plates made from bio-plastics. But so far it is made from glass or plexiglass. It's still in its first stage of development. The idea is to develop it further as a kind of open source project with the help of the mushroomcultivator community that is also quite active online and to develop some kind of modular kit. A role model for this is the windowfarms project and its distribution model.
How much time/commitment/care does it involve to cultivate these fairly rare mushrooms?
You don't need so much time, when you just start with a prepared substrate that you can order online in sealed plastic bags with an air filter. You will just need to take care when the fruiting bodies appear and you cut the bag to make them grow better. Then they need humidity and some of them need higher temperatures, but that depends on the species. Some of them also grow in our Western Europe climate conditions.
if you want to start your own mushroom cultivation from spores or mycelium, then you will need time to experiment and build some kind of mini laboratory with clean working conditions. But it's still possible - lots of people are developing methods to cultivate mushrooms at home in small scale solutions as a kind of hobby. They are also the people I want to get together with the online platform grow.fungutopia.org to work on further solutions for mushrooms cultivation in cities as a kind of community project like guerrilla gardening. People should get together to build small mushrooms laboratories to deliver substrates that enable people to easily grow fresh mushrooms in their neighbour community.
As i mentioned the other day, the most exciting part of DMY, the International Design Festival Berlin was the MakeLabs, an arena for experimenting with new technologies, materials, communication tools, open-source ideas and for exchanging concepts.
That's where i met Bartaku aka Bart Vandeput from FoAM, a Brussels-based research group and laboratory for speculative culture. Bart was leading the Temporary photoElectric Digestopians (Fusing Cooking and Solar Tech with Design) lab which invited participants to discover the relation between light, food, body and electric energy and then work with edible materials to create 'e-tapas' that were to be ta(e)sted on the heliotropic tongue.
The TpED worklab series is a node of Bart's ongoing research "PhoEf: The Undisclosed Poésis of the Photovoltaic Effect." The project fuses arts, science and technology and looks into the micro and macro realms of Photovoltaics: the conversion of light energy into electrical energy.
Extract from a brief conversation with Bart follows...
Hi Bart! You recently lead a workshop called "Temporary photoElectric Digestopians (Fusing Cooking and Solar Tech with Design)" at DMY, the International Design Festival in Berlin. You invited participants to experiment with photovoltaics and food and cook 'e-tapas'. Can you explain us how the workshop unfolds? What are you and the participants doing and what is the outcome of the workshop?
The name of these series is TpED Worklabs. I prefer lab since this word expresses -more than workshop- the focus on experimentation, 'guided improvisation', the close link with old and new science, the use of less known materials and the way they are used, like f.i agar agar, an algae based gelatine that is used as a transparent top layer for a TpED.
The TpED Worklabs follow a fixed pattern, starting off with a short auto-presentation of the temporary collaborators, the explanation of the lab content, context and proceedings.
In case the lab runs more than a day, more elaborate and complex iterations emerge. F.i. at the TpED Worklab #3 at Textile Futures Deptmnt. of Central Saint Martins College for Art & Design in London, 90 TpED's were laid out on marzipan, interconnected with gold leaf, based on the design of a classic crystalline silicon solar panel.
What does solar technology brings to the cooking and tasting experience?
It makes it possible to express/comment on the connection between light energy, food energy (power plants) and body energy; the relation between kJoules and Watts.
The workshop is part of a broader research called "PhoEf: The Undisclosed Poésis of the Photovoltaic Effect." How did you get interested in studying and experimenting with the Photovoltaic Effect?
I used to start a PhoEf-talk by saying that 'two observations presumably lead to PhoEF:
The second one was at a Solar Fair in Germany, where -amongst the sun tanned promo-boys'n girls in big shiny stands, I came accross a Chinese vendor of solar cell water pumps. There I saw how shade can be a controller of aesthetics, patterns, rather then being an enemy (as it is for users of solar sys).'
It is more thoroughly explained here: PDF.
Where does that research extends beyond culinary experiments? Your bio refers to "micro-interventions." Can you explain us what these micro-interventions involve?
Maybe an example is at place here. In 2009/10 I was invited by artist collective Desire Machine Collective to do a residency 'on' the Periferry, on the Brahmaputra river in Guwahati, North-East India. This icon of the petrol society floating on the mighty and powerful Brahmaputra seemed for me the perfect context, offering huge contrast with the micro-energies I am mostly dealing with.
The process emerged into a work that tried to comment on the relation between the city and its energy flows, interweaving past, present and possible futures. Therefore the work - made with the help of Kiran Ganghadaran- consisted of a perfect mathematical bamboo spiral -designed to host power plants (suitable for solar cells) and to filter water, sun/shade controlled audio, a short video showing of a heliotropic ear cleaning session- and copper pots that bring the purified water back to the Brahmaputra. The spiral is mounted on top of the captain's hut, the tiniest available surface but also the most visible one, that is moving according to the dry and wet season towards (above) and away from the river boulevard...
All images courtesy of Bartaku.
Previously: DMY - International Design Festival Berlin.
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:
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.
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!
BOOM, the work in progress show at the Royal College of Art in London is on until February 11. Run to Kensington Gore now. You won't regret it. Architecture and Animation reserve some excellent surprises. And so does the Design Interactions department.
Under its rather unassuming name, The Toaster Project is probably the most ambitious project of the show. It is also a clever and humorous reflection on today's most burning issues such as sustainability, industrialization, mass consumption, child labour, DIY culture, etc. Its author, Thomas Thwaites is trying to make an electric toaster, from scratch. Beginning with mining the raw materials. And yes, that means extracting oil to make plastic and even processing his own copper (to make the pins of the electric plug, the cord, and internal wires), iron (for the steel grilling apparatus, and the spring to pop up the toast), mica (around which the heating element is wound) and nickel (for the heating elements! The end result (which will hopefully see the light of the day for the RCA Summer show in June) will be a fully functioning toaster.
The extraction and processing of these materials happens on a scale irreconcilable with that of a mass product that Argos sells for a few pounds throughout the UK and that performs the very mundane task of toasting your bread every morning. The result of Thwaites's endeavour might not be as neat and clean as the Argos model. But maybe i'm being unnecessarily bitchy here. See for yourself what the designer is exhibiting now:
The installation re-creates the first attempt by the designer to melt mineral and turn it into iron using hair dryers. He later tried with a leaf blower and then used his mother's microwave and china to finally obtain iron. And here is the original toaster model:
In the designer's own words which i pasted below:
The point at which it stopped being possible for us to make the things that surround us is long past. To redress the balance I'm making a mass produced object by hand - creating a domestic product on a domestic scale.
This faintly ridiculous quest to make a toaster from the 'ground up' serves as a vehicle through which questions about economics, helplessness and life as a consumer can be investigated. The outcome will be a toaster that I imagine will bear a very imperfect likeness to the ones that we buy - a kind of half-baked, hand made pastiche of a consumer appliance.
Commercial extraction and processing of the necessary materials happens on a scale that is difficult to resolve into the humble toaster. This contrast in scale is a bit absurd - massive industrial activity devoted to making objects which enable us, the consumer, to toast bread more efficiently. However, this ridiculousness dissipates somewhat when you consider that life pre-toasters required stoking the fire when a piece of toast was desired.
Part of the project consists of going to the places where it's possible to dig up these raw materials. Mining no longer happens in the UK, but the country is dotted with abandoned mines, some having been worked since before the 'UK' existed, but all currently uneconomical. We shot some footage at Clearwell Iron mine in South Wales before Christmas. It had an output of thousands of tonnes a week up until the end of World War 2 when it was closed. It is now run as a visitor attraction by Ray and Jonathan, a father and son team. Ray (who originally worked as a miner at Clearwell) was of the view that mining on the huge scales seen today (for instance in Australia) reduces humans to ants, with no understanding of what they're doing. His son Jonathan is more pragmatic, pointing out that it is the scale of modern industry that gives more of us access to toasters. Their points of view are not incompatible; the question becomes 'Are toasters worth the inhuman scale on which they're produced?'
The only known deposit of Nickel in the UK has long since been exhausted. In Finland however exploitation of a huge deposit has begun. I'd very much like to go and bring back a lump of nickel ore from this remote industrial area, and make it in to an element for my toaster. I'm also trying to negotiate a helicopter ride to an oil rig in the North Sea to collect some oil from which I would try (and certainly fail) to make plastic.
The point at which it stopped being possible for us to make the things that surround us is long past. For example, my first attempt to extract metal involved a chimney pot, some hairdryers, a leaf blower, and a methodology from the 15th century - this is about the level of technology we can manage when we're acting alone. I failed to get pure enough iron in this way, though if I'd tried a few more times and refined my technique and knowledge of the process I probably would've managed in the end. Instead I found a 2001 patent about industrial smelting of Iron ores using microwave energy. Microwaves are so much more convenient and so I tried to replicate the process using a domestic microwave. After a bit of careful experimentation through which I realised I was unlikely to blow the thing up or cook my insides without realising, I got the timing and ingredients about right and made a blob of iron about as big as a 10p coin. I'm rather proud of it, though it's only enough to make perhaps one bar of the grill to hold the bread. Still, it's proof of concept.
The project won't be a 'how is it made?' industrial promo or an anti-industry tirade either. It's about scale, the total inter-reliance of people and societies, the triviality of some (anti-)globalisation discourse, what we have to lose, and DIY.
All images courtesy of a href="http://www.thomasthwaites.com/">Thomas Thwaites.
I just realized today that although my stay in Zurich for the Digital Art Weeks last month was super short, there's still a couple of links and projects i'd like to share with you. High on the list is the paper DIY: The Militant Embrace of Technology that documentary director, independent curator and new media artist Marcin Ramocki presented during the DAW symposium.
His expose dealt with cultural practices involving the subversion of consumer technology, be it hardware and software. According to Marcin, if the DIY approach in the field of fine art is almost taken for granted, it is still relatively new in the world of consumer electronics and software design.
The PDF is online, Hurray! So i'll let you enjoy that fun and smart text and will just blog a few links to make the reading easier:
Artistic critiques of technology:
- when artists are actually hackers who break something they
- re-purposed and prepared hardware such as Study for the Portrait of Internet (Static) in which Lance Wakeling, Ramocki's own Torcito Project, Alex Galloway's Prepared Playstation and Arcangel's Two Projectors, Keystoned.
- remaking of a piece of software (and hardware), mostly retro-engineering and custom electronics. Plus, fake hacker websites, games rewritten from the ground up, alternative browsers and Hollywood movies. E.g minimal re-enactment of ET by Kara Hearn and Jamie Allen's custom 4 bit synthetiser housed in an old cigar box.